This sermon was presented at Resurrection on Christmas Eve 2010 by Pastor Jim Kniseley. The gospel reading is Luke 2:1-20.
Dear Friends of Jesus, one and all:
Thank you for being here tonight at Resurrection. You could have chosen to be lots of other places tonight, including other churches. Could it be that God wanted you to be here tonight? For this hour of worship, I invite us all to be family. You and I, we, are now God’s family, worshipping God on the night of His Son’s Birth.
It is my hope that after this sermon this family will be able to share the good news of Jesus in a new and different way…
I am giving this sermon a title: “From the Stable to the Cross.” Hopefully, when you entered the sanctuary this evening, you were struck by the sight of the Bethlehem stable and the Cross of Christ that are so inextricably connected. We’re used to seeing sanctuaries that have a large and imposing cross. We’re also used to churches that place stables in various places, both inside and outside the sanctuary. But I dare say that very few have placed the stable right over the altar and have the cross seeming to rise right out of the roof of the stable.
Some definite Christian messages are being conveyed by this arrangement. Can you figure out what they are?
We have come to worship Jesus, born in the Bethlehem stable it is true. But Bethlehem has little meaning apart from the Cross of Calvary. Jesus might have been born of a virgin, lived a sinless life of obedience to God, even taught and performed miracles and then died as a venerable old man, leaving a wonderful example after which to model our lives. But this is not what he came to do! Jesus came to die a sacrificial death to take away the sin of the world. It would be a tragedy if we so sentimentalized the nativity that we forgot the divine purpose for Jesus coming into the world at Christmas.
Let’s talk about the flip side. The Cross of Christ would not have the power it has without Bethlehem. The One who died that sacrificial death needed to be more than a man. He needed to be more than God Himself. He needed to be both God and man, God incarnate.
Writer Tim Jeske envisions the cradle of Jesus and the cross of Jesus as the beginning and ending of what amounts to one day of work for the Son of God. Remember the Bible tells us that a thousand years is as one day with God? God had determined in eternity how that day would begin…and how it would end. Jesus knew as he stepped into our world as an infant, loving wrapped in swaddling cloths in a quiet, private stable, that he would leave our world as a man stripped of his clothing and exposed as a public spectacle to the eyes of a mocking crowd.
There are not many who celebrate the birth of Jesus with those thoughts in mind. I implore you to never gaze upon the stable (and especially the manger) without also seeing the cross. Consider the result of His coming to Bethlehem and walking the road to Calvary…making it possible for you and me to be saved to an eternity of His Love and Presence.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it this way: “There are two places where the powerful and great in this world lose their courage, tremble in the depths of their souls, and become truly afraid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle of Bethlehem. And yet, all Christian theology finds its beginnings in the miracle of miracles, that God became human.”
That huge and imposing cross has been here since this church was built in 1997. I phoned Andy and Hilda Lamb to find out the details of how that cross came to be at Resurrection. It was a gift from Mark and Laurie Walters . Her father had a saw mill in Pennsylvania and they picked out the wood, requesting that it be left rough. It is 9 feet tall and 7 feet wide. It weighs 350 lbs. It was transported on the top of a van and when it was installed it was too low. A day later equipment was brought in to lift the cross to its present position. It has lights behind it that we sometimes remember to turn on.
The stable was built just last year by Dr. Kurt Wohler with the help of his sons and other youth here at Resurrection. Pastor Carol and I knew that visually we were making a theological statement about the tie of the stable to the cross. But a wonderful serendipity occurred when we placed the stable over the altar. The word Bethlehem means in Hebrew “House of Bread.” The altar is where we place the bread for Holy Communion. And so this night in the very place where are remembering the first entrance of Jesus into the world in the Bethlehem stable, we are lifting up the bread in thanksgiving, believing that Jesus comes again into the bread and wine of this sacrament.
And another serendipity, as if one isn’t enough. On the night of Jesus birth, we heard from St. Luke that the multitude of angels praised God in the sky, saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” As we turn out the sanctuary lights, see what sign appears in the ceiling over the stable.
Yes, a peace sign. How appropriate it is to have this sign in the sky on the night of the birth of the Prince of Peace!” Amen!