Philip Casmer

A Sign for the Shepherds

by Philip Casmer on December 21st, 2019

This morning you’ll hear the story of Christmas. And I’m particularly thinking of that one part the angel says to the shepherds, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Signs are important (generally): they’re intended to be received. Signs tell you where you can and can’t park, where the big sales are, and when the floor’s slippery. They’re meant to indicate important information to you so that you can do something with it. What do you do with the baby in the manger?

I read an article recently about the nativity, specifically, the verse that fulfills the angel’s words: “[Mary] wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”   The article argued that there had been no room in the “guest-room” and so Mary and Joseph were probably in the common room of a house with the family of said house.  In the common room of many a house in first century Palestine was also where the animals and feedbox would normally be.  That, therefore, Jesus probably was born in a warm room with smiling faces and lots of helping hands and that the feedbox might normally have served the just-delivered-baby’s-bed purpose.  And that altogether we have wrongly wrapped Jesus’ birth in loneliness, and donkey-smell, and rejection.

However much of that is plausible or not, doesn’t it remind against what we’re tempted to do with news – to sensationalize?  We like the Christmas Nativity – the loneliness, the rejection, the talk-to-the-hand door-slamming innkeepers, adoring animals, etc.  Instead, we ought to take the angel’s words as the simple sign they are…  When we see the swaddled, newly-born, baby in the hay, we’re seeing God almighty in first-century flesh, humbly dependant on his mother, wrapped up against the cold.  We’re seeing humility and lowliness and hardship…but mostly we’re seeing evidence that the angel’s news is true.  It’s a sign that God has come down to make our salvation happen by giving himself.  This baby in the manger is the sign that God so loved this world that he would make himself just like us to bear our sin and take its punishment and make holy a people for God so that they could be just like him.  We’re seeing Jesus, God-made-man, the sign that he is about to do what no other man could – save the world.

Which takes us back to signs.  The question is what one does with them.  As he gives this Christmas sign, I love how the angel announces the news and assumes that the shepherds will find the baby – that they will go look for him – no question at all.  It’s a good reminder for us at Christmas.  There’s no question, is there, of what to do with this sign?  The sign of the swaddled Savior in a manger was meant to be seen, to be pondered, to be shared.  That’s what the children do for us this morning – with their smiles and joy – they share the sign of the baby born, the reality of God’s love sent to us. At their direction, this Christmas don’t look first for family joy, for a spirit of giving, for heartwarming news.  Find your Savior in the manger…and be filled with the good news of great joy that you can share with all kinds of people: Christ the Savior is born and He is the sign of God’s limitless love for us.

Merry Christmas.  Amen.

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