You know the artists have it wrong, don’t you? I’m talking about Christmas. When you think of Christmas, do you see a cherubic baby on bed of sparkling clean hay, parents peacefully looking on — halos shining over everyone in the scene, shepherds, wise men, everyone awash in starlight, maybe even a few angels hovering over the manger? Is that what you think of when you think of Christmas?
It might be time to read Luke 2 again. It might be time to get real with Christmas. This story certainly is. No fancy robes (the wise men were still in the East), no halos, no cleanliness, maybe not even a stable (many animals around Bethlehem stayed in caves). Hey, the manger might have even been made out of stone. There was none of the stuff that the artists have added to show how special the event was. But that’s just it — from appearances, it wasn’t special. Just a couple of kids, worn out from a journey and a pregnancy and too many details still up in the air. When’s the last time you thought of a woman screaming in labor pains and a man reminding her to breathe as a key part of the Christmas story? The picture wasn’t that pretty.
Think about this. Isn’t that how our lives look way too often? As special as we are supposed to be to God… and yet things don’t look special. When we get the Christmas cards with the smiling happy family on it, we know that behind that picture there was chaos getting the kids bathed and dressed and getting them to sit still. That picture doesn’t show the argument on the way or the tears spouses cause each other. But we know. We see those things in our lives. There is no photoshop for our real Christmas picture, no delete button on the camera of our conscience. We see our failures. It’s hard not to be real with those.
God saw those things too. In fact, that’s why this Christmas scene in our text, this so normal human scene is so special. God came to where we are — the normal, the chaotic, the stressful, the painful world where we are. God became one of us because he is our substitute. That’s the only way he could fix our situation. He was born in our place — without sin — and lived in our place, without sin, and died in our place to pay for sin, and rose in our place to change our picture forever. That’s what makes this normal everyday nativity scene special. That’s what makes our normal everyday stuff special.
Get real with Christmas. That’s what the angels had to do for the shepherds — telling them to look not for starlight directions — but for a baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Listen to their words: "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’" Whoa! All of a sudden, that normal, regular looking birth is something else. Our Savior is here.
The angel goes on: "This will be the sign to you (that’s what the Greek says — this will be the sign to you): you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." You’d think the sign would be the angel hosts adoring, or trumpets blaring, or the whole place gleaming with the glory of God’s presence, or the hosts holding up this child, or at least something hovering in midair — but no — the sign of God’s entrance, the sign of God’s promises fulfilled, the sign of our salvation — is so common that people can just walk by it without noticing. There, God became man to save us. Not what it looks like. But oh so real!
So get real! Remember what really happened at that manger all those years ago. That’s how much God loves you — and that’s how certain you can be that he’s working for your good.
Merry Christmas… in Christ. That’s real!
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.