Our scripture reading today: Luke 2:1-21 The Voice (VOICE)
2 Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census— 2 the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. 3 Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.
4-5 Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, 6 accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor 7 and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.
8 Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. 9 Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!
The angel of the Lord said: 10 Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. 11 Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 12 You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.
13 At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.
14 Heavenly Choir: To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God! And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!
15 As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven, the shepherds were buzzing with conversation.
Shepherds: Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!
16 So they ran into town, and eventually they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. After they saw the baby, 17 they spread the story of what they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child. 18 Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. 19 Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.
21 Eight days after His birth, the baby was circumcised in keeping with Jewish religious requirements, and He was named Jesus, the name the messenger had given Him before His conception in Mary’s womb.
So let me ask you. — have you ever thought about your hands? They separate us from all animals except monkeys and apes.
We have a thumb; others do not. With that thumb, we can make and use tools; others cannot.
Because of tools, we can make and use machines and computers and cars and all kinds of great food. We can paint incredible pictures, erect tall building, launch rockets into space, and many more things non-humans cannot
Now think about a baby’s hands,
Small and delicate
Older babies can hold a rattle or a bottle.
Even new babies will grip an offered finger.
It is a natural reflex.
Small hands . . . delicate hands . . . beautiful hands
Now go back with me 2000 years. In Bethlehem, there was a manger. It was rough hewn. Probably out of wood or stone. Things that were sort of like “boxes” were put there to hold the animal’s food while they ate. In the manger scenes with which we are familiar, the “box” is small and barely holds the baby. We mostly call it the ‘manger’ today. In reality, it was huge and heavy. It had to be. Oxen, camels and other large animals ate, rubbed and pushed all at the same time.
This was a “box” to feed farm animals, not a family dog, and into this “box” a baby was laid. At first, he was tightly wrapped in strips of cloth to make him feel secure. Eventually, his hands came free. Small hands . . . delicate hands . . . beautiful hands. These hands began to explore his world, the world of the manger. Delicate hands exploring rough wood (or maybe it could have been made out of stone). Hands that could not completely encircle your thumb. Look at your thumb.
These are the same hands that, later, were nailed to an old rugged cross. These are the same hands that, though scarred, folded the burial cloth before leaving the tomb in victory. These are the same hands that reach down and help us through our lives.
Whenever you see a manger scene, remember the reason this baby came to Earth. One reason only. To die for you. The calendar may shout ‘Christmas!’ But the reason is ‘Easter’! Think about it.