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December 23, 2018

Sermon Luke 2:12 . . . “Bible places:  a stable”

“Bible places:  a stable”

Luke 2:12

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

What do Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Beyoncé all have in common?  If you’d say they were rich, you’d be right.  But that’s not the answer I’m looking for.  The answer I am looking for is this--they all started at the bottom.

Take Jeff Bezos, for example.  Today, you might know him as the founder, chairman, and CEO of Amazon, an online company from which you can order pretty much anything, anytime, and anywhere.  At the last estimate, he was the richest man ever, worth right around $160 billion.

But it wasn’t always that way.  In fact, he came from pretty humble beginnings.  When he was born, his mother was a seventeen-year-old high school student, and his father owned a bike shop.  Later, when he moved to Miami and was in high school himself, he was a “grill man,” flipping burgers at a McDonald’s.  He said:  “You can learn responsibility in any job, if you take it seriously...it’s different from what you learn in school.  Don’t underestimate the value of that.”

And how about Warren Buffett?  He’s one of the most successful financial investors ever, and, at the age of eighty-eight, he’s still serving as the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.  Today, he’s the third richest man in the world, at right around $90 billion.

But it wasn’t always that way for him either!  When he was thirteen, he woke up at 4:30 every morning, just to deliver newspapers, and worked in his grandfather’s grocery store.

And last, but not least, there’s American singer and songwriter Beyonce.  Today, she’s worth right around $355 million.  Not bad for someone who’s thirty-seven years old!

But life wasn’t always easy for her either.  When she was young, she swept the floor at her mother’s Houston hair salon.  She said:  “If everything was perfect, you would never learn, and you would never grow.”

It’s amazing how some of the world’s wealthiest people came from such humble beginnings.

So it was with our Savior Jesus.  For the almighty creator of heaven and earth once chose to leave His infinite glory, to be born in a stable, to become one of us.

Please turn in your Bible to page 1090, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start at Luke chapter 2, verse 8:  “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you:  you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’”

If you think about it, the Christmas story is full of surprises.  Zechariah never expected to have a child in his old age, and neither did his wife, Elizabeth.  Still it was to them that the angel Gabriel came to say, “You will have a son, and you will name him, John.”  Mary was just a young girl from a small, out-of-the-way town called Nazareth.  Yet Gabriel came to her to say that, out of all women on earth, she would bear the sinless, Son of God.  And when Joseph heard the news, he made up his mind to just walk away.  Still an angel came to say, “Don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.”

Then came the census and the command to return to their place of birth.  And after they made their way across all of Israel, and came to that little town called Bethlehem, there were no doctors, no hospitals, and no maternity wards.  There was barely even a place to stay.  And of all things, a manger would serve as a crib instead.

And who would come to worship Him?  Not the scribes or the Pharisees, not kings or princes, not even a single member of the Sanhedrin.  Instead, first came shepherds, watching their flocks by night, then wise men, advisors of a distant king.

Christmas is full of surprises.

In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, author Philip Yancey tells of sitting, one Christmas season, in a beautiful auditorium in London, listening to Handel’s Messiah.

He had already spent that morning in museums, viewing some of England’s former glory--the crown jewels, some ruler’s solid gold mace, and the Lord Mayor’s gilded carriage.  And there in that auditorium, he could see the royal box, where the queen and her family would sit.  

And as he sat listening to the choir sing, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,” he thought of how the world’s rulers typically travel around the world--with bodyguards, a trumpet fanfare, flashing jewelry, and a flourish of expensive clothes.

For example, they say that, when the queen visits the United States, she totes along four thousand pounds of luggage (including two outfits for every occasion, a mourning outfit just in case someone dies, forty pints of plasma, and white kid leather toilet seat covers).  She even brings along her own hairdresser, two valets, and a host of other attendants.  A brief royal visit can easily cost twenty million dollars.

Yet, there in Bethlehem, we find the most remarkable surprise of all.  For God, in human flesh, was born of a woman, and laid in a manger, to redeem us from our sin.

