Tonight the story of Jesus birth has once more been celebrated with readings, enactment, and carols galore. The big news of Christmas is sung about by angels, troubled over by scholars, the local Jerusalem magistrate is worried sick, and fascinating wise men from the East take the trouble to trek a vast distance, at great expense and risk, all of this because a baby is born. Not just any baby, but the promised Messiah.
The BIG news is that God loves us so much that God chose to come and tell us so personally. Why? So we could see and experience what God is like. God sent Jesus, the one and only Son, to earth, to be with us and God chose to begin as a baby. Given the infinite variety of ways God could have demonstrated love isn’t it fascinating to see God at this point vulnerable and weak? God’s incarnation begins like this, so that we might no longer view weak and vulnerable as a negative starting place.
This is indeed the good news of Christmas Eve. Birth is a starting place. We know this, marvel at it, and yet we tend to rush it. I recently met 3 day old Caleb McGregory. It was such a delight to behold this precious newborn that I asked his parents if Caleb might debut tonight as a stand in for baby Jesus. Guess what? They agreed! We all start out like this. So did Jesus. God’s own Son came to be with us as a newborn.
When you see new parents with a newborn what advise is instinctively offered? It seems to me there is something we commonly share when gazing at such a cherub face. What is it? Something like, “cherish these days, babies grow up so fast”, is it not?
Let’s take our own advice, to cherish the baby Jesus tonight, and linger at his manger crib. In fact God’s messenger angel encourages us to do just that saying:
“BEHOLD” I bring you good news. Behold, when used in scripture, is like a code word for ‘pause’ and ask, what difference does this news I am about to hear make in my life?
This “God with us” baby is fully human/fully divine, and completely vulnerable. That’s what an incarnate birth means. Jesus begins just like us.
In this culture we give middle names to signify who a baby is – Earl is my son’s middle name for his paternal grandfather, Christian is my daughter’s middle name for her paternal grandmother. You’re is probably significant to your family too, is it not? Emmanuel is one of the names for Jesus, God’s son. It signifies that God come to be with us, breaking into human history personally. Jesus Emmanul the Christ.
This friend is the heart of matter. Like the baby Jesus lying in the manger, we too start out our spiritual lives as vulnerable and weak spiritual babies. This is as it is supposed to be at the start.
Lingering in the stable tonight we are meant to peer into the manger and notice this Jesus is approachable. What starts here is a new way of relating to God. Now it’s personal. Baby Jesus is one of us. Baby Jesus starts out with us in fragile flesh.
As he matures we see in reading Jesus story in the Gospel accounts of his life that Jesus remains approachable. Social outcasts like the Samaritan woman at the well, crowds of physical and emotionally infirmed, all manner of sinners are welcome around Jesus. What starts here, in the manger, absolutely revolutionizes the human experience. The weak, vulnerable, needing care, baby Jesus shows us that God dignifies our human weakness.
God’s story is develops from here. Coos turn to talking, crawling yields to walking, and running, and racing, and maturing. Imagine for a moment how delightful it must have been for Mary and Joseph to cheer Jesus on as he took his first steps. They must have also watched with glee as the son of God took part in footraces with the with the neighbors’ kids.
This is the beauty of the manger. A story is developing here – what starts here does not stay here.
Here’s how it works, once we meet Jesus, and begin to get know his story, we are invited into a new chapter of our own life, a new life that we begin to share in Christ. At first we’re ‘babies’ in this faith, weak, and needing care in order to grow. The incarnation indeed shows us that this is how is it is meant to be. This is good news; we don’t have to wait for a mature faith to form in order to approach Jesus.
Jesus in the manger is accessible, especially to those who pause to peer inside. Looking at Jesus is how faith starts. For some at this point you may not know much about Jesus. Perhaps you come from another faith, or no faith at all. The Christmas story is that Jesus came from heaven to earth to demonstrate God’s love for us. Jesus story begins in this humble way on purpose, so that we might see what God is like. God is love. Jesus is that love incarnate – with us.
Just like babies quickly outgrow their newborn things…so too as we get to know Jesus, we come to see God is not only with us but God is also for us. God did not come to condemn us, or scold us, or scare us.
God’s love for us is unconditional. There is absolutely nothing we can do to change the truth that God loves for us is real, abiding, unchanging, no matter what. God’s love for us begins at the manger. The invitation to linger at Jesus’ manger is a gift you can open right now. Jesus is approachable.
Jesus is God’s gift to every weary heart that aches for peace. Jesus is God’s gift to every soul that yearns for hope. A relationship with God starts here. Perhaps you are meant to start tonight. That’s good news; , it’s your first step in a developing story. Trust me, each baby step of faith is worthwhile.
Others lingering at the manger are perhaps meant to take a next step of faith tonight beyond Bethlehem toward maturity. If you know what that step is, Jesus is inviting you to take that next teetering step.
If you aren’t sure what a maturing faith in Jesus looks like – join us another Christian church near where you live. Here at Westminster we are committed to “Glorifying God and Reflecting the Love of Jesus to the World. That translates to = we aim to imitate Jesus in our lives and communities so that God’s love is evident in us.
Reflecting God’s love is best done by people who peer into the manger and see God, the Savior the world longs to know. This baby grows up showing us that ultimately God’s love overcomes affliction and death with astonishing power. His birth, life, death, and Easter resurrection give us an ultimate hope that what starts here does not stay here – but endures, and transforms, and gives the promise of a hope filled future. That’s why Jesus starts like this, to show us that weak and vulnerable is an appropriate starting place, but it is not where we stay.
We linger to see what starts here but we do not stay here in Bethlehem. To this end we will spend the next month of January looking at what it means to live incarnationally, demonstrating God’s love among our neighbors. You’re invited to join us, as we seek to imitate Jesus approachable compassion for the lonely, homeless, and the hungry nearby.
Loving, approachable God, as we look forward to the New Year, help us to trust you as we start out in faith so that the story you are developing in us may flourish. Help us to imitate you Jesus, so that your love for our families, neighbors, and the world might become evident in us. Amen.
*Adapted to blog from Rev Shari Monson’s Christmas Eve sermon