Peering Into The Manger

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Christmas Eve 2014; Year B

Isaiah 9.2-7; Luke 2.1-20

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson


Grace to you and peace from the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

For months now I have been saying that I had better have some profound insight regarding Christmas and the incarnation of God this year being quite pregnant during Advent and Christmas, but once again I simply find myself peering into the manger and marveling at the kind of God we have that would take on human skin and become a vulnerable baby.

Like every year, I am totally blown away at the incredible story presented in the Gospel of Luke, all the way back to the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary sharing with her that she had been chosen to bring forth the Savior of the world, to the humble birth of Jesus, the infant, God in the flesh.

One of my biggest wonderments is how on earth Mary did it all…I mean all…being willing to house the Christ child in her womb at the ripe old age of 13 or 14, enduring the shame of being pregnant and unmarried, worry of whether or not Joseph would leave her, all the fears that come with labor and child birth, the 70-mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem while very pregnant, giving birth on a dirt floor with the help of just one un-trained person surrounded by animals, and most of all, trusting God that everything would be alright and that what was promised would come to be in her for the sake of the whole world.

I cannot wrap my mind around the incredible beauty, rawness, danger, excitement, and love of the Christmas story.  And you know what, I don’t think we are meant to.  We are simply meant to marvel with the shepherds at God becoming a human being, we are to ponder and treasure the story like Mary, knowing it is as true and real as the scent of a newborn wrapped in cloth, and we are to hold this new life and profound mystery in our arms like the manger holds the Christ child.

This year I have taken a closer look at the song, “Mary Did You Know,” written by Mark Lowry.  It is a song that attempts to express the reality and mystery of the incarnate God, and yet also the earthy simplicity of the mother Mary and her firstborn son, Jesus.  Let’s picture the setting of song in the stable that fateful Christmas night long, long ago.  Think of Mary holding the infant Jesus and looking at his sleeping face.  Mary Did You Know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our songs and daughter?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.  The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am

How can we begin to even wrap our minds around the fact that the One who has made heaven and earth, the One who has brought all things into being, the One who sustains every breath has been born into the world the same way you and I were born into the world in all its mess and blood and sacredness.  Why?  We might ask.

The most simple and true answer to this question is: love.  “For God so loved the world, that God gave his only Son…”  Christmas is about the love of God for you, in order that God’s love might take flesh in your heart, in your mind, in your body, and in your soul.  There is nothing more real or more mysterious than love, and most certainly the love of God for you and for the world.  God gives it to us this night in the manger, in the baby called Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

I know there are a lot of expectations around Christmas time, whether that is who we are with or are supposed to be with…where we are or where we are not…whether we have gifts given to us or gifts to give.  Some of these things can make or break Christmas for us, make us feel sad or disappointed, or perhaps content and even thankful.

No matter how you are feeling this night, a night I know is hard for many of you, hear these words of wisdom from Michelle Van Loon:  “I’ve learned there is only one thing necessary to celebrate Christmas properly: Jesus Christ (Mary Did You Know, by Mark Lowry, p. 34).”

This may sound silly or trite, but it’s actually true.  It doesn’t matter where you are or who you are with, God still comes to be with you.  Christmas is about God coming to be right where you are, as near to you as your own breath.  God is with you this night and always.

Even though I am still blown away by the Christmas story, there are a few insights I have gained through being pregnant for the first time during the season of Advent and Christmas.

One is that the life growing inside me is simply happening.  I am not fashioning my son’s ligaments to his bones, I’m not making his heart beat, I am not deciding what he will look or be like.  Other than taking care of myself, God is doing all the work, intimately weaving together this little one I already love so much.  I consider it pure gift, like the gift of Jesus himself.

This can and does happen in each of our lives, pregnancy aside.  Sometimes there is something you feel happening way deep down in your chest that is true and real, that is God making God’s self present and known if your life.

Joni Eareckson Tada writes:

“We never knew how hungry we were for God until Jesus arrived.  When He was delivered onto the stable straw, we caught the fragrance of the presence of God.  We inhaled the aroma of “God with us” and became acutely aware of a hunger deep inside.  We hardly had words for it, but it was…it is a longing for the Lord (Lowry, p. 40).”

Another insight is the hope I feel with the expectation of a baby.  In our Isaiah reading we hear that the people were dwelling in darkness, had suffered incredibly and the prophet promises them joy, joy with the birth of a child.  “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us…” Isaiah proclaims to the people.  The promise and the birth does not erase past trials and suffering, but rather redeems them and gives them hope for the present and the future.

There are so many hopes and dreams that come with a baby, all wrapped up like swaddling clothes.  Mary had them for Jesus, I have them for my son, and we all have them with our own children, nieces and nephews, and grandchildren.  In the gift of the baby Jesus we are all given hope and new life.

Mark Lowry writes in his book that accompanies the song, Mary Did You Know:

“Wrapped in swaddling clothes…in an eight-pound bundle…gaining nourishment from [Mary’s chest]…was God.  She has just given birth to the one who created her—the fullness of the godhead looking around with the wide-eyed wonder of a newborn (Lowry, p. 9).”

We cannot wrap our minds around such mystery and love, we are simply invited to wonder in it and receive it as ours.  Merry Christmas my brothers and sisters in Christ.