It’s approaching Christmas time. We’re beginning, perhaps, to hear Christmas sermons, depending on how your tradition structures these things.
In the Evangelical world someone somewhere is advising us to remember to include the cross in our preaching—don’t give them the cute and sentimentalised baby Jesus, remind them that the meaning of Christmas is found at Easter!
I can get on board as far as it goes, Christ came to Planet Earth as human flesh to die in the place of sinners. That is true. But I part ways slightly, because its not everything that’s true. What I mean by that is that the gospel cannot be narrowed down to “Christ died for sinners” as though that were everything there is to say. The good news is far too big to get all of it out in one sitting, anyway, so we always present an aspect—a flavour if you will—of the grand story of the cosmos.
If someone preaches God in the Manger rather than God on the Cross, they have still preached the gospel. God in the manger is the gospel.
Why? Because the scandalous, outright ludicrous, suggestion that the almighty maker of heaven and earth, the unmoved mover, the first word and speaker of the first word, the alpha and omega, the grand storyteller, the author of life, Goodness himself, Love himself, the simple and incomprehensible God who is pure act, the Sovereign Lord Yahweh—him—that he would chose to become a creature—
And not, I note, take the form of a creature like many pagan gods and powers have in the past, but become, take on flesh, incarnate as a human male—this suggestion is what we approach when we say, “God in the manger.” That suggestion is good news. It is, in fact, the good news.
Why? Because God in heaven has come to be with his creation. God in the manger is God who stoops. God who gets into the dirt. God who comes and sits in the ash heap with the mourners. God who comes and sits in the dark with the sufferers. God who joins the work party with the oppressed. God who sits in prison with the captives. God who associates with the blind and the lame and the leprous and the tax collector and the adulterer and the one society calls a sinner.
God in the manger is God with us.
And God with us is enough of a mind-blowing insight to fill a sermon. And enough to come to him—OK it needs some blanks filling in, but so does God on the cross: “How can I know the God who sits with me? Friends, you have to give up everything you have and follow him. The Bible calls it repenting.”
God in the manger is powerfully strange, and earthily domestic. I’m imagining you’ve picked up that Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, but in his extended family’s house. Which, while true, I think can come across a bit pedantic at Christmastime, though no one wants to talk about it the rest of the year round.
Why, except for historical accuracy, does that matter? Because God was born into the heart of a family home. Which means that God can enter right into the heart of your home. We will find, like we do with the child who is God, that it is God who has entered in silently and we did not even realise it. This is always true with him, we turn to him because he has first come and pitched his tent of meeting where we are. He came to be with the world despite our hatred of him, he came to dwell in you before you loved him. We love him because he first loved us (1 John 4).
God arriving in a manger teaches us his character and his disposition. He is a God of gift. He gives. That’s what he does. The greatest gift he gives is himself.
And if you tell people that this Christmas, you will have preached Christ.
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