“And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” Luke 2:12
Apparently if a husband and wife are in the car together and they’re lost, the wife will want to stop and ask for directions but the man won’t! I know there are always exceptions to every rule, but have any of you noticed this strange phenomenon? There you are, hopelessly lost and the wife says, “Let’s ask this person,” but the husband just keeps on driving! Apparently it’s the destruction of a man’s pride for him to admit he’s lost! But on the other hand, there are times when you shouldn’t be too quick to ask for directions.
I remember stopping the car in Washington DC and asking a man on the street for directions how to get to the White House. I wanted to see the Presidential White House. But he wanted to sell me drugs! So I wanted him to get lost!
Anyway, in Luke 2:1-20, we see that a bunch of men were given directions without even asking! These men were busy minding their own business. Or rather they were busy minding their own sheep. Or maybe the sheep belonged to someone else and they were just minding them. Anyhow, they had the living daylights frightened out of them by an angel of the Lord no less. This angel stopped, not to ask them for directions, but rather to give them directions. It’s like you or me stopping our car and giving someone on the street directions. The shepherds? Well, they probably didn’t even know they were lost!
Let us set the scene here. It is probably dark and the shepherds are out in the field somewhere. The sheep they’re watching possibly might have been those used at the Temple in Jerusalem. For, the sacrificial system was still in place. The Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world had not yet arrived. Correction, that was what the good tidings of the angel were all about. The good tidings of great joy were that the Promised Savior of sinners had finally arrived. For, he proceeded to tell the dumbfounded shepherds, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is called Christ the Lord.”
The “City of David” was of course Bethlehem - “The House of Bread” And the One who was born that very day was a Savior who was none other than Christ the Lord. The angel said that the Savior was born “to” the shepherds, much in the same way that Isaiah says, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” The Savior, then, is being given to the shepherds and all who will receive Him. But, the angel appeared to the shepherds, not only to tell them “where” to find the Lord, but also to tell them “how” they would recognize Him. So the angel gave them a “sign.” Now this isn’t a “sign” like a miracle. It’s more like a sign in the sense of, “When you see a big fancy White House that looks like a king’s palace, then you know you’re there!” as in Washington DC. So it was more a sign so they’d recognize they were at the right place looking at the right Person. However, it was more than this. This sign was designed to make a statement they couldn’t miss.
Let us consider the sign to make sure we’re at the right place looking at the right Person. We need to make sure that we haven’t missed the unmistakable statement. They were told that they would find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. So, first off, Where were they going to find a manger? Well, a manger sometimes refers to a stable and sometimes a feeding trough found in a stable. It’s used both ways in the Bible. However, in this instance we believe it refers to an actual animal feed trough. We see in Luke 2:7 that the Savior was placed, i.e., was “laid” in a manger. So, we imagine then that the feed trough was used as a cradle or a crib or cot. So, feed troughs or mangers are found in stables.
Some of the Bible Commentators say that the stable was more like a cave of sorts. A cave in the sense of a hollowed out cavern – or maybe even like a basement of sorts. However, it would seem that the stable was attached to the inn. Possibly the inn was the story above the stable – which would make sense. Because the inn was a place for travelers to stop over. And many of the travelers would need somewhere to park their horses. Perhaps this then was like some underground parking facility of which we’re familiar. So the shepherds were to look for the Shepherd of shepherds in a stable. And of course this stable was to be found in Bethlehem.
Now then, Bethlehem wasn’t a big town. How do we know this? Well, Micah 5:2 tells us, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands in of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” So this is no needle in a haystack expedition! And the sign was quite clear. How many babies would you expect to see lying in a manger in Bethlehem?
Now, it’s true that Bethlehem would have been relatively busy because of the census going on. That’s why Mary and Joseph were there at that time. They were from Bethlehem which is the City of David - in fact they were both descendants of David. However, even though the town of Bethlehem was busy, the sign was clear. The Babe would be lying in a manger – not gift-wrapped in Christmas paper, as God’s gift to mankind, but “wrapped in swaddling cloths.” Now, “swaddling cloths” are strips of linen – like bandages. Apparently in those days they bound their babies up.
What does all of this mean? We know that a sign is something significant – something that stands out. So what is the significance of this sign? A Baby wrapped in strips of linen laying in a manger? Well, it’s the picture of the ultimate in humility, isn’t it? It’s the picture of absolute condescension! You would expect the King of kings, the Lord of Lords to have been born in a palace. But here we have Christ the Lord enter the world in a stable! The One who would call Himself the Bread of Life and invite every one to eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53-56) was laid in a feeding trough for animals! Shepherds were invited to come & feast their eyes on Him. “Come and behold your king – the infant who’s King of the whole World. Born in a stable that’s more like a cave. There He is, wrapped in linen. Feast your eyes on Him while you can!”
He’s the One who would be laid in another cave when He’s older – after His death on the cross. They’ll wrap Him up in strips of linen again as they lay Him in a tomb. He’ll look every bit as helpless then as he does now as a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths. However, then He’ll have laid down His life for the sheep of His pasture. Then He, the Good Shepherd will have purchased His flock with His own precious blood! But for now stop what you are doing, you shepherds, and gaze upon the sign of humility. Look at the picture of pure condescension. Mighty God dