"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
I brought Sam and Timmy to the grocery store last week. Sam wanted to buy stocking stuffers for Rich. He brought a wallet swollen with messy one dollar bills. We found aisle #7--the candy aisle--and Sam darted over to an enormous bag of Twizzlers. "Dad will love these," he said with pride.
Timmy protested. "Why does Sam get all that candy?" he asked. Sam said, "I'm giving it away, Timmy. Christmas is about giving." Timmy didn't hesitate one moment as he said quite matter-of-factly: "I just care about taking."
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. But he didn’t give his son in a manner befitting the son of God. In his book, Christian History, Bruce Shelley begins with this statement: "Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God."
Jesus was not born in a palace; he was not born in a major city; he was not born among dignitaries and powerful people; the date and time of his birth were not recorded; his birth announcement came not on parchment and heralded throughout the kingdom; but from the mouths of the angels it was sung to lowly shepherds.
We set out our nativity as a family. This year the boys noticed that there was no manger. And it’s true, my nativity doesn’t have a manger. Instead, Mary is holding the infant Jesus in her arms, close to her heart. But at some point, she would have to lay him down. Weary, exhausted from travel and childbirth, from unexpected shepherd visitors, the new mom needed rest. She would fight the weight of her eyelids, but she knew sleep would soon take over. Where would the baby sleep? She looked to her husband.
Joseph must have wanted to build a crib. After all, he was a carpenter. Maybe he had dreams of crafting the perfect cradle; carved from olive wood he had set aside for his firstborn. But there was no time. There were no tools. Housed in a crude animal barn for the night, not the rustic charm of a Pottery Barn, Joseph made do with what was around him. Ah…a feeding trough against the wall. The next morning’s hay beside it. Tossing out the old, he replaced it with the new and pressed his hands into the stubbly straw to create a nook. He was careful to hide his disappointment—that the brand new perfect baby would be sleeping in an animal trough. Instead, he mustered a smile for his wife. She swaddled the baby in the cloth they brought from Nazareth and laid him down in the manger.
The word ‘manger’ is mentioned three times in the Christmas story. That means the gospel writer didn't want us to forget that the son of God slept in a structure designed for animals.
It must have been hard for the young couple to lay their baby down in a manger.
And it must have been hard for God to lay his one and only son down in a manger. In a stable. In the care of a young man and woman who were tired and exhausted and newly married and let’s face it--had no idea what they were doing.
But God gave his one and only son and laid him down in a manger. God gave, because God loved.
God gave his son to a world that was hostile. Right about the time the baby Jesus was learning to take those first wobbly steps, Herod, the King of Judea, set out to find him and kill him. Joseph awoke in a cold sweat. It was a dream. An angel warned him to flee to Egypt. Joseph woke Mary. They gathered what little they had and fled in the middle of the night to a foreign country. Their hearts racing, pounding, not knowing if Herod’s soldiers were minutes or hours behind them.
It must have been hard for God to give his son to a hostile world…into a world that wanted to kill him…among leaders who chased him down. But God gave because God loved.
It must have been hard for the young couple to start over…again. How would this peasant couple survive in a foreign land? No friends. No contacts. But then they remembered how God gave. He had sent the Wise Men with gifts fit for a king. Joseph tucked them away in his satchel. Those expensive spices would help fund their relocation. God gave because God loved.
And it must have been hard for God to give his son to the agony of the cross. To die a death of humiliation. But even more, to carry the weight of every sin upon his shoulders.
It must have been hard for God to turn his back on Jesus because the sin he carried was so deep and so wide that God, in all his awesome perfection and holiness, could not look on it. It must have been hard for God to refrain from reaching out when his one and only son cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
It must have been hard for God not to release an army of angels to save his one and only son. It must have been hard for God to hold back all the hosts of heaven and say, ‘Wait! He must carry the sin of the world and die for it.’ God gave because God loved.
And it must have been hard for God to lay his son in a tomb. To give him over to death.
God laid him in a manger at birth. Now God laid him in a tomb. But God gave because God loved.
And it must have been hard for God to watch the women weep, the disciples flee in fear and the religious leaders celebrate at Jesus’ death.
But God was not done giving.
Before the sun warmed the desert sand, God gave the world a surprise of unbelievable, unfathomable magnitude. He raised Jesus from the dead. God gave Jesus victory over death and the power to forgive sin.
God gave, because God loved.
And God's love is something you can take this Christmas. (Timmy will be happy about that:)