How unusual is it that Jesus was born in a messy place with messy people all around him? We would expect a royal child to be wrapped in silk, lying in a golden crib, living in a fabulous palace, surrounded by important people.
Why a stable, wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger?
Because there is no place he will not go! There is no thing he will not do. There are no depths he will not descend in order to bring God’s power, love, grace, peace and presence to anyone who will have him.
“This will be a sign to you,” the angel says… “You will see God in a messy place.”
And this is good news to us because we’re messy people. We live in a messy world.
So the angel says, “Here’s the good news. Here’s the good news of Christmas. Our God is not afraid of a mess. The God who was born in a stable and laid in a manger will come right in the middle of your life no matter how messed up it is.”Read More
Today we’re going to look at how unusual it was that Jesus was born in a messy place with messy people all around him.
We’ll start reading in Luke 2 if you want to turn there.
Luke 2 starting at verse 8
There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
They weren’t all calm, cool, and collected when this happened. “Oh, look, guys; there’s someone in the sky.” It wasn’t like that.
No, they were freaked out. They hadn’t seen the Christmas cards yet; they didn’t know how this was supposed to happen.
And the angel makes this announcement:
Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
The angel said to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid. I bring you Good News!… Great Joy!… which will be for all people everywhere.
Today in the town of David a Savior is born!
And this Savior is The Messiah!
He’s the King!
He’s the Lord!
He’s the one this world has been waiting for.”
And then the angel says this intriguing thing, “Here’s the sign… here’s the tip-off, here’s the dead giveaway that will enable you to recognize the real deal when you see him.”
And if you’re a shepherd, you most likely expect this sign’s going to be pretty impressive.
If this is a royal child you’re expecting the angel to say you’ll recognize the baby because you’ll find him wrapped maybe in silk and lying in a golden crib and living in a fabulous palace because that’s how kings do it in this world.
But the angel doesn’t say anything like that. The angel says, “You’ll find this baby born in a barn, wrapped in rags, lying in a feed trough.”
It’s a very ironic thing because in our day when we see nativity scenes, they always looks so neat.
People in the nativity scene look perfect. Their hair looks great and their robes look ironed and clean.
But in the actual barn where Jesus was born, it wasn’t that way. Because a barn is a messy place.
I’ll guarantee you when Mary found out that’s where she was going to give birth to her baby, she didn’t say to Joseph, “Hey, they’re giving us the stable, sweet. This is kind of a neat, quaint way to give birth.”
No one washed out the barn with soap and water ahead of time.
It looked and smelled the way barns always look and smell.
It was not a nice place to have a child.
And when the shepherds showed up in the barn, they didn’t bring a big increase in class to this event.
Shepherds don’t buy their clothes at Nordstrom’s.
They’re not known for hygiene.
To be a shepherd was not a very exciting career. There was not a lot of prestige. There was not a lot of status in being in the shepherding business.
Think about it, shepherds don’t even get the great costumes in Christmas programs. The Wise Men always get the great costumes.
Shepherds ate with the animals.
Shepherds slept with the animals.
Shepherds smelled like the animals.
Shepherds were at the bottom of the social ladder.
This is the most significant, this is the most exciting, this is the most extraordinary thing to ever happen in the history of planet Earth — the entrance of God to this planet. And who is right smack-dab in the middle of it? These messy shepherds out on a hillside whose lives weren’t significant in any way.
And the baby was lying in a manger. A manger is not a fancy word for a crib of royalty. A manger is a feed trough.
The angels say the fact that Jesus ended up here is not an accident.
They don’t say this is a sign to you like in a movie sometimes where you say a stranger is going to recognize another stranger because they’ll be carrying a yellow daisy or something.
It’s not arbitrary that they find Jesus in this condition. This is a tip-off… this is a dead giveaway that – this – is – Jesus… and no ordinary king.
Here’s the clue: you can recognize him because he will show up in the messiest place you can imagine.
This will be the most unusual king you have ever seen.
You know, sometimes when people are speaking, if they have a message to give and it is of extraordinary importance, they’ll send little cues, little signals that say, “This matters! Don’t miss this! This is important!”
For example, if you are in a classroom, the teacher will say something like, “What I’m about to say will be on the final.”
And the students pay attention. They start to take notes.
If you are watching TV and the words come on the screen, “We interrupt this regularly scheduled programming,” people tune in.
If you’re on a flight and it gets real turbulent, and then a voice comes on over the loudspeaker saying, “This is the captain speaking,” you pay real close attention.
Well, God wanted to speak to the world about what matters most.
God wanted us to know what he’s like.
God wanted us to know that we can experience forgiveness.
God wanted us to know how we can be fully alive in this world and in the world to come, forever and ever.
And so, God has come into this world and has spoken to this world, supremely, in the person of his son, Jesus.
Jesus, born in a stable, became a human being, and is God’s ultimate, authoritative declaration.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews put it like this:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.
The writer says, “God used to speak to his people in many and various ways, and now, at last, God has spoken to us by his son, Jesus! Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.”
So God sends a baby into the world. The reflection of God’s glory is born in a barn, and the exact imprint of God’s very being is put down for a nap in a feed trough.
