December 24, 2017
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I have seen many manger scenes. But I think there is something missing in all of them. In the traditional manger, as you view it from the outside to the middle, you have the animals – a donkey, some oxen, sheep, shepherds, most of them have the kings with their gifts, the star is over the manger, Mary, Joseph, and of course, Jesus, in the center. So what is missing? Children. Tons of them. I think the Scriptures are clear that children are really the only ones who can celebrate Christmas fully. I don’t think you can truly have Christmas if you don’t have children.
Our text is not a traditional Christmas Eve reading, but when you look at it the mystery and majesty of Christmas is all over it. “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16)
Why is it necessary for children to be at the manger? Children believe and trust. Children take God as His word. They rely on Him. They follow Him. They had to be there. Maybe someone can Photoshop them in!!
A related verse to our text is Matthew 18:1-4: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
Are you a Christmas child? Do you find yourself at that manger? One of the great things in this church are the Bible studies that are attended by many. We have some wonderful discussion about the Bible, the church, somehow the Broncos seem to get into the conversation, as well. Recently Bob Estes was talking to a buddy of his who no longer is a believer in Jesus. His friend said that he couldn’t believe those stories in the Bible anymore. He didn’t think they were true. He said he had moved past religion. He isn’t alone. There are many people who have fallen from faith. They have trouble going to the manger with the faith of a child. Maybe that is you.
But I’d like to have all of us at the manger with a heart of a child. You have to have the heart of a child to celebrate Christmas. You have to have the heart of a child to go to the manger.
Every year I know who is going to send me my first Christmas card. Margo Pasha always wins the prize. I always get the Moe and Margo Pasha newsletter the day after Thanksgiving. Margo’s got stuff to do, she gets the letter done and she can go on to other stuff. But not this year. Margo got beat. Sadly. The letter we received first was from a friend of ours who wanted to provide her new address. She now lived in a new place without her husband of many years. A divorce had changed life deeply for her and him and their family. It wasn’t the best way to start receiving Christmas greetings. I hope Margo wins the race this next year.
Christmas children have great needs. When Jesus tells us that we must become like little children He isn’t painting their souls as pure and innocent, rather, as one that has great need. Christmas children know that life gets broken and troubled. Christmas children know that sin, our own sin, can make many messes in life. Christmas children come to the manger because we have needs that only God can make right.
Christmas children live with great anticipation and expectation. In Luke’s words, “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one to another, ‘Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us’. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:15-16 KJV) With haste. With anticipation. With expectation.
You should have seen the eyes of those kids at the 4:00 service!! After getting their candy they wanted to leave. They wanted to go home. Presents awaited them!! Christmas children live with anticipation and expectation and excitement – even Christmas children who are all grown up. What can God do? What will God do? We long to see His strong hand and His loving arms and His place into our life. In a Christmas prayer written by William Willimon he writes, “Lord Jesus, You have come among us, although we could not climb to You, in Your incarnation, You climbed down to us. You condescended to share our flesh, our world, our troubles, being born into a human family, cherished by Mary and Joseph, nurtured by people like us.”
The anticipation and wonder of it all is that God had this event planned from the beginning. This manger, this birth, this night wasn’t an afterthought. It wasn’t an afterthought because we are not an afterthought!! Some of the gifts that you are going to open this Christmas are gifts that someone put an amazing amount of thought and preparation into. Then they wrap them beautifully and wonderfully, (or pay someone to do that!!). You can tell that they have joy in giving!! God had pleasure in giving the gift of the Christmas child.
Christmas children? They are great receivers. “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:8-11 KJV)
Folks have all types of fears. Fear of the present, regrets of the past, fears of choices they have made, fears of the future or their eternity. But the angel says that we need not have any fear. FEAR NOT!! UNTO YOU is born this Savior, this Lord, this Jesus. Christmas children receive God’s gift of Jesus with faith – childlike faith.
John’s Gospel speaks about this reception like this, ”He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:10-13) Christmas children, those who have a sure and certain confidence in Jesus Christ, are great receivers.
And they have joy!! My, do they have joy. “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” (Luke 2:20 KJV) The God who would become man for us, is the one who would receive our sins on the cross and would make us clean and would forgive us of all sin. He would come to life following His death and would bring eternal life to all who would trust the name of Jesus. Christmas children are Good Friday children. Christmas children are Easter children. Christmas children are God’s children now and forever. That brings us joy.
This past Monday three of our grandchildren came over to make gingerbread cookies. They started with clean clothes but three hours later they were a mess. Gingerbread and frosting, every color known to man, was on them. When they had gone we began the clean-up of the house and kitchen. And then we found a piece of paper which one of them had written on – this paper – it says “HO HO HO HOLY NIGHT.” It gave us joy that they were able to take Santa and Jesus and make it into one great thought. “HO HO HO HOLY NIGHT”.
Would you sing a verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with me? It is hymn 361 (LSB), verse 4.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel.
If you look in the manger today I bet you will see the donkeys, oxen, sheep, shepherds, star, kings, gifts, Mary, Joseph and Jesus. But look more closely. You are going to see children, a whole bunch of them. They’ll be there, you’ll be there, with expectation and faith and joy, because you know that Christ was born for you. Amen!!