"A Not So Ordinary Manger"
Advent Midweek Service Sermon
December 17, 2014
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you, Amen.
Today we ask the question “how has He saved us?” At the heart of this question is our desire to know what God has done, and is still doing for us. It shows our longing for answers. Our longing for comfort from the loneliness this world can bring upon us. It shows our desire for reassurance that everything has been taken care of. And the good news we shall hear this day is all of these cares and concerns are answered.
Throughout this Advent season we have been using the beloved cradle hymn “Away in a Manger” as the backdrop for our worship. We sing in that hymn of the desires I’ve just spoken of. At the beginning of the third verse it begins “Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay”. This line holds the burning desire of every believer’s heart. And though our sinful nature often has us doing the very things that take us away from God’s presence, one thing we have learned throughout this season is God has heard this cry of ours, “be near me, Lord Jesus.” We know this for God answered us in the incarnation. In the birth and life of Jesus among us. As Isaiah puts it in verse 4 of today’s reading “He will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God, He will come and save you.” Jesus has come once already and accomplished our salvation through His sacrifice, once and for all, on the cross.
It would seem this answers our question, yes? “How has He saved us?” The cross sure seems like the answer and to be sure, it is. But that doesn’t answer everything we need to know. Here’s what I mean: Jesus’ death on the cross did indeed accomplish salvation for all mankind. There was not a single person past, present, or future that His death did not pay for. Jesus’ work is like the ultimate Christmas gift to all humanity. However, like any Christmas gift we would purchase, a gift must be given and received. Just as those wonderful new earrings you bought your wife, or the power drill you bought your husband, or the new LEGO set you bought your child isn’t much of a gift if it sits wrapped in a closet somewhere, all gifts must be given and received. So it is true with the salvation Jesus has purchased for us with His own blood. That gift of eternal life has been purchased for us, now it must be given and received.
So, as we ponder what kind of heavenly delivery system God must use to give us these most precious of gifts we should understand, that God’s ways are not our ways. After all, when God first delivered His Son into flesh to be our Savior Jesus was given in the humble cradle of a manger. Our Lord’s beginnings at Christmas ought to guide us to see that God not only worked in such humble fashion then, but He continues to do so today.
God’s heavenly delivery system today works through three different means. Each is as common as the next in appearance, and yet rich with heavenly blessings nonetheless. God delivers His gifts to us through speech, water, and the bread and wine. In other words, God’s Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. These means of God’s grace to us hardly have much outward beauty that we should be attracted or impressed by them. In fact, I’ve heard it said that the simple pouring of water in baptism seems like such an ordinary, common task, how could God possibly do all that He says He does.
But these our Lord’s means of grace share in the same apparent weakness of the little Lord Jesus who did once “lay asleep on the hay.” These means hide in them the full power and glory of God, as did the child Jesus who, though being fully man, also had the fullness of God. Be not fooled by the simplicity of the words of Scripture, the waters of Baptism, or the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, for God does indeed employ them to deliver His heavenly blessings to His people.
This comes as a challenge to us. By our sinful nature we are challenged by our mind’s desire to be caught up with the fancy, the innovative, the attractive, the flashy. We think all great blessings must come in shiny, impressive packages and the mundane is lost on us. This reminds me of one of my favorite Disney Pixar films. Some of you may remember the flick “Ratatouille” which came out in 2007. The movie follows a rat named Remy who desires above all else to become a cook, and it just so happens, he lives in Paris. Its a cute story, but I want you to consider another character from the movie with me. I want you to consider the most feared food critic in all of Paris, a man named Anton Ego.
Now, the movie uses Ego much like a villain as they fear him giving them a bad report if their food is not innovative or perfectly delivered. Here is where the story ties in nicely for us today. Towards the end of the film, the rat-turned-cook named Remy has this one opportunity to serve the food critic Ego, and Remy decides to serve him ratatouille. The other cook’s in the kitchen are caught aback. “But that’s a peasant dish” It seems too ordinary, too mundane to serve to the food critic. But that is what they do. And it turns out they made the right choice. Anton Ego eats the ratatouille and it instantly opens his heart and takes him back to the days of his youth when his mother would cook this simple dish for him. Though nothing of great outward appearance, the ratatouille and its familiarity got the job done.
We have God’s promise that His means of giving to us His grace are sure and true. The Word of God delivers us precisely what we need. It is like the manger delivering to us the Savior every time we peer into it. We may think these words outdated or ordinary, but in them is the familiar account of God’s love for us. We may look at the words and water of baptism as a simple tradition. But they carry the promise of God, they carry the fullness of the Word of God and deliver a life-giving water that wells up to salvation. And we are tempted to look at the bread and wine on the altar and to receive them as habit, as common. Its just something we do right. And they make the service oh so long. We know we’re guilty of this when we arrive in our pew and groan when we realize the service is going to be a little longer today. But these our sinful reactions betray us. They reveal our misunderstanding or lack of understanding of the very grace of God and His answer to our heart’s desire “be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay.”
I tell you, there is no better answer to our plea for the Lord to stay with us than when you receive His very body and blood, His real presence in the Sacrament of the altar. Your sinful nature may grumble about it, and your watch may appear to slow down, but your Savior is being given to you and the forgiveness of sins.
We pray be near me, Lord Jesus, and indeed He is with us. We know our Messiah has come because the signs of God’s Word are being, and have been fulfilled. Isaiah, in our reading today speaks of a day when the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. The lame will leap like deer and the mute tongue will shout for joy.” Surely these things have come to pass in the work of Jesus and are a sign to us that our Savior is here.
The manger is never empty, for our Savior has come to save us and deliver to us His most precious gift. To God be the glory, Amen.