Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Sermon: Luke 2: 8-20 The Stranger in the Manger

When I was growing up, the Chamber of Commerce in Dromore organised a ‘Spot the Stranger’ competition each year. All the school children were given a list of shops in the town, and you had to look at their window displays to find the stranger - something they didn’t sell; something that was out of place. Some made it very obvious, sellotaping a needle to the glass (to stop annoying children like me going in to ask what theirs was, or to get a clue...). Others made it really difficult; you had to look carefully. But once you saw it, it was really obvious. It was out of place.

I thought of ‘spot the stranger’ when I was thinking about the manger. You see, when the angels appear to the shepherds to tell them their news, they give a sign, they tell them how to find the baby they are looking for. It’s there in verse 12. ‘And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’

We’ve heard the story so many times that we know what’s coming. We know all the details. We don’t think it odd that Jesus is lying in the manger. It’s just what happened - and we’ll sing Away in a Manger tomorrow morning. But stop for a moment and imagine you’re one of the shepherds. When you’re rushing towards Bethlehem, how will you know which baby to visit? It’s like the spot the stranger - it’s something that’s not normal. It’s a sign, because babies don’t normally lie in a manger.

The manger is the feeding trough for the animals. Jesus is lying in the donkey’s lunchbox. Earlier Luke tells us why it happened - there was no place for them in the inn - but it turns out to be the sign for the shepherds.

Can you imagine as they come into town and start knocking doors - have you a baby here? What’s he lying in? Cot? No. Mother’s arms? No. A manger? Yes, a manger! ‘And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.’ (16)

It was strange to find a baby lying in a manger, and yet it wasn’t the strangest thing they had been told about him. You see, in verse 17, when they find that the angels were right about his sleeping arrangements, they start telling the rest of what the angels had said: ‘And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.’ So what was it they said? What had the angel told them about this stranger in the manger?

‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’ (11)

The stranger in the manger is the long-awaited Saviour. The rescue mission has begun. It’s the moment when the lifeboat rolls down the slipway and hits the water. The Saviour has arrived. But why is Jesus the Saviour? Why did he need to come? From what do we need saving? Ignorance? Insignificance? Poverty?

Max Lucado is an American pastor who puts it this way: ‘If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Saviour.’

Jesus came to save us from our sins. That’s what his name means - God saves. The baby would grow up to become a man, who would carry his cross to die - not for his sins, but for ours. The Saviour has come, and is lying in the straw.

The Saviour is also ‘Christ the Lord’ - the promised King God would send into the world. The Christ has come. Born a king, but not in a palace. Born a king, but not in a maternity unit. Born a king, and lying in a manger. The stranger in the manger is our Saviour and our King.

The shepherds heard the news the angels brought. They hurried to see if it was true. They found the baby in the manger, and they made known the saying. ‘And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.’

This Christmas, may we too wonder at what we have heard. Don’t just let it wash over you because you’ve heard it all before. Take some time to ponder the stranger in the manger; the Saviour, the Christ, the Lord who came to be one with us. Make him your Saviour; your Lord; your King this Christmas, and you too will return home glorifying and praising God for all you have heard.

This sermon was preached at the Christmas Eve Communion in Aghavea Parish Church on Thursday 24th December 2015.

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