Up from the Cradle, Out From the Stable

If it's all the same with you tonight, I'd rather not board the Polar Express. Yes, I saw the movie and loved it. But its basic message misses the best part of Christmas. See, it's not that Christmas is in your heart, though that's a good thing. No, the whole point is, Christmas is in the heart of God. And as for Lemony Snicket, such a Series of Unfortunate Incidents, for all their special effects, cannot compare to the story we tell here tonight. A very young mother. The archangel Gabriel has to tell her what to make of her "condition". Joseph, in need of an angel's word, so he won't give up on Christmas, because he doesn't understand how such a thing could be possible. (Do we… understand, that is… how God can come into our world as a baby? Maybe we don't. So we settle for so much less: from presents to pies, snow-hopes to Santa-dreams.) Unfortunate incidents, alright, this Christmas. A full term mom on a donkey-ride to delivery, that's the tradition. No room in the inn. A cattle trough for a cradle. Shaky shepherds showing up with wonder in their eyes. Who would believe Wise One's from the East, with gifts so rare? Gold for a king. Yes. Frankincense, a sign of the nearness of God. Whoa. Myrrh, the ointment of the dead …hmmm… a foreshadowing clue of a seemingly sorry climax to this story. One more thing. Herod will be hunting for this baby Jesus. He wasn't the kind of king to take kindly to competition for the crown, even if there was word it was heaven-sent. I like the movies. But I love Christmas. The real Christmas.

The real Christmas comes at the manger, intimate and simple. Don't forget that. Intimate. Just between you and me. Just between you and me and God. Don't you love this about Christmas? As far as we know, the holy couple delivering alone. No fanfare, no grand production, no sweep of armies overcoming their enemies, real or imagined. Yet, to them and to us personally, comes this Jesus. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Savior. The manger reminds us these blessings fit to change the world are sent to change the souls of just plain folks. Like you and me. In times that spin out of control, theirs, ours. It's comforting to know that God is personal, present, available, filled with power, even when it's packed up in a baby. If your times are good tonight, rejoice. God is with you. If your times are hard, take heart. God is with you. And this will be the sign, "You shall find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." You don't have to do anything. No holiday lists here. The present is in hand. Already wrapped. Specially delivered. No need to be frantic a moment longer. Just go and see him in the place where he lay.

The real Christmas is musical! Music to our ears, our souls: our experience of heaven, beginning here on earth. From the songs of the angels to the carols with the kids in the youth group in a snow squall, I love it. I love it because this Christmas is the beginning of the salvation story. (Don't miss that part!) The song of this night is that in the birth of Jesus, every child of every age, and every one of us, is holy in God's sight. And God would leave not one behind. There is a plan to bring us along home. Yes, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory. But God has emptied himself into this infant Jesus. And he will take the form of a servant. And he will embrace the world to himself with an unmistakable gesture. (Gesture X) Now it is not so much that seeing's believing. It's that when we believe, we can really see. And once we've seen, we just can't help but sing. After all, our Bible says, to all who believe and receive him, he will give power to become children of God. In this Jesus, God's Word becomes flesh this very night, and lives among us, full of grace and truth. You and I behold his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. Oh yes, and this could be the start of something big, grand, just absolutely divine.

Imagine we could get away from the intimacy of Bethlehem, and see the grand design tonight. The Beginning of souls saved, eternal life for those who believe, confess, and walk in faith. The world at peace, the values of heaven valued on earth. That would be, will be something! A just wealth among the world's people, and a merciful justice. Why, here's how Mary sings it, "His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, put down the mighty from their thrones, exalted those of low degree; filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away." Oh, this birth is something to sing about!

So isn't it time? Time for us to sing about Jesus, up from the cradle and out from the stable. Time to make Christmas not just our carol, but our song? When the shepherds came and saw him, they were not prepared to leave Christmas at the cradle. They took it with them. They took Jesus with them. They would tell everyone what they had seen and heard. (What about us?) The kings would go home by a different way, different people on a whole new road. (What about you? What about me?) Mary would leave the stable with that holy child, and with all these things in her heart. Even if it meant a pain at the end more piercing than any she experienced at the start. On our altar tonight, as, I think, at Bethlehem, the cradle looks up at the cross. It is what happens when Christmas rises from the manger and steps out from the stable. Are you ready to make the same journey? If so, there is every hope of expanding the angel chorus. 'And drawing closer to that great day when all on earth, above and beneath will sing the name and glory of God the Father through Jesus the Son.

A blessed Christmas to you…all.

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