Long ago God spoke in many and various ways, and now he has spoken to us in his son.
And let me tell you… this is going to be on the final!
“If you want to know what I am like,” God says, “listen to this: I am just exactly like Jesus. He is the exact imprint of my very being. If you want to know my heart, my character, my nature,” God says, “look at Jesus.”
If you want to know how God feels about little children… read the story in the Bible where people bring children to Jesus, and some of Jesus’s friends try to block them and say, “He’s too busy, he’s too important,” and Jesus says, “No… Let the little children come to me,” and he embraces them and he loves them.
If you want to know how God feels about suffering – does he notice? does he care? – look in the Bible at the story of Jesus when his friend Lazarus dies, and he sees the family mourning.
The Bible says Jesus weeps with them.
If you want to know what God is like, the writers of Scripture say, the place to start is with Jesus.
This is a very important point, because in our day there is an amazing amount of ignorance about who Jesus is… and basic truths about his life and his teachings.
People just don’t know.
You will think I am making this up, but I am not. This actually happened.
There is a church in Minnesota that had a funeral service. It was for a woman named Edna.
And the church just pulled up the documents from the previous funeral service they had done for another woman who had died, named Mary, and they replaced the name Mary with Edna.
It was the same order of service, the same liturgy, the only thing is they replaced the name “Mary” with the name “Edna.”
Everything was going fine and the service was proceeding nicely until they got to the place where the people were to recite together a statement of the church’s beliefs called the Apostles’ Creed.
The first part of it was okay.
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”
And then they got to the next part.
“And I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, born of the virgin Edna.”
Most of the people didn’t even notice. Mary, Edna, some kind of Irish name I think. I guess that must have been it.
The Bible says if you want to know the heart of God, the place to start is Jesus.
And I hope you get to know Jesus.
I would strongly encourage you sometime before the end of the year, during this Christmas season, to pick up a Bible and read through one of the gospels. That’s where you’ll find the story of the life of Jesus.
Start with the very first book in the New Testament – the Gospel of Matthew. That’s where you find the story of Jesus’ birth.
I want to encourage you to take some time this Christmas season to get to know Jesus.
If you want to know God, if you want to hear God speaking, the place to start, even before promptings or leadings, the place to start is to get to know what God has said when he spoke clearly, authoritatively, and definitively, in Jesus.
Here’s what you’ll find as you begin to read about Jesus:
He is not just a wise person, although he is.
He is not just a wonderful teacher, although he is.
You will discover that Jesus is God come to earth.
The writers of scripture say that Jesus is God, the Son of God, equal with God, eternally existent, who came and lived on earth and walked around as a real human being.
We tend to just gloss over this, especially this time of the year…
And I want you to feel the shock of that so I want to do kind of an exercise in imagination together.
I want you to imagine for a moment that God is actually, literally present here in this room in human form, in a human body.
I’ll take it a step further. Imagine that God, the divine being, is sitting in the chair next to you right now – God, all knowing, all powerful, eternal – in an ordinary human body, sitting in the chair next to you.
Just think of what a shock that would be.
Take a look at that person sitting in the chair next to you for a moment.
Have you ever considered the possibility that that person might be God?
Maybe it’s occurred to that person. Maybe you’ve had to ask them at some point, “Who do you think you are, God?”
Well, look at that person. What are the odds on it?
Do they really look omnipotent? Do they look like they have been around for all eternity, that person? Be careful with that one.
Imagine the shock.
Imagine the shock in Jesus’ day.
Imagine what went through the minds of Mary and Joseph and their families.
Imagine the kids that grew up with Jesus, his little playmates. They would get in a fight with him sometime, and they would go to their teacher, “We don’t like Jesus. He thinks he’s perfect.” And then the teacher says, “Jesus, what do you have to say about that?”
What is he going to say?
That’s an interesting theological question, actually.
Read through the gospels and you discover that this is no ordinary person. He is a reflection of the glory of God. He is the exact imprint of God’s very being, the Bible says.
If you want to know God, the place to start is Jesus.
A lot of people miss this. They think God should come in a big dramatic way.
And Christmas raises the obvious question, why would God come as a baby, in a messy barn, born to an impoverished couple, of an oppressed people, in an obscure village?
Why like this? Why not with big, splashy special effects?
Well, a very smart guy, a Danish philosopher named Soren Kirkegaard thought a lot about that question, and this was his shot at answering it.
He wrote kind of a parable. He said:
“God’s situation is a lot like this: There was once a king, and he fell in love with a woman.
She was a young woman, but she was not royalty.
She was a peasant girl.
She dressed in rags.
She lived in a hovel.
“And the king thought and he thought and he thought, because he knew if he brought her to the palace to tell her that he loved her, if he showed her all of his wealth and his power, she would be overwhelmed. She would be scared. She would run away.
“So he thought and he thought and he thought, and finally it occurred to him.
“And he stood up, and he left his throne, and he took off his crown, and he laid aside his royal robes, and he became a peasant.
“This king wore rags, and this king lived in a hovel.
“He did all of that to become like the one he loved so that he could declare his love for her so that she could be united to him forever.
