Harrowing Of Hell
December 25, 2012

The Manger

Preacher: The Rev Doyt Conn

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Merry Christmas.

It seems we are the group that got up and got our presents opened this morning and now are ready for church.   This is a nice service – small and quiet, as we gather here to consider the child born in the manger, who changed our world.

Jesus is God showing up in our lives, without pretense, without fanfare, to draw us into our deepest, most authentic beings.

He is God and he is a signpost, which is what I want to talk about this morning.  Jesus is the signpost that points us down the road in the direction that best manifests who we are.  The signpost that puts us on the path most suitably paved for our most unique, particular gifts to best serve the world at this time and in this place.

Jesus does this in subtle ways, and he does this in big, brash and obvious ways.  He does this through the machinations of our worlds and he does this through miracles that surprise us.  We see both the subtle and miraculous in this mornings Gospel.

The manger itself illustrates the point.  It is a common thing that shows up over and over again in this most uncommon story.  It is mentioned three times in today’s reading, so it must be a fairly significant prop.

The child in the manger, the Crèche scene, with the straw falling out of the wood manger or the stone manger or whatever kind of manger someone decides is appropriate for the setting, or someone argues was appropriate at the time of Jesus.

I am reminded of the symbolism of the manger when I play ball with my dog, Mickey.  I’ll throw the ball and he’ll just sit there looking at my finger pointing to where the ball had gone.  He is staring at the signpost instead of following it.

The author of the Gospel of Luke uses the manger as the finger pointing to Jesus.  The manger was the signpost for the shepherds.  Mary had the child and she laid him in the manger.  And a long way off, maybe a couple of miles in fact, there were shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flocks at night.

And behold the angel appears before them, and says, “Do not be afraid.”  That is a good opening line for an angel, because angels evoke the visceral response of being afraid.  “Do not be afraid,” the angel says, and the very best the shepherd’s could do, I suppose, was freeze in their tracks and pay attention.  And the angel said to them, “Today a Savior has been born to you, the Messiah, the Lord, in David’s town, Bethlehem. And this will be a sign to you, that you will find the baby wrapped in bands of cloth and laying in a manger.”

This will be a sign for you.  And suddenly, the clouds opened and the heavenly hosts appeared, singing Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.

The angels sang and then disappeared.

That is a pretty big deal.  That is the kind of thing you respond to. Not much subtlety here.  And the shepherds go to look for the baby in a manger.  They scour the streets of Bethlehem, checking all the stables they come across, until, eventually, they arrive at the one where Jesus lay.  And they bowed down before him as King.

The manger is the signpost that points the shepherds to their King.

But it is by the hand of another king that King Jesus was set upon the path as Messiah.

The prophecy from Micah reads: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

There was a decree sent out by Caesar Augustus that all of the world should be registered.  And without this decree Jesus’ birth might not have taken place in Bethlehem and hence the prophecy left unfulfilled.

God works through the world’s machinations.  Maybe even more often than through the miraculous voice of angels.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, Caesar Augustus sat in Rome, the center of the world, and from there ruled as the Son of God and the Prince of Peace.  These were his titles and they, like the manger, became signposts, known to the people through the prophet Isaiah, pointing to the true Son of God and Prince of Peace.

Augustus was known as the Son of God, after he declared that his adopted father Julius Caesar was a god. By extension then, Augustus acquired the title, Son of God.  The other title Augustus gave to himself was “the Prince of Peace.”  After all it was he who brought peace to the world by conquering and consolidating the entire known world.  He built roads, created common currency, and had a census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

God worked through Caesar Augustus to compel, if you will, Joseph and Mary to come all of the way from Nazareth even when she was pregnant.

Something compelled us to be here this morning.  Maybe it was a subtle sign. Maybe it was just following the signs that line the path of your life.  Maybe it was something big and miraculous.

Whatever it was, look to the child, and ask, “Where am I being pointed now?”

What are the common, mundane machinations of my life that are bringing me to my most authentic self?  What are the great big events that are brining me to my most authentic self?  How am I scouring the streets of my own Bethlehem looking for the king?  It all started on a quiet morning, pointed to by a simple manger made known in the minds of the shepherds by the words of the angels.

The manger points us to the child who is our Savior, our king, and our guide.