Sermon for Christmas Day 2000

Text: Luke 2:10-12

The angel said to them (the shepherds), "Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David's town your Saviour was bornóChrist the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

A Baby in the Hay

Letís suppose that you have come to Australia from another country. You are interested in Australian politics and you know that our chief executive is called the prime minister but you donít know who he is or where to find him. You would like to meet him so you ask me for help. I would say something like this, "Your best bet is to go to Canberra and look for this large building with this huge flag flying on the roof Ė thatís the Australian Parliament House. If you see a little man with bushy eyebrows, balding, and flanked by plain-clothes security men and his car often escorted by police officers on motorbikes, thatís the prime minister. Heís not hard to spot because he is often surrounded by journalists, TV and newspaper cameramen and reporters. You might see him welcoming some dignitaries from other countries with a lot of pomp and ceremony and speech-making. These are the signs you need to look for in order to find the prime minister. If you see such a person like this then you have found him.

An angel visited some shepherds near Bethlehem and gave them some signs to enable them to find a special baby in the nearby town. They were told that this child would bring great joy to all people. This child born in Davidís town was the Saviour Ė the Son of the Most High God, a king like his ancestor David. A whole army of angels fill the sky and sing the praises of God at the birth of Godís Saviour into the world. They were told to go to Bethlehem. And what signs were the shepherds given to help them find this heavenly prince - they were told, "you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

What a contrast this is to the usual signs of important people. If Prince William was about to visit Nambour the signs would be evident. Newspapers and magazines would have photos and stories of the prince and the preparations taking place in the town. The streets would be tidied, the townís dignitaries would be spruce up the place where the royal reception was to take place as well as how they should address the prince. People would line the streets trying to get a glimpse of him. The signs of the arrival of someone important are usually quite clear. When the Prince of Peace arrived in Bethlehem, the sign was "a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger".

Letís suppose that we were one of the shepherds and all that we have been told about is what the angel has told us. Suppose that this is the first time we had heard anything about Jesus and we are told Ė "this is the sign that will tell you that you have found the Saviour Ė Christ the Lord. You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying on a bed of hay in a feeding trough." What does this message tell you about Jesus?

Firstly, these words tell us something about his humanity. The angel announces that the shepherds are to look for a baby, an infant, a newborn child. No special words are used here to describe this child. He was born into the world as all of us are. It is true that this babyís conception took place in a miraculous way, but apart from that, Mary carried this child for the usual nine months, and gave birth to him as all mothers give birth.

Like all newborn children of that time, we are told that he is wrapped in strips of cloth. In a world with little medical care, where babies often died before their first birthday, it was a way of providing a crude kind of protection. The Son of the Most High God was born as helpless as any other child born at that time.

To say that Christ was born as a baby brings us face to face with the truth that Jesus was as human as you and I. Although he was fully and truly God from all eternity, the Son of God took on true humanity when he was conceived in Maryís womb and born in Bethlehem. He was not half-God and half-man, but fully God and fully man. He did not cease to be God, but was at the same time fully human with the same emotions,
same temptations,
same physical needs,
same pain that we all experience.

This is the central truth of Christianity. God has entered human history in order to provide for our salvation. Because of his love for us and his concern for our salvation God came down from heaven and became a human. He came down to do for us what we canít do for ourselves Ė get rid of our sin and the punishment we deserve because of it. He came down and was born a human so that he could die for us. If he had not been born, he could not have died for our sins. And he would not have risen from the dead. He had to become like us in order to save us, forgive our sin and make it possible for us to have eternal life. There was no other way.

Secondly, the shepherds were told to look for a baby lying in a manger. In Bethlehem, there were probably a number of newborn babies wrapped in strips of cloth, but Iím sure that there was only one lying in an animalís feeding trough. The mention of a manger indicates that Jesus was born in a stable, or a cave where animals were kept, or even in a very poor home where the animals lived inside the house with the family. We donít know for sure where that manger was located, but we do know that the Son of the Most High God was born in extremely poor and humble circumstances.

God has come to the world in a most unlikely way. This is what Paul meant when he said that he "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Nothing about the baby Jesus appeared supernatural. There were no halos, no angels hovering over the stable, and no choirs singing. If you had been there, and if you had no other information, you would have concluded that this was just a baby born to a poor young couple down on their luck. Nothing about this baby pointed to God.

That night if you had walked by, nothing would have seemed supernatural. Stables were not the beautiful, clean places we see in storybooks. They are lonely, dirty, smelly places made for animals. The shepherds were told not to look for baby Jesus in a nursery but outside in the barn where the ground is covered with dirt and the air smells of manure. When you hear the babyís cry, youíll know youíve found the Lord. "The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us" (John 1:14).

If we were the shepherds looking for a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and resting in a feeding-trough, Iím sure we would have thought this a most unlikely way for God to enter our world to be our Saviour. Even the poorest child would not be found in a manger. God does do some strange things some times.

But as strange as this all seems, God does have a reason. "This very day your Saviour was born." Here is a baby born for a purpose - "to save his people from their sins" as the angel said to Joseph (Mt. 1.21). Beyond the cradle, see the cross. This baby in the hay was born for you. He was born because of Godís love for each of us. He was born into our world to bring us forgiveness and eternal life.

The island of Molokai is a part of Hawaii. And it has quite a history. Unlike today, back in the late 1800ís there was no cure for the horrible disfiguring disease, leprosy. In order to keep it from spreading and creating an epidemic, lepers were sent to a colony on the island of Molokai.

Well, in 1873, there was a young, brave Catholic priest named Father Damien who volunteered to spend his life serving the people secluded on the island of Molokai. When he arrived, he was startled to see the condition of the people. Not only were they physically sick but they were also demoralised. There was drunkenness, crime and an overall sense of hopelessness. They needed Godís presence in their life. And so, in 1873, Father Damien lived among the 700 lepers, knowing the dangers, realizing the inevitable results of so much personal contact with a highly contagious disease. In fact, in 1885 at the age of 45 he himself contracted leprosy.

You see it was out of love that a humble priest went and lived amongst the lepers. He was prepared to leave behind all comfort and security to the point that he became a leper himself. He brought Godís love to them by building clinics, hospitals, and churches; he even sacrificed his own health and life doing so. Father Damien was following the example of Christ.

God has seen that we needed his help. Sin has become a part of our lives and there is nothing we can do to free ourselves of its affect on our lives and relationships. God was determined to do something about it. God loves us so much that he wanted to stop this procession toward death. Like Father Damien who made his home among the lepers to show them Godís love, God has become one of us to save us. He wants us to be his and to live forever with him in heaven. We have a God who loves us, cares for us, forgives us and welcomes us into his kingdom. What more can we ask for!

Let's celebrate the birth of Jesus, the baby in the hay, the Saviour who died on the cross, the Lord who lives! We join with the angels and sing Glory to God in the highest because we have our Saviour - Christ the Lord Ė come down from heaven into this world! This baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger has come to bring Godís peace to all people.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th December, 2000

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