Who needs a baby in a manger?

Published 11:06 am Saturday, December 10, 2016

by Andrew Book

As we approach Christmas, there is a lot of excitement around celebrating the birth of a baby who used a feed-trough (“manger”) as his bed. Christmas Day may be the most anticipated day on the calendar and much of what goes on in the month after Thanksgiving is in preparation for celebrating this inauspicious birth. Aside from a group of shepherds who heard the news from a choir of angels, the first Christmas went largely uncelebrated outside of Jesus’ mom, Mary, and adoptive father, Joseph.

In the 2,000 years since Jesus’ birth, the celebration has grown to the point where school calendars make sure there are long breaks to celebrate Christmas (Even though they are usually called “Winter Breaks” now.), businesses that are open 364 days a year close for a single day, and many people who have no interest in Jesus or his church the rest of the year set aside a day to celebrate a Jesus’ birth.

All this to celebrate a poor baby born in a barn.

Somewhere along the road, we all need to stop and ask ourselves, “Why?” Why is the birth of a Palestinian baby the cause of so much celebration? Why are so many people so excited to celebrate Christmas? The traditional Christian answer explains who Jesus is. Jesus is God-come-to-earth. He is the one and only person who is at the same time fully God and fully human. As students of my World Religions class can (hopefully) tell you, this is called the “incarnation” and it is one of the most important ideas in Christianity. However, this only partially answers the question. Jesus being God helps us to understand why his birth is celebrated, but it still leaves us asking, “Who needs Jesus?”

The Gospel of Matthew (one of the parts of the Bible that tells Jesus’ story) answers this question by telling us: “Mary will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21). Jesus’ very name means “the Lord saves” and Matthew makes clear who needs saving and what kind of saving Jesus came to bring. The Jewish people (Jesus is Jewish) at Jesus’ time were looking for someone who would come and save them from the occupying Roman army, but God decided that they needed a different kind of saving — saving from sins.

Now, in the church today we use the term “saved” regularly. We usually talk as though those of us who have committed ourselves to follow Jesus “are saved from our sins” in the sense that God will keep us from the consequences of our wrong actions (“sins”) so we can escape hell. We think of Jesus’ saving work as a done deal in our life. Unfortunately, when we think of salvation as just dealing with consequences, we are missing a very important part of why we need Jesus.

Look at Matthew again. He doesn’t say Jesus “will save his people from the consequences of our sins.”  Instead, he says Jesus will save us from the sins themselves. The word “save” as it was initially used meant to “snatch others by force from serious peril.” Jesus came to snatch us away from sin. We need to be rescued from sin itself, not just the consequences of sin! Jesus’ life and ministry show this to be true: we are often in the grip of sin as we are controlled by greed, anger, jealousy, and the like. We need to be rescued from those sins so that we can live the abundant lives God has for us.

“Whoever sins,” Jesus tells us, “is a slave to sin … but if the Son has set you free then you are free indeed” (John 8:34).

We can boil it down to this: We need saving from the grip of sin. Life has shown us that we need to be rescued from sin not just once, but throughout our lives because sin has a nasty way of sinking its claws into us just when we think we are figuring out how to put loving God and other people above our selfish tendencies. We all need the baby in the manger because he is the only one who is able to drive out the power of sin and set us free to live out of love.

So, who needs this poor baby in a barn? I do. You do, too. We need him today to rescue us from the control of greed and selfishness. We are being saved by Jesus day by day, and there will never be a day in which we don’t need the baby of Bethlehem to save us. So, as you celebrate Christmas, thank God for sending a savior for you — to set you free to live life today.

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.

Courtland United Methodist Church

  • The Word Became Flesh: Join us at the church, 22416 Main St., on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 5 p.m., or Sunday, Dec. 18, at 11 a.m. for our youth Christmas Musical “The Word Became Flesh.” This is a powerful re-telling of the Christmas Story which will help us all remember why Jesus’ birth matters!
  • Christmas Eve Candlight Worship: Join us on Christmas Eve at 5 p.m. for a family candlight worship service complete with a live nativity put on by the Courtland UMC children’s ministry. We will have gifts for the children as we celebrate the greatest gift of all, Jesus!
  • Christmas Day in Pajamas: Have you ever wanted to come to church in you pajamas? We will be gathering in our PJ’s on Christmas Day for our Family Christmas Service to worship our newborn king! Join us at 11 a.m. as we worship together. There will be no Sunday School on Christmas Day.