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.