Text: Luke 2: 8-14
Proposition: The sign given to the shepherds of the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes was meant not only to distinguish this baby from all others that night in Bethlehem, it was meant to distinguish Him for all people and for all time as the Son of God.
Introduction: Christopher Hitchens, perhaps one of the most well known atheists of our day, died recently at the age of 62 from a battle with esophageal cancer. His last book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, was one that he toured the country with, debating various religious leaders until the cancer took away the very voice that he was so eloquent with. Before that happened, Hitchens was in Portland, Oregon being interviewed by a Unitarian minister, Marilyn Sewell. The following exchange took place near the start of the interview:
Marilyn Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?
Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that He rose again from the dead and by His sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.
Hitchens knew that Christianity is founded on that core truth of the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the death and resurrection of Jesus are only effective and powerful because of the Incarnation of Jesus, the virgin conception and birth of Jesus, for unless Jesus is more than just a man His death at best is only noble. It is the incarnation that distinguishes Jesus Christ from every other man, it is this that declares Him to be fully man and also fully God, even in the form of a helpless infant in a manger in Bethlehem.
This is what the angels came to announce to the shepherds that night, that Jesus Christ, the Son of Man and Son of God, conceived 9 months earlier is now being born. This is where the Christmas story was often a puzzle to me, for the greatest thing that has ever happened to mankind has just occurred and the angels say that the shepherds can know this is true for a certainty because of this unmistakable sign: “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Was it just the paradox of child in a manger? Weren’t there any other children born in Bethlehem that night? Why was this such a sign, was the sign not only identifying his location but also saying something about Who this Child really is? Read the account of it with me in Luke 2:8-14.
I. His Humanity—"You will find a baby” This was a sign that was undeniable, this Jesus experienced all the transition and struggle and wonder of being born. He was in every sense fully man, yet who He was two years earlier, ten years earlier, 4000 years earlier, an eternity earlier, still remained. He was the Son of God, the Creator of all that has ever been created. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign for you, you shall find a baby…”. Savior, Christ, the Lord… a baby. The sign was all about the humanity of Christ, the humanity of the Lord, a humanity that would have both body and blood and would give His life to prevent our death. You might say that the humanity of Jesus was very evident in the events of His birth but how do we know His deity, His identity as God, was just as fully present? The Gospels are a history of the life of Jesus, He does things only God can do, He creates food, eyes that see, bodies that work. He overrules death, He repels back demons, He has all authority in heaven and on earth. He forgives sin, He knows thoughts, He stills waves. From this baby would come forth the evidence that God and man were both fully present in Jesus Christ. This was essential not just so that we would know God as never before but so that we would know the intentions of God as never before. This baby would become a man and would perfectly do for us what we could never have done for ourselves, He would perfectly and completely pay for, the word is expiate, the penalty of death for sin in mankind. The sign, a baby who is Savior, Christ and Lord.
II. His Helplessness—"Wrapped in cloths” But the sign didn’t end just yet, this baby was wrapped in swaddling cloths. That’s not extraordinary, mothers do that all the time to keep the child warm and to keep it from injuring itself. The arms are tucked tightly to the sides and cloths, like restraints, bind the arms to the body. The child is kept safe, he is able to be picked up more easily, snuggled and comforted by the parents. When the shepherds eventually saw the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths this was nothing exceptional, not until you began to realize just Who it was that was bound up like this. Bound up to be kept safe, to be more easily picked up, to be comforted. Thirty years later Jesus would once again be bound up, once again lifted up and this time He would be the comforter for others. The wonder of the wisdom of God is seen in the way He makes the Son utterly helpless, wrapped in swaddling cloths, as the key point in creating the salvation from sin for all mankind.
III. His Humility—"Lying in a manger” Perhaps it is this third part that makes the sign so unmistakable, the infant lying in a manger. Many creatures are born in mangers, but not children. In the first century, mangers were often nothing more than a hollowed-out cave in the side of a hill. There’s not a lot of status in the manure and urine soaked hay, in the musty smells of a dark manger. It is a picture of necessity, a picture of poverty. Years later Jesus would say to His disciples, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” It is this sign that makes the baby conspicuous to the shepherds, the Baby isn’t where we would expect it to be. That’s because Christ came to do what we never expected to need, He came to save us. The saving isn’t done by armies or war horses or chests of gold or a life lived as a good person. It’s done by the blood of a Savior alone, there’s nothing else in which we are to place our trust. This baby wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger is a sign because it pictures the humility of Jesus Christ. His humility directly contrasts and opposes the pride of man that is sin driven. Humility is what Jesus calls all His disciples to, because humility admits need and looks to the only place in which that need can be met. Neil Anderson once defined humility as “Confidence properly placed.” The sign given to the shepherds was pointing us to where our confidence needs to be placed.
It’s Christmas morning, the sign has been clearly set within our reach, it’s within walking distance, it’s not behind closed doors, it’s where anyone can go at anytime, the Christ Child in the manger points us to grace and availability of God. His Humanity, His Helplessness, His Humility, these are the elements of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, an unmistakable sign in which we place our confidence.