“This is a story,” Kirkegaard said, “of a king who would trade a palace for a hovel and robes for rags.”
Well… God thought about these ragged little creatures that he made.
“How do I tell them I love them?” God says. “How can I keep them from being overwhelmed by the holiness and the power that they are not capable of seeing… that would overwhelm them?”
And there was only one way, and that way was Jesus who laid aside the crown and the robes.
The Bible puts it like this:
Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
This is a story of a king who chose rags.
Born in a barn, wrapped up in rags, surrounded by animals, entrusted to this poverty-stricken young couple.
The king of the universe! The alpha and the omega enters into human history in a little bundle, wrapped in obscurity and poverty and humility.
Because there is no place he won’t go.
Because there is no thing he won’t do.
Because there are no depths he will not descend in order to bring God’s power and God’s love and God’s grace and God’s peace and God’s goodness and his presence to anyone who will have him.
“This will be a sign to you,” the angel says… “You will see God in a messy place.”
And the reason this is such good news to us is because we’re messy people – we live in a messy world.
Some of us have messed up in our jobs
Or in our finances
Or in our relationships
Or in habits
Or in our spiritual lives…
And we can’t fix it. We can’t fix it.
So the angel says, “Here’s the good news. Here’s the good news of Christmas. Our God is not afraid of a mess.
“The God who was born in a stable and laid in a manger will come right in the middle of your life no matter how messed up it is… and mine too, if we just ask him.”
I say this because sometimes people think to themselves, “I’ve got to get my life cleaned up first. I’ve got a mess somewhere and I have to do some kind of moral improvement job first. Then I can come to God.”
But God says, “No, it’s not that way at all.”
Maybe you walked in this room today and part of what you’re thinking is, “I made some resolutions at the beginning of this year and I haven’t followed through on any of them.”
Or… “I had some questions that I said I was going to get answered this year and I haven’t done a thing.”
Or… “I had some bad habits that I was determined I was going to get straightened out and I didn’t get them straightened out.”
Or… “I had a relationship that was kind of broken and I said I was going to fix it and I didn’t fix it.”
Or… “I made some decisions this year that I really regret.”
I want to tell you, if that’s your condition, you came to the right place because this is a room full of people who apart from God just keep messing stuff up. That’s what we do.
I want to do a quick mass confession here. It will be good for the soul – kind of a gift that you’ll give to yourself spiritually.
If you’ve had at least one area in your life that got a little messy this year:
Maybe your relational life
Maybe academic if you’re in school
How many of you would be bold enough to say there is a least one area in my life where things got a little messy over the last 12 months? Raise your hands… real high so everyone can see.
Look around… that’s a lot of us.
How many of you think you had a pretty good year but the person next to you looks pretty messed up?
Here’s the good news about Jesus. He really doesn’t care how messy your life is. It doesn’t scare him at all.
Because he started his life in a mess, dressed in rags, laid in a manger and he ended his life in a mess wrapped in rags and hung on a cross.
And in between the first day and the last day, he mostly just hung out with some pretty messed up people.
He kept loving them, and embracing them and teaching them about a better way.
That’s what he does!
When he went to the cross, the reason he went to the cross was that he was taking on the whole mess of this world, the mess that you and I can never straighten out – my sin and yours.
That’s what he was taking on himself.
Mess doesn’t scare him at all.
I don’t know where you’re at today…
Maybe this last year was a pretty good year for you.
Maybe it wasn’t!
Maybe you’ve got some real regrets.
Maybe it was seriously messed up.
I don’t know what your year was like, but I know this – this coming year can be the best year you’ve ever had with God.
It can! It really can!
And not only can it… nothing would give God greater joy.
What makes God’s face beam is when someone just comes to him and says, “God, I know I’m messed up apart from you. I need you to come in and help me.”
And there’s a part of that that’s up to you and me – there’s a decision.
And I hope that today, above all, whatever that decision looks like for you, you’ll make it.
Some of you may be just checking things out spiritually. You’re searching for God. You really don’t know much about Jesus.
I think the decision God’s inviting you to make is the same decision the shepherds made.
When the angels came, the shepherds didn’t know Jesus at this point.
Their decision was to say I’m going to take this seriously and I’m going to check this out.
They say to each other let’s go to Bethlehem and see if this is really true.
For some of you that’s the decision that’s going to change your life – to say I’m going to get serious about spiritual things. I’m going to start attending church.
For others, maybe you made a commitment in your spiritual life some place but you’ve been in kind of drift mode.
Maybe your decision is similar to what Mary and Joseph decided when they knelt by that manger and they said, “You know what – from this day forward we’re committed to this child, to this Jesus. We’re part of his family.”
And for some of you the decision maybe is to say, “I’ll honor that commitment that I’ve made. I want to get serious about growing spiritually.”
For some… who’ve been walking closely with God for a long time, your decision is really, “God I know you love to surprise people. I would love for you to surprise me. I’m wide open. I’m available. If there’s something you want me to accomplish for you, just say the word. I’d love to be used by you in that way.”
And I want to pray with you for that right now. Will you pray with me?