“The Mystery of the Manger”

Sermon:  12/24/03 -- Glen Dawursk, Jr. – www.yuthguy.com


There's a funny story about the famous actor John Wayne that applies to our message today.  John Wayne was playing a cameo role in the movie “The Greatest Story Every Told.”  In fact he had just one line in the whole movie – but it was a significant line never the less.  He was to say, "Truly this was the Son of God." After they shot the scene the first time, the director, George Stevens told Wayne that he lacked emphasis and expression when he said the line. He reminded Wayne that he was not talking about an ordinary man – he was talking about Jesus Christ.  Stevens said, "John, you've got to deliver the line with a little more awe." Well, on the next take, John Wayne boldly delivered the line by saying: "Aw, truly this was the Son of God."


Awe!  That is what we think about when we hear the story of Christmas.  After all, this story has all the makings of a great TV mystery:  unique exposition, unusual but lovable characters, political intrigue, internal and external conflict, fear, uncertainty, the drama of birth, and of course, amazement.  I can see it now – on the Fox network the new reality show – “Birth in a Barn” or “The Mystery of the Manger.”  But you know what was even more interesting about that night was the insignificance of it all.  The mystery was in how God used insignificant places, people and events to make this night into one of the “greatest stories ever told.” 


God used insignificant places to make this story happen.  People of importance and the rulers of the country lived in Rome and Syria.  Those cities were considered to be the “happening” places to be during the time of King Herod.  No one really cared about Palestine.  It was simply conquered land which brought in taxes for the expansion of the Roman Empire.  If anything, the Jews were really a pain in the neck to the Romans and they pretty much ignored their territory.  But God used “little places” for His story.  Bethlehem was a small town with little significance to the Roman Empire. Yes, to the Jews it was the city of David, but it had little or no influence in society.  Then there is Nazareth – a town looked down upon by most Jews and Romans alike.  Nathaniel once asked Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  (John 1:46)


Then there is the stable and the manger:  a place for animals to sleep and the trough where the cows and cattle eat from.  Three times Luke mentions that “bed” for the baby in our Scripture readings.  And then there is the “fields” where the sheep and possibly goats hung out.  In our world of high tech special effects, surround sound, and multi-media presentations, who would have though that God would have staged the first Christmas “down on the farm?”  Yes, the places were insignificant, but with God they became important -- the little places became big. 


The mystery of Christmas is also in how God used insignificant people for his story.  In our readings we heard about the “movers and shakers” of the time:  Caesar Augustus and Quirinius.  They were the rulers and by law considered “gods” to most people.  When they spoke, people listened.  They decided what  and where taxes and censuses had to be done and to whom.  BUT other than the brief mention in just two verses of Luke, these leaders take a back seat to a cast of different players.  Like an inn keeper so insignificant, that his name isn’t even mentioned – yet he offers a stable for the night.  Like the shepherds – Biblically important, but socially they were often considered “outcasts.”  And of course there is the young poor couple who traveled the long journey from Nazareth – Mary and Joseph.  Mary, a 13 or 14 year old girl scared and uncertain but faithful to God and Joseph older but not sure if he is wiser under the circumstances make a dangerous journey at a critical time in Mary’s pregnancy. Sure, the characters make for a great nativity scene – but really in the context of the world – they were very insignificant people. 


Reminds me of the story about two women who went shopping.  They stopped for a moment and looked into the large display window outside of their favorite department store.  There in the window was a large nativity display including the manger, and clay figures of the baby, Mary, Jesus, the shepherds, and the animals.  Upon glancing at the window one of the woman became irritated and turned to the other woman and said, “Look at that, the church is trying to horn in on Christmas.”


But Christmas was always God’s plan and when He came upon these simple people – they became significant. 


We see in scripture how God used the insignificance of the places and the people to unfold His mystery.  But it didn’t stop there – God also used an “insignificant” event to change the world.    Like the women at the window – many people become irritated at this time of year – not because of Christmas decorations, but rather because of “property taxes.”  Taxes would have been the significant news event of the day – but instead, it was simply a passing line in the scripture text.  Instead, the insignificance of the birth of a baby became the focus of God’s story.  A birth was not significant, after all – babies were born everyday.  I’m sure the Bethlehem Enquirer didn’t run a front page tabloid headline saying “Baby Born in a Barn” carry pictures of the “Manger Mama.”  No – babies being born was no big deal.  But with God, this simple event became significantly important. 


