“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” Hebrews 1:1-4
Did you see the preview? Did you see the preview for Rogue One? Did you see the preview for the remake of Beauty and the Beast or for Cars 3? Did you see the preview? One of the fun parts about going to the movies is to see the previews beforehand or to watch them online and get excited for the next big movie! The anticipation builds! But sometimes you have to wait months or a year for the movie to show. After Malachi, the faithful did not lose hope, but they waited and waited in anticipation for 400 years. The oldest person here is in their 80s and maybe their 90s. That’s over four times their ages and experiences! What a wait! Is the wait worth it? The danger of a preview is that sometimes the preview and build up is better than the movie, and leaves you disappointed. But sometimes the movie delivers in a powerful way.
The hustle and bustle of the travelers seemed to have finally calmed down except for a weary couple with the husband in a panic because the time had come for the baby to arrive. The best they could find or even be offered at that point was a stable. And Mary “gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Did the previews disappoint? A poor man and woman from Nazareth have a baby in a stable. There have been crazier stories in our own time. If that were all this was, their story would have soon been forgotten, maybe noticed only by a neighbor. But God makes sure we don’t miss this. An angel and a heavenly host appear to herald the good news to shepherds at work in the fields. A star appears in the sky to bring Gentiles from afar to worship the babe. Though met with apostasy and faithlessness, word came to Jerusalem and sent the city into a panicked buzz. Would the anticipation and fame last? No. This little family, after the visit of the wise men would leave Bethlehem for Egypt and then return to Nazareth. No more angel appearances for a while. Things calmed down again. Did the preview disappoint?
Is that a danger for us? In the coming weeks the Santas, if you have them, the stockings, the garland, ribbons and lights will be packed away along with the manger scenes and the babe of Bethlehem. Maybe they’ll all be in the same Rubbermaid bin marked “Christmas Decorations” or placed in the same dusty spot above the cars in the garage. While God doesn’t care how or where you store your decorations or manger scenes, he does care that your hearts be changed by what you have seen in that manger. Don’t leave Jesus in the manger. Take him with you in your heart. Remember him in the words you speak at the lunch table at school or work. Remember him not just on Christmas Eve and Day, but on the 4th Sunday of Pentecost when you are tempted to just relax and figure Jesus will still be there in a week or two when I get around to making it to church, or take time in his Word. Did the shepherds forget the daily impact of what they had seen and heard? Did the wise men mark the star and their trip as just a cool phenomenon and just another road trip? Does the holiday festive feel of this wear off and we are back to the doldrums of daily life and schedules devoid of translating this miracle into our daily spiritual impact and left empty? God’s Word for us today was written to a people who seemed to struggle with giving up on Christianity. Following a Jew born in a stable, raised in Nazareth and who went to a cross and rose again was growing more and more unpopular and sometimes it seemed to put them at a disadvantage socially (friends and fam), economically (their jobs and networks), and physically (their homes and safety) as tension was growing and persecution whether verbal or physical was on the rise. The danger was real for them. The danger is real for us to be apathetic to our faith and practicing it or to Bail on the Bible and cut from the cradle.
Look again into that manger and who is there, just a baby cute as a button? No. The very Son of God, God in the flesh, the promised Messiah, God’s Word, Immanuel – God with us. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” God is there in the manger. When you hear that baby cry, it is the voice of God, who humbled himself to be born of a virgin – to be one of us. The uncreated one through whom all things were created takes on flesh and takes the lot of his created ones. Listen closely to all that is said about him and all that he will speak. You are listening to your God. Nothing and no one compares.
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” What love God has for sinners such as we to do this for us. He who sustains all things and orchestrates history so that it serves His purposes and benefits his people lies there in the manger. And what is His purpose? You. He wanted to save you and to rightfully rule all things for you. When you see Jesus you see God for you. And when you look at the cross, you see God, true man and true God, dying on the cross for our sins. You see certainty that we are forgiven. And when you look at Jesus risen from the grave, you see your future – you too will rise and live.
What is the reaction? Remember the reaction of people when they see angels? Fear, because of their holiness and for what message a holy angel of God might bring. While they are Angels, when compared to this babe of Bethlehem, they are mere angels sent to serve. When you see Jesus, you see God. When Mary held him in her arms, she held her God in the flesh. When the wisest of men knelt down to a toddler, they must have reeled in awe at the fact they saw with their own eyes – True God would humble himself to save sinners, not to scare them. No fear. Shepherds sought him, Magi marched, we rush her to hear of his birth and what will he say, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." "I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live even though he dies." "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest." "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...surely I am with you always to the very end of the age." “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, while the world may quickly move on after a quick look in the manger, you don’t want to. The preview did not disappoint. You have the real deal. He has delivered on the previewed promises by King David, and Moses to Malachi and everyone in between. He demands our praise from our lips and our lives. God in the flesh for you. Carry the cradle in your heart and know God’s love for you, his power for you. If this world gives only resentment and hardship for following Christ, so be it. Carry Christ in the Cradle with you. Did the preview disappoint? No. He is amazing. Let me tell you about him. He will change your life and your eternity and every day in between. Merry Christmas! Amen.