"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another. "Let us go now to Bethlehem, and see the thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So, they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all theses words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:15-20)."
Babies are special! There is special warmth each time I visit new parents in the hospital. There's wonderful warmth each time I baptize a child. There is just something captivating about new life.
The innocence and dependence of that little young life strikes at our emotions. We look at their small fingers, we laugh at their yawns, and we are amazed as they try to walk and we are so proud of their first spoken word.
Let's face it—babies do strange things to us. It's amazing, you can take a perfectly mature adult and put them in front of a baby and they will do silly things and become very strange. They begin to talk silly; they will twist their faces into all sorts of contortions and make faces they would never make to another adult just trying to get that baby to look at them and smile. We're hooked on babies.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons that Christmas affects us the way it does, the cuteness of a new baby. The story of the shepherds and wise men, stars and angels, all add a special appeal to Christmas. The fascination with birth, fresh life, innocence, and a little human being that is almost toy-like, is all so marvelous. There are promises from God—hope is in the air and there are messages of joy.
But there is mystery here as well—baffling mystery. I cannot imagine what it meant for the eternal God who created the cosmos and all the life which is in it to become a helpless infant. It stretches the mind beyond its limits. It's easier for us to think of a child of promise in the cradle than it is for us to imagine the Christ, who is God and rules in heaven, being born into the world. We understand babies, but we don’t understand God becoming a baby.
We like cute. We avoid profound mystery. We prefer to think of the crib rather than the cross. The world likes to think about a child born on earth rather than Christ's return to earth. Somehow his helplessness appeals to us more than his omnipotence and deity.
It is good to enjoy the charm of Christmas, but we also have to grow up to understand the mystery of Christmas. We have to mature and understand the importance of what was really going on. We have to allow Christ to grow up as well. He cannot stay forever a baby.
So, the first point is that we need to grow up in our faith so that we realize who Christ is. The bible encourages us “in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ.”(Ephesians 4:15) Christmas is a wonderful thing. It is a good beginning, but at some point in time, we have to let Jesus out of the cradle. We have to allow him to grow up and we must grow up with him. We have to go from thinking of him as a baby and understand that he is God who came and wrapped himself in human flesh for a time. We have to go from wonder to worship. We have to understand that there is more to the story than a baby in the hay. In that cradle lay the hope for all ages. In that stall was the salvation of the world. The story about a child being born is true and wonderful, but we have to go beyond being charmed by it and be changed by it.
We have to see beyond the tradition and be transformed. We have to go beyond the admiration of a child to the adoration of a savior. You do not truly understand Christmas until you find yourself on your knees in worship.
If Christmas was only a baby being born, there is the temporary joy of a new birth, but if it was God coming to the world, then it is an everlasting joy that does not fade with the passing of time. As the Bible says –“We have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for you.” (I Peter 1:3-4)
This is truly good news. It is real hope and life can be eternally different. The prophets claimed that a child would be born to save the world. They said he would bear the stamp and very image of God. They called him Emmanuel—God with us.
Candy Chand tells of her son’s Christmas play at North Country Elementary School in Antelope, California. Her son was in kindergarten and was excited about Christmas. For weeks he had been memorizing songs for the school’s “winter pageant.” Mrs. Chand went to the dress rehearsal in the morning and sat on the floor with the other parents. Finally, the students were led into the room-and each group rose with their appointed time to perform their song.
Because of how conscious the school was of avoiding any mention of the real meaning of Christmas, she expected songs about reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer. But, when her son’s class rose to sing, she was surprised to see that their song was entitled “Christmas Love.” Her son Nicholas was aglow, as were his classmates, who were outfitted with fuzzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright snow caps on their heads.
The children in the front row held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As the class sang “c" is for Christmas,” a child would old up the letter “c”—then “h” is for happy,” and so on, until each child had held up his or her letter to complete the message of “Christmas Love.”
Everything was going smoothly until a shy little girl in the front row held her letter upside down. Instead of holding up her “m” she was holding it so that it appeared to be a “w”. The adults smiled and the children from the other classes began to snicker. She had no idea why they were looking at her so intently and smiling. So she stood tall and proudly displayed her “w”. The teachers tried to shush the children, but the laughter continued until the last letter was raised.
Then the hush came over the audience and the people stared in wonder as they saw the sign which—instead of “Christmas Love” now read “ Christ Was Love.” There, in that moment, the Christ of Christmas made His message known. Out of chaos and secularization of His birth, Christ the King came out of the cradle to announce the reason He came.
Have no fear all is well. For all the unbelief in the world cannot stop the message that the God of love has come to us at Christmas---- Out of the cradle--- to be our Emmanuel.
I look forward to worshipping with you through this Advent and Christmas Season at First United Methodist Church of Goldthwaite. A body of Christ with open hearts, open minds and open doors.