But Why did God do it this way?  Insignificant places, people and events – why?  Why not take place in Rome or Syria with more people and better media coverage?  Why didn’t He come as a grown-up earthly king, conqueror or ruler? Or as a supernatural being? Why didn’t He arrive with style in a stretch chariot limo with gold studded horses and a parade of servants?  Why not?  The answer: because we would not have noticed Him.


Henry Carter, a pastor and an administrator of a home for emotionally disturbed children, tells of an encounter he had one Christmas Eve that gave him a new insight and perspective. He was busy with last minute preparations for the worship service, when one of the floor mothers came to say that Tommy had
crawled under his bed and refused to come out. He followed her up the stairs and looked at the bed she pointed out. Not a hair or a toe showed beneath it. So he talked to Tommy as if he were addressing the bucking broncos on the bedspread. He talked about the brightly lighted tree, the packages underneath it and the other good things that were waiting for Tommy out beyond that bed.


No answer.

Still fretting about the time this was costing, Henry dropped to his hands and knees and lifted the spread. Two enormous blue eyes looked out at him. Tommy was 8, but looked like a 5 year-old. He could easily have pulled him out. But it wasn't pulling that Tommy needed - it was trust and a sense of deciding things on his own initiative. So, crouched on all fours, Henry launched into the menu of the special Christmas Eve supper to be offered after the service. He told of the stocking with Tommy's name on it, provided by the
Women's Society.

Silence. There was no indication Tommy heard or that he even cared about Christmas.

At last, because he could think of no other way to make contact, Henry got down on his stomach and wriggled in beside Tommy, snagging his sport coat on the bedsprings on the way. He lay there with his cheek pressed against the floor for a long time. He talked about the big wreath above the altar and the candles in the window. He talked about the carols all the kids were going to sing. Then, finally running out of things to say, he simply waited there beside Tommy.”

After a bit, a small child's chilled hand slipped into his. Henry said, "You know, Tommy, it is kind of close quarters under here. Let's you and me go out where we can stand up." As they slid out from under the bed, Henry realized he had been given a glimpse of the mystery of Christmas.

God has always desired a relationship with us.  He called us from above through the significance of His awesome creation – but we were blind and did not recognize Him.  He pleaded with us through the prophets and spiritual leaders of the Bible – but we were deaf and ignored Him.  But it was not until He stooped down and “crawled under the beds” of our lives that we noticed Him.  God used the everyday insignificance of Bethlehem, of a cow trough and a baby’s birth to call us to him – with the sole purpose of making us significant.  But like Tommy, will we receive the hand He has made available to us? 


There is another story of a little boy – but this little boy was REALLY mean. No matter what his parents tried, he continued to be self-centered, selfish and well --- mean. Christmas was coming soon, so the little boy, in his usual selfish way, made his "Dear Santa" letter - 12 pages of gadgets and toys!

When his parents saw the monstrous letter, they were upset and concerned. His father picked up the little boy and carried him to the living room, setting him firmly on the floor in front of the family's nativity scene. "l want you to sit right here and look at this scene until you remember what Christmas is all about. Then you must write a letter to Jesus."

So the little boy sits there a while and then returns to his bedroom. Finding paper and pencil, he begins to write: "Dear Jesus, if you bring me all the presents I want, I will be good for a whole year." Then he thinks for a moment and tears up the paper. He writes again: "Dear Jesus, if you bring me all the presents I want, I will be good for a whole week" but once again he tears up the paper. The little boy quietly leaves his room and returns to the living room looking intently at the nativity scene. He gently reaches down and picks up the figure of Mary. Returning to his room, he places the figure in a shoebox and sets the box in the back of his closet. Then he writes another Letter: "Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again..."

For many of us, we have hidden Jesus in the closet of our lives because we don’t think that God can make something significant out of our life. But the Mystery of the Manger is that God loves us so much, that he desires to make our lives significant as well.  1 Corinthians 1:26 reminds us: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” He desires to fill our lives with true peace and joy and contentment.  He desires to use us to make a difference in this community, in this church and in our homes.



You see, the mystery of the manger is that with God all things are possible.  We are possible.  With God, our insignificant lives, our daily drudgeries, our issues and dysfunctions can change.  The mystery of the manger is that all places, all people and all events matter to God.  No one is outside of God’s love. 


In Luke 1:37 and 38 the angel reminded Mary the mother of Jesus that, “There is nothing impossible with God” and her response was “Let it be according to your word.”  May we share that response this Christmas and everyday of our life as we see how the mystery of the manger unfolds in our lives. 


For Jesus sake, amen.


PLEASE NOTE: I collect stories for future use, but I failed to keep the authors and sources for the ones included in this sermon.  The stories and concepts for this sermon were taken from a variety of sources including some readily available on the internet.