Have you ever wondered why Christ was born in a stable?  After all, God is all powerful, all loving, and all knowing.  There’s nothing He cannot do.

Imagine bringing your wife into an animal stall to give birth, in the dark, with little to no help at all!  And imagine laying your newborn son in a feeding trough, a box full of hay!

But if truth be known, the Author of all creation knew exactly what He was doing.

Jesus was born there on purpose.

Why?  To show, as He would later say, that His kingdom was not of this world.  To show, as Paul would later say, that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  And to remind us that He came to serve, and not be served, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

That’s why.

Back in October of 1914, Thomas Osborne walked into Auburn Prison in upstate New York, and like all the inmates before him, he was photographed, fingerprinted, stripped of all his possessions, issued a set of prison grays, and led to a cell--four feet wide, by seven-and-a-half feet long.

The only difference between him and the other 1,329 inmates was the issue of his freedom.  On his command, he could have left that prison anytime he wanted.  

You see, the governor, Governor Sulzer, had appointed him to the state commission on prison reform.  So he made it his mission to live as one of the inmates, to experience life behind bars.  He slept in a dank, drafty cell, just like everyone else.  He ate their food and worked a job.  He even endured their most dreaded punishment--a night in “the box.”

He could have ordered his own release at any time.  Still he let himself be confined.

He wrote:  “I am a prisoner, locked, double-locked.  By no human possibility, by no act of my own, can I throw open the iron grating which shuts me from the world into this small vault.  I am a voluntary prisoner, it is true; nevertheless, even a voluntary prisoner can’t unlock the door of his cell.”

Do you think it’s strange that anyone would do anything like this?  Imagine how much stranger still that God, in a Bethlehem stable, before Mary and Joseph, wise men and shepherds, would become man.

One more thing.  Back in 1926, a physician named George Harley moved with his wife, to Africa, to become medical missionaries, among the Mano tribe in Liberia.  But soon after they arrived, they became frustrated, because the people he was trying to reach with the gospel refused to respond.  He had a burning passion for Jesus, and he just couldn’t understand why they didn’t care.

He built a clinic and a chapel.  The clinic was full as he treated thousands of people.  But absolutely no one bothered to step foot in the chapel.

And while George and his wife were in Africa, they had a son, whom they called Bobby.  He was the apple of their eye.

But when he was five, he became ill.  George tried everything he could to try to cure his son, but nothing worked.  He died a few days later.

Heartbroken, George went to his workshop and built a coffin.  Then he laid the boy’s body inside, nailed the lid shut, then lifted it onto his shoulder to carry it to a clearing.  It’s where he planned to dig a grave for his son.

And while he was on the way, an older man from the village came to ask what he was doing.  When George told him, the man offered to help him carry the coffin.  So the two went out together toward the clearing.

Later, George told a friend:  “So the old man took one end of the coffin, and I took the other.  Eventually, we came to the clearing in the forest.  We dug a grave there and laid Bobby in it.  But when we had covered up the grave, I couldn’t stand it any longer.  I fell down on my knees in the dirt and began to cry.  My beloved son was dead, and there I was in the middle of an African jungle, eight thousand miles from home.  I felt so alone.

“But when I started crying, the old man cocked his head in stunned amazement.  He squatted down beside me and looked at me intently.  For a long time, he sat there listening to me cry.

“Then suddenly, he leaped to his feet and went running back up the trail through the jungle, screaming, again and again, ‘White man, white man--he cries like one of us.’”

And that evening, as George Harley and his wife sat alone in their cottage, there was a knock at the door.  When he opened it, there stood the chief, and almost every man, woman, and child of the village.  Then they came back the next Sunday, and filled the chapel to overflowing.  They wanted to hear about Jesus.  

Everything changed when the villagers saw the tears of the missionary.  

And everything changes when we, in a Bethlehem stable, see the face of God.

 

Gracious Child, we pray, O hear us, from Your lowly manger cheer us, gently lead us and be near us, till we join Your choir above; for Your sake.  Amen

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