ANGELS AMONG US
THIS WILL BE A SIGN
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
December 23, 2018
TEXT: Luke 2:1-20
Thirty years ago, I gave birth to our first child – our daughter Mary. Both of us were in such awe. And Greg immediately became the very protective father. When they took Mary out of the delivery room to clean her up in the nursery, he followed them, to keep an eye on her. Her temperature was too low, so they had to keep her in the nursery for awhile before she could come back to be with me – to get her temperature up.
As Greg was watching her – he noticed that she had a small red mark on her cheek – what is known as a “stork bite” – that would eventually fade. But at birth, it was clearly visible. So, as Greg left Mary in the nursery and came back to be with me, he thought, “Ok. I will know which baby is ours when I come back – she’s the one with that strawberry red stork bite on her cheek. That will be a sign.” And when my parents went to the nursery to see Mary that is exactly what he told them – “The sign to look for to know which one Mary is, is that red mark on her cheek.”
Signs to look for. Identifying marks. We use them all the time, don’t we, especially when describing a little newborn. He’s the one with all that hair. She’s the one with that pointed cone head. Look for the one with the chubby cheeks.
Well, the angels, on the night Jesus was born announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds out in the field. It was indeed a glorious night with angels filling the night sky – announcing the birth of the newborn king – the Savior of the world. But they had to tell them where to find him – and they had to give them some sign for them to know which baby was the right one amongst all the babies that were lying asleep in Bethlehem.
Hear again the angel’s message to the shepherds:
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
And this will be a sign – a baby lying in a manger. Isn’t it interesting that the angels said that the manger would be a sign? Not a star shining over the stable – not a pillar of fire or stars that spell out His name. Not anything huge and miraculous – just a simple baby born in a stable and placed in a manger. Why in the world would God use a manger to be a sign? And why would God choose to enter the world as a baby? Think about it – He could have come as a mighty warrior with His legion of angels. He could have come as a great King – riding in a chariot. But instead – He came as a small, simple baby – lying in a humble manger. He could have come in glory, but instead he came in poverty. He could have been born in a royal palace and been laid in a golden cradle on satin sheets – but instead He was born in a crude stable and was laid in an animal’s feeding trough, full of hay.
Why? What is this sign supposed to teach us about God?
First – I believe this sign of a manger shows Christ’s humility and how much he gave up for us. Just as we sing “Away in the Manger” – we can remember in this sign, Jesus came “away” from heaven just for us. He left his glory and His perfect environment of heaven and humbled Himself to come live on this earth to save us.
Look at how the Apostle Paul describes it in Philippians 2. Paul says:
Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took on the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared to human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
God chose to leave the glory of heaven to come among us as one of us – to live as a servant among us. The One who is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father” – Creator of the Universe - became a baby in a manger! This humility made Him more accessible to the people that He came for. Think about it, going into a throne room in a palace would be rather intimidating wouldn’t it? And besides all that, you might not even get an audience with the king --- especially if you were just a common person. But there is nothing intimidating about going into a cave and kneeling in front of a feeding trough. You don’t even need to have an appointment – you just go on in. God invaded this planet in the fragile form a little baby. He had to become like us, so we could relate to Him.
Our Lord humbled Himself - He emptied Himself and made Himself nothing – taking on human form into order to communicate His love – to reach out to us sinners and bring us back. That is the story of Christmas: God becoming a human being so that He could have a personal relationship with us.
Which leads to the next amazing thing we realize when we stop and reflect on the manger. The sign of the manger shows us how God came to earth as "Emmanuel". He made a way in the manger for us to be connected to Him. You see, not only did He come down from heaven to walk with us in human form – He still remained God. What is so amazing is that He was fully human and fully divine. We know this so well because we call Jesus, "Emmanuel". Do you remember what Emmanuel means? It means "God with us". Now we probably will never be able to fully understand how it is possible for Jesus to be completely human and completely divine – but the important thing we need to know is that the child in the manger is Emmanuel – the One who will walk with us in all the good times of life – as well as all those times of suffering and pain. And so, we sing in our carol, "Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever and love me I pray." Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us – who will stay close to us forever and never abandon us.
Finally, we see that the sign of the manger shows us that Jesus was born to die. There is a cross that forms a shadow across the manger reminding us the real reason Jesus came. He made "a way" to the cross, to die for our sins – and make "a way" for us to get to heaven. In fact, that is the way the angels announced the birth of Jesus – “Unto you is born this day a Savior.” (Luke 2:11) and “His name will be Jesus for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
You see Jesus came with a mission. All through the gospels, we hear Jesus saying that He came to seek and save the lost and to lay down His life for us. His whole purpose in coming was to be our Savior. In fact, that is what His name means – "the Lord saves". God loves us so much – He sent His Son so that we might be with Him in heaven.
You see, sin had separated us from God. And there was no way we could get back to God. Nothing we could do would ever enable us to cross that gap that had grown between us. So, God sent Jesus to be our Savior – to rescue us and bring us back home. Jesus came to take the punishment for our sins and bridge the gap between us and God. The cross was that bridge! Jesus was born to die – to suffer for our sins to make "a way" to our home in heaven.
There is a play that asks the question, "What did Joseph do the day after Christ was born?" It is an interesting question. The day when Jesus was born, of course, he helped Mary with the baby. He did everything he could to make things as comfortable for them as possible. But what about the day afterward?
The play imagines that since Joseph is a carpenter, he begins making a crib for Jesus. And as he does, he ponders over what had happened the night before and asks the question, "If they treated him like this when he is just a baby, how will they treat him when they find out he is the Son of God?"
At about that time in the play, the lights suddenly go off, and all you can hear is the hammer hitting against the wood. How would they treat him when they found out he was the Son of God? They would nail him to a cross.1
From the very beginning of the Christmas story the shadow of the cross falls across the manger. Normally when we speak of death at the birth of a baby, our hearts are saddened. But when we speak of the death of Jesus at Christmas our joy is made complete. Jesus died for you and me. He died because of our sinfulness and to give us forgiveness. He died because of his wonderful love for us.
Have you taken the time to stand at the manger and remember who Jesus is and why He came? Have you been amazed at what God has done for you? It will take some time – you'll have to slow down and tune out all the sounds of the world. And then stand still for a moment and gaze into the manger and let the true meaning of Christmas sink down into your heart. I will guarantee you, it will change your life.
It truly changed the shepherds on that first Christmas. They ran to Bethlehem and followed the sign to the manger. They told everyone what had happened and what the angel had told them about this baby. And they went back to their flocks, changed by seeing Jesus – and they glorified and praised God for all they had heard and seen.
What will be your response to your trip to the manger this Christmas?