My journey of words to the Cradle this Advent is over. It’s been a blessing and sometimes the words have been hard to find. They couldn’t be just any words because they were meant to express the reality of THE Word in my life. Twenty seven days of many words have come down to just this one word…”present.” It’s a word of several meanings. The present…today…Christmas 2015. This is the inheritance we’ve received from the time we took to witness this birth again.
There’s a second meaning though: present…to be here. Immanuel chose to be present with us in a very unusual way. That’s part of our legacy too. That cradle is the essence of new beginnings. No matter how unusual the circumstances that have brought us to this day, God is present here.
And finally there is a third, and anticipated, meaning of that same word: present… an item given to someone without the expectation of payment. All three meanings of that one word are tied up in this painting. It’s my present to you from my own hand.…The Gift.
Luke 2: 19 & 20
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2:14 -18
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
Luke 2:1- 7
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I’ve done
Holy Father you have come
And chosen me now
To carry your son
I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone
Be with me now
Be with me now
Luke 2:8-11 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Each of us were taking our shifts through the night to keep watch over the lambs.
It seemed like an ordinary night but honestly you’ll have to take my word for it, what happened next had us all up and on our feet in an instant.
Shepherds have to be ready for anything. There’s danger from wild animals and from thieves but in the darkness of the wilderness, and when we heard that voice coming out of nowhere, it seemed like our worst fears had become reality.
I don’t know if I actually saw a figure but for sure every one of us heard the voice. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Sure, we’d heard of a Savior, but this was a very different reality. Angels just don’t appear to shepherds. We don’t count for much except for the occasional perfect lamb we manage to provide for the Temple.
This is the awesome part…here we were, ordinary shepherds…Of All People…and God chose us to see first-hand His own perfect Lamb in the temple he’d provided!
Luke 2:6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
This Manger cradle was not an accident that happened in an overcrowded village at a busy time. God provided it. Was This Cradle the first church? It could be. It wasn’t the perfect structure I might have hoped for, but it was there and available. It wasn’t filled with privileged and perfect people, but those who were curious, who listened and responded with their presence. The only thing that made it perfect was that God chose to make his Son available there.
Churches are surely different but in this season there are similarities that attract us to This Cradle together: it’s available to anyone who wants to come. There are still wise men and women who follow their own path to to give the gifts they have. We still have shepherds who rise and boldly tell the story of what they see. We can sing the music of praise filled with words we forget to speak at other times. This Cradle still holds the same surprise and promise – God’s Son is available there..
This year Take a Walk Through Bethlehem and remember “You don’t have to travel anywhere, faith and hope and love will bring you there…
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
It’s interesting that the Gospel of Mark is all about What Comes After. After the Advent of that birth in Bethlehem had faded into years of reality. After that baby has become a grown-up Jesus. After the baptism. After the “voice from heaven” confirms him. After he endures the power of the wilderness. After “the time has come” to proclaim the “good news of God.” What Comes After is a new beginning. After Christmas.
Galatians 4:1 & 2
1 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.
The only connection I can see between Galatians and Advent is that it’s about an heir. That word certainly describes Jesus, God’s son, who’s lineage is well documented in the Bible. For that baby, that heir, God provided a trustee mother and a guardian father. They did their job well “until the time set by his father.” That all fits.
There’s more to the story though. Romans 8:17 tells us “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” This walk to the cradle has led me to consider God may have chosen us to be modern-day guardians and trustees of his legacy…As Well As Heirs.
• guard·i·an; a defender, protector, or keeper. • trust·ee: an individual person or member of a board given control or powers of administration of property in trust with a legal obligation to administer it solely for the purposes specified.
Luke 2:13 & 14
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
We’re in the last days of the choir preparation for the church’s Christmas Concert this Saturday night. It’s a BIG deal in the community and a REALLY big deal in our lives. Singing the beautiful music of Christmas with the Florida Philharmonic Symphony, Seven Rivers Chorale, soprano Amy Owens, and even an Irish Band is thrilling…and work.
It’s become an up-close-and-personal object lesson for me. Those angels may well have had the same long hours of practice learning words and music so their song could be the perfect proclamation. It’s easy to lose the idea of the very real effort involved in all the Holiness of that night.
That night wasn’t just a last minute thing that God pulled off. There was a great deal of preparation moving all “cast” members to the right place at the right time in order to accomplish the reality of “praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” We are privileged to be Part of the Cast of this contemporary Gloria…and a little overwhelmed.
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
My mind always goes to the sweet Baby, the wonder of angels singing and shepherds and wise men kneeling in worship but there’s a horrible component to the original story, that Matthew relates, about the depravity of man. There was least one angel that didn’t sing Gloria but came with a warning to Joseph…“take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That long ago story is a terrible reality of a jealous and spiteful king’s solution.
God had a different solution – an Intervention – the Word made Flesh so we would see with our own eyes. That was a new idea for me from a sermon by Pastor Carl Franzon. The premise was that God may have come to the end of His patience waiting for His creation to respond and recognize Him and took action. That certainly is the reality of a powerful and sovereign truth.
I think it’s “how” God chose to insert himself into our world that tells the rest of the story of this Intervention. A baby: the least intimidating human form. A baby to bridge the gap between a terrible reality and the sovereign truth. A baby that centuries later still causes us to feel something personal about this Intervention that happened so long ago. That’s Advent.
"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me." Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)