Decades of Christmas memories travel in and out of my heart and soul this time of year. It's no wonder either. With all the sights, sounds, and smells there's bound to be sensory overload. It' funny how such a small and seemingly insignificant encounter, with practically anything, triggers our inner faculties, this time of year.
Maybe it was all the lights that reminded me, but I remember how I used to love decorating at Grandmas. No matter how cold it was, I was going to get strawberries, pound cake, and ice cream when we finished. She would play Christmas records as the tree went up. Looking back, it probably was to keep me from hearing the frustrated words of my grandfather as he fixed the lights. Oh, and I can still smell the distinct aroma of her attic lingering on the ornaments since that was their home eleven months of the year. She had a ceramic nativity scene. If I was a good little boy, I could place baby Jesus in the stable. After Christmas, we would wrap it up in tissue paper and put it away to keep it from breaking. It's one of my favorite childhood and holiday memories.
You know, some Christians don't celebrate Christmas. History tells us it was a pagan ritual that church officials changed so newly converted people could celebrate Christ birth rather than the winter solstice. Knowing the history doesn't create a problem for me since the Bible says this:
Colossians 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
Ironically, Christians celebrate the work done on the most pagan of all alters. An alter made for mankind's own system of death. Man brought death and murder into the world and created a device to accomplish death in its totality. The cross denied all dignity to it's victims while automatically increasing their torture. The cross was built by men of the world for the oppression and enslavement of those who challenged a world system. It was an instrument of fear, death, and torture before God touched it and changed it.
God changed it so drastically, that the
once ultimate symbol of death and oppression, is now the greatest symbol of hope and eternal life.
That is happens, when God touches things, He changes them.
At Christmas, I can't help but think of how He has changed the manger. It's become a symbol as well. Before Christ touched it, it was nothing more than a wooden feed sack. I wonder how many miss who it is in the manger.
Around 700 years before Christ was in a manger, the prophet
Isaiah, wrote these words we say every Christmas.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Yet, somehow we miss who it is is in the manger.
The Wonderful Counselor, the prince of peace, we are ok with that, but everlasting Father and mighty God? In a manger?
It's no mere mortal in the manger. God is who he is. You ask how is that possible? He was God's son. How does that work? I could tell you, God is not subject to the laws He creates.He is all powerful. I could tell you, He is outside of time and space. I could suggest, He has the ability to separate himself. Honestly, I just don't know. Just like, I don't know how any of God's miracles happen. Just like, Mary didn't know how a virgin could conceive. The only thing I can tell you is what Gabriel told her. "Nothing is impossible with God." Jesus is God according to lots of scripture in both Old and New Testament. So He's God and He's God son, cause He says so. And that is something only an all powerful God could pull off.
In the manger, there are parts of Jesus story you can't hear for the ooos and the awes in the background. There's angels singing, and nicely dressed, freshly bathed shepherds, worshipping a Wonderful Counselor. It's serene and tranquil, the way we tell it. There's more to the Gospel message than peace on Earth. More than Christmas candles burn inside the hearts of men, where the Gospel ignited more than an emotion of joy.
The manger story is beautiful, but it's not the beginning, the end, the middle, or even the climax of story of Christ. It was the things He said and did that made this story worth celebrating. It is who Christ is making this story holy. So many still miss who He is and miss what Christmas is.
Christmas was the execution of an ongoing rescue mission, planned from the foundation on the world, to glorify the Father, by setting the captives free. The Christ of the entire story, many turn away from.
So many that aren't saved love Christmas. Don't they?
For many people, the manger is all of the story of Jesus they have. Truthfully, the only part many want. Like Paul Harvey would say, "you need the rest of the story." They need to know the manger is as empty now as the tomb is. And it is the full life, between an empty manger, and an empty tomb, that we must focus on.
Remember Ricky Bobby's prayer from Taledega nights? "Dear sweet, baby, Jesus lying in a manger..." nobody turns away from baby Jesus do they?. Because if we are honest, what we really want, is a god we can wrap and unwrap when it is convenient. A god we can take in and out, when we want, and place in a setting of our own choosing. In short, a God we control instead of a God we obey. The problem is, we end up with an idol we decorate the mantel of our minds with, rather than, a God who decorates our lives.
See, in the manger, Jesus doesn't require anything of us.
There He doesn't teach: turn the other cheek, love your enemies, love God with all that you are, or love your neighbor as yourself. He doesn't command us to: carry our own cross or the gospel. In the manger, all the scars Jesus took to save us are covered by swaddling clothes. We never allow our imaginations to visualize the manger in the shadow of the cross. Gruesome imagery of an infant child tattered and torn, mutilated, nailed to a cross, is just too much for our feeble psyches to take in. Yet, it is only in knowing nothing was less holy on the cross, than was in that manger, nothing was more sacred, or more innocent, more precious, more pure, in that manger, than was nailed that cross, that we can have the gift of knowing what the manger holds for Christmas.
Oh, the manger is part of a beautiful story. A beautiful celebration of our savior coming from heaven, dying to save us and he will return again. If there is anything to learn from the manger it is the transformation, the difference Christ's touch makes.The manger was nothing more than a wooden feed sack until Christ touched it, until Christ was in it. If all you know about Jesus is the manger story, then you missed He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.
He shows us the way through the cross, He shows us the truth by His resurrection, and gave us His life, as an example to live by, so that we might live with Him. The only reason we even know about the manger is because there was a resurrection!. He who hung on the cross touched it and it changed, like everything He touches changes.This is story of a beautiful gift, the living word of the living God, sent to a lost world.
But the most beautiful part, there's no end to this story. And here's the big question, what part are you gonna play in the story?
Are you going to to spread the love of Jesus anywhere and everywhere?
Are you touched by the manger, or
Has he who touched the manger touched you?
May the the season continually remind you of Him,