And this will be a sign: The Manger

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Luke 2:8-20

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find… Sharon asking us to pull down the boxes… you used to find me almost losing my faith over putting up those Christmas tree lights (thank the Lord for pre-lit trees)… you will find Anna and I making sausage balls from the same recipe that Mom used when I was young…”

This will be a sign for you… that Christmas is coming. 

What is the sign for you? I began wondering when I saw facebook postings this week.  Is it a movie? The Christmas story with that red ryder bb gun?  I found several Kirk members watching Christmas vacation… the Grinch. 

What is the sign for you?  

Is it homemade eggnog? Or a fat music folder? Stockings hung by the chimney with care? 

What is the sign for you?  One of the signs for me – the most meaningful signs for me is what happens on this night.  Families and friends have gathered for a meal and to share good will… You have come here… strangers and friends gathered together– the music and the lighting… that is a sign for me… Christmas is almost here. I’m so glad you are here. It wouldn’t be Christmas without you! 

What is the sign for you? 

Luke wants to tell us his sign of Christmas—the coming of Christ. He’s fairly clear as he mentions the sign three times in our readings tonight:

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” 

This is the sign Luke would have us see this Christmas. 

He shares the sign through the story of the Shepherds… Shepherds just going about their business… taking care of the sheep…  Shepherds who were about the last people in the world you’d expect to see a sign from God… after all, in their time they were ranked as those who were among the lowliest in the world… their profession was despised… no respectable person would ever want have their children grow up to become shepherds…they were often considered thieves because they grazed their flocks on other people’s property. They were about the last people in the world you’d expect to receive a sign from God. 

And yet, God chooses them… God sends angels to them… with flashes of glory and the sound of music to offer them this sign:  

  “Do not be afraid: for see—I am bringing great good news of great joy for all the people (including you!): to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is the Messiah the Lord. 

“This (not the singing or the bright skies) but this will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

 “THIS will be a sign for you…” THIS! Not the angels singing, not the light show… not our decorated homes, not our Christmas trees or the presents wrapped under the tree… not even my neighbor’s home brightly lit so that the space station can see the lights… Not the greeting cards, not Santa, or the elf on the shelf or even the Grinch… but always “this”:

 a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger”.

The manger is the sign. The manger…  part of the one room peasant home… the manger… home to animals every night – built into the floor of the house.

This is the sign: a peasant’s home… a stable… there you will find a child all wrapped up being cared for by a poor couple… that will be the sign of Christmas—the coming of the Christ. 

This is the sign the shepherds would talk about… as they go to see it and tell everyone their story and what the sign means to them. 

And what does the sign mean? It means God has sent a savior to the places we least expect. God has chosen to be born among us—but look carefully, or you may miss the sign of where God is coming. 

Henri Nouwen knows where to look for the sign:

“Where is God? God is where we are weak, vulnerable, small and dependent. God is where the poor are, the hungry, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the elderly, the powerless. How can we come to know God when our focus is elsewhere, on success, influence and power?.” 

I wonder if one danger of Christmas is that is we may be looking at all the wrong signs for his coming. 

The Charlie Brown Christmas story comes close. You know the story. It’s been around almost 50 years. You remember that the special begins as Charlie Brown searches for the meaning of Christmas. He tries to understand why he is always depressed around the holidays. On the advice of Lucy, he gets involved in directing a school play about the Nativity. When he loses control of the cast members… they refuse to listen… he is is given the lesser responsibility of finding a Christmas tree for the play. Instead of buying a “big, shiny, aluminum” artificial tree as he was instructed to do by Lucy, he chooses a pitiful little twig. This makes him the target of laughter and derision by all except Linus. Charlie Brown cries out in dismal desperation, “Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?”  

Which is when Linus tells the story from Luke:

 “Do not be afraid: for see—I am bringing great good news of great joy for all the people : to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is the Messiah the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Thanks to Charles Schultz, we are given a sign of where to find the Christ. Christ comes to those who need a savior most.   

What is the sign for you that Christmas is coming? Luke and the Shepherds are helping me know where to look. 

I think about a woman who is visiting the Kirk. Last Sunday she told me a story that has been in my mind ever since. She tells me that she will be alone this Christmas. She moved here a couple of months ago.  And she was wondering, just wondering, if there was an organization that would be feeding the hungry on Christmas day. She’d like to volunteer. The more I thought about her request, and the more I reflected upon this story… if Luke and the Shepherds are right–  I’m thinking that she may be the one who on Christmas day who knows where to find God come to earth. God comes to the ones who need God most… to love, to bring peace… 

Tom Long knows where to look. He teaches preaching, and he talks about visiting a dear friend who was very sick and declining at Christmas.

“It was a cold Saturday morning; the neighborhood was brightly decorated with lights and Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph and Jolly Santa Clauses.The hospice people ushered Tom into the room. He sad down beside his friend and remembers,

“There was not much to say. This would be his last Christmas and we both knew it. We sat mostly silent, a word passing between us now and then. Suddenly there was movement downstairs, the sounds of muffled voices, the shuffle of feet. It was a choir from his church come to sing Christmas carols.

We could hear them whispering among themselves, trying to decide what to sing. Indeed, what do you sing to a dying man? Their voices started, softly at first, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”

My friend and I looked at each other and waited as the choir slowly climbed the stairs, their voices growing nearer and stronger “to show God’s love aright.”

The choir was now standing in the doorway. My friend, deep into the darkness of dying and still agonizing hours away from the dawn, turned away so they would not see his tears as he listened to them as they sang: “She bore for us a savior, when half spent was the night.” That choir knew that it would be dishonest to sing something cheery and upbeat: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” “They knew they needed to sing truthfully and hopefully, to lament as well as rejoice and so they sang of God’s love coming ‘When half spent was the night’” (Testimony: Talking the Faith, pp. 33–34).

Tonight, let us remember the one who comes to us on the darkest of nights… from heaven to be with us… in a manger of all things… to be for us–  in Jesus Christ… to love us…  to redeem us to save us… to bring peace on earth and good will to all in the most unlikely places and ways. 

How do I know?  Well Luke and the shepherds told me so. They gave me a sign: 

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger”

May we too go to Bethlehem this night to see thing thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us. As we go, may we too after Christmas return home and to work… praising God for all we have heard and seen. 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  

Merry Christmas! Amen.

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