A Manger for the World

HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
December 24, 2017
Christmas Eve

Luke 2: 1-20 (CEB)
In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. 6While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. 7She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

8Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14“Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

Back in 1943, Bing Crosby famously sang the words penned by Kim Gannon, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” We all know and love this Christmas carol, which takes the form of a letter written by a World War II solider stationed overseas. The soldier sings to his family, far away in a home he can visit only in his dreams. Of course, the message of the song has taken on a much broader application in the years since the Great War, capturing the longing of many who are not able to able to make it “home” for Christmas. There’s just something about Christmas that makes us want to be “home.”

So each year, people spend weeks, if not months making plans and preparations to be home for the holidays. That work may involve travel plans and plane tickets, or it may mean getting the house decorated and prepared, and finding that old air mattress so there are enough beds for everyone. Then, as Christmas gets closer, the plans get more specific. As we work to answer that dogged question, “How are we going to fit all this stuff in the car???” Because, as you know, not only do we have to get the normal luggage in the car, there’s also all those presents, and maybe a couple of pans of Grandma’s famous cinnamon rolls that absolutely can NOT be mushed! You all know how this goes. My family was having a text conversation earlier this week about who was going to have room in their car to bring an extra dog crate for the dogs. (Insert laughing emoji.) In any case, “home” is the expectation at Christmas-time; it’s what we long for. It’s what we work for. And if, for some reason, our plans don’t work as we had hoped, or if we are not able to be at home or with family over the holidays, well, we all know how disappointing that can be.

I don’t know why this has never occurred to me before, but as I started thinking about Christmas and how much we work to be home at this time of year, I realized, there’s not a person in the story of Jesus’ birth who was “home” that first Christmas. Mary and Joseph had been ordered from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a census. We don’t know exactly how pregnant Mary was, but it was certainly late in the pregnancy, and probably late enough that a modern-day OB-GYN would have told her no more traveling until after the baby is born. Nevertheless, to Bethlehem they went. And indeed, that is the town of Joseph’s lineage, but there is nothing to imply that he has ever lived there, or that he has any really close relatives there. At that time, it was probably not a place that Mary and Joseph would have gone “home” to.

Then, there’s no room for them in the inn, so they end up in a stable. I’d imagine that their presence probably disturbed the animals, who would have been agitated that there home was being overtaken, and by a crying baby, no less. While out in the fields, the angels were working overtime, on the job delivering messages all over the place. And the shepherds were on duty as well, before they were told to get up and go into Bethlehem to find the baby lying in the manger. Then, of course, from Matthew’s gospel, we know that the Magi in the East were mobilizing because of a strange star that had appeared on the horizon. Everyone was on the move, in unfamiliar territory. This is about as far from “home” as it can get; for everyone.

But you know, as Mary and Joseph swaddled their newborn child and laid him in a manger, I think God was showing us what our home is really meant to be, and it’s all wrapped up in that image of the manger. Did you notice that the manger is mentioned three times in the story of Jesus’ birth? It is the place where Jesus is laid, and it is the sign to the shepherds that they have found their newborn king. And you know what a manger is, right? A feeding trough. Jesus was lying in a bed of hay! (And he was probably surrounded by cows that were annoyed they couldn’t get to their food). But just think about that manger for a moment, friends. Jesus’ first home was a manger. And in the confines of a stable, the manger is where the hungry are fed.

My friends, we all have within us a deep hunger. We all long for the comfort and peace of home. We try every way we know how to satisfy those longings, even (and maybe especially) at Christmas-time. But we won’t find what we’re looking for in any particular traditions, or any special house. We won’t even find what we’re longing for on a holiday visit with family. No, we have to go to the feeding trough in Bethlehem. The only place where we can find our hunger truly satisfied is at the manger.

“This manger is not just for us to see, any more than it was just for the shepherds. It’s not just for you. It’s not just for me. It is not just for the privileged, or the Christians, or the ones who live in a land of the free. It’s not just for our family members and friends. It’s not just for the folks who live like us and think like us. It’s not just for some. This manger is for the entire world. And those angels have invited all the world to come and see, but not just to come and see, to come and make a home with this Christ-child.

“Christ is our true home. The manger is the place where all the world comes to kneel on this holy night. This is our true home, our permanent home, the place where we are welcome, and secure, and able to bask in Christ’s peace, Christ’s love, Christ’s good will and hope for all people and for all time.

“No matter who we are or where we live, no matter whether we come home for Christmas or are celebrating with a family we have made for ourselves. No matter what our state of sinfulness or station in life. No matter what our status or identity or background or culture or beliefs. No matter whether we live in a mansion that has been in our family for generations or in an apartment or a car or a tent or a shelter, the fact is, all of our earthly homes are temporary.

“There is only one home that is permanent, and that is the home we make with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate tonight, and whose coming again we will not fear, but rather will look for with the hope of Joseph, and the joy of Mary, and the curiosity and conviction of the Magi, and the boldness of the shepherds in the field.” So come to the manger. Come to the feeding trough. You are hungry, and what you are longing for is here. There is a place for you. Come home this Christmas. Let us gather around the manger. Let us gather around the Table of our Lord.

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