Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said that on Christmas, he preferred to go to a church where there was no sermon, only music, art, and drama. "Words just aren't up to it," he said. Niebuhr’s right. Words aren’t up to it. That’s why we’ll keep our words to a minimum today. But there is good news in Christmas worth telling. A few of those words are found in Luke 2:8-12. Mary has just given birth and laid Jesus in a manger. They were ready for visitors, and God invited some shepherds to come visit the baby Jesus. Fitting, huh, because Jesus is the Good Shepherd who is also a lamb. Hear the word of the Lord …
8 In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.”
Near the end of November a few years ago, I was driving up Higdon Ferry and noticed the message on the sign at what was then Roland’s Barbecue. (Hated to see that place close.) I wasn’t sure what the sign meant. So the next time I was in there, I asked the lady who waited on me, “What’s up with the manager?”
“What?” she asked.
“The manager—is everything okay?”
“You want to see the manager?”
“No, I just was concerned that something was wrong because of your sign.”
“Yes, your sign. You know, it says ‘Remember the Manager.’ So I figured the manager needed prayer or something.”
“Our sign doesn’t say ‘Remember the Manager.’ It says, ‘Remember the Manger.’”
No wonder she looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. And you’ll be glad to know that I neglected to tell them that I was the pastor of First Baptist Church. (I told them I was Methodist.) You’d think if anyone would be able to read that sign it would be a pastor. Trust me, my antennae are usually pretty honed in to anything of a spiritual nature I see in our secular world. But boy, did I miss that one!
Well, I’m not going to miss it today. It’s Christmas Eve. It’s time to remember the Savior who is Christ the Lord and that his first bed was a manger. Remember the manger.
We’ll remember a lot of other things today: to pick up that extra gallon of milk, our favorite eggnog recipe, to purchase a couple of more stocking stuffers, the words to the familiar Christmas song on the radio, to make up the bed in the guest room. There’s a lot on our minds today. And not just adults either. Kids too: “What’s in that big box?” “How much is in that envelope on the tree?” “Will Christmas morning ever get here?” Lots of things on our mind, lots of things to remember.
Just don’t forget to remember the manger. Eternal word putting on human flesh and making his home among us. Deity in a diaper. Creator in a cradle. Lion of Judah a helpless cub. Feeder of multitudes nursing at his mother’s breast. Eternal Word unable to speak a word. Sinless perfection trusting himself to human beings broken by their sins. Remember the manger.
Remember the depths to which God would stoop. Christ has always existed, eternal in the heavens, the Word was with God and was God. When Christ emptied himself to come down and save us, he didn't just do it halfway. Jesus checked his pride at the door on the way down to earth. He didn't say, "I'll go so far and no farther." He didn't say, "I draw the line at a manger." He didn't say, "I refuse to be born in that dump." No, Jesus was willing to do whatever it took, willing to stoop as low as he had to go, willing to make his beachhead on the earth in a musty stable in Bethlehem. Jesus came all the way down. Now, no one can say, "Jesus, didn't stoop low enough for me." No one can say that—not the poor, not the outcast, not the man without a home. Born as he was in a stable, Jesus demonstrated total commitment to go as far as he had to go to seek and to save lost humankind. Remember the depths to which God stooped. Remember the manger!
Remember the lengths to which God would go. We’re not talking a mission that takes him from Hot Springs to Dallas, or Little Rock to Paris, or even Pine Bluff to Siberia. We’re talking heaven to earth, eternity to time. We’re talking safe house to danger zone, holy habitat to Sinville, sure thing to risky business. We’re talking about going from being the subject of worship to being subject to abuse and scorn and murder on a cross. But God’s love was so true, his promise so sure, his commitment so deep, that no length was too far to go on his mission to rescue us from our sins. James Irwin was part of the crew of Apollo 15 that landed on the moon in 1971—one of only 12 men in history to have walked on the moon. He did a lot of speaking in churches after that moon flight. And the tagline for his talk and for the autograph he signed on a picture of him standing on the moon was this: “It is more important that God walked on earth than man walked on the moon.” Irwin’s right. Irwin and his crew traveled 238,900 miles to walk on the moon. Jesus traveled way longer than that on so many levels to walk on the earth. And his was no triumphant landing in some exotic place like the moon, televised for all the world to see. Jesus landed in obscurity, in a podunk town where few eyes would see him. Jesus landed in a stable there. Jesus was laid in an animal’s feeding trough. Remember the lengths to which God would go. Remember the manger.
And remember the price God was willing to pay. You think Christmas costs you a lot? Consider what it cost God. The price of condescending to the likes of us, the price of emptying himself, taking on flesh, humbling himself—the Lord becomes the servant—the price of subjecting himself to the care of sinful, broken people in a sinful, broken world, seems steep enough price already. But the price ratcheted even higher when, as a man, he gave himself to be broken on a cross to save us from our sins. The sinless one died for sinners, taking our sins on himself so he could kill sin’s penalty and power for those who put their trust in him, for those who come to him for salvation and life. God sacrificed his only Son. Jesus gave everything thing he could give so that we could be saved, so that we could enjoy abundant, eternal life on earth and beyond the grave. Crucified. Dead. Buried. And raised from the dead on the third day. That’s the price of our salvation. Jesus refused to sit on his throne twiddling his thumbs and let you die in your sins. No! Jesus was willing to stoop lower than you can imagine, travel farther than you can chart, and pay a price so high only God the Son could pay it. Now, if you die in your sins and spend eternity in hell, it’s on you. It’s not because God stood by and did nothing to save you. He paid it all. I know: it’s not Good Friday; it’s Christmas Eve. But hulking over the manger on that dark night was the shadow of the cross. It’s why he came. It’s why he was born to die that we may have life. So even here at Christmas, remember the price God was willing to pay. Remember the manger.
John Shea tells a story he calls “Sharon’s Christmas Prayer.” It was about a little girl—she was five-years-old, sure of the facts, and recited them with dignity, convinced that every word was revelation. This is what she said:
“They were poor, they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat and then went a long way from home without getting lost. The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady. They had to stay in a stable with an ox and a burro but three Rich Men found them because a star lighted the roof. Shepherds came and you could pet the sheep but not feed them. Then the baby was borned. And do you know who he was?” Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars. “The baby was God.”
And Shea says she jumped in the air, whirled round, dove into the sofa and buried her head under the cushion—which is the only proper response to the Good News of Christmas.
Don’t impoverish yourself in the face of such good news. Even in the hectic busyness of today and tomorrow, take time to remember the manger. And when you do, it’s okay to whirl and twirl and fall on your face in worship too. It’s Christmas: God is with us. God has come to save us. Remember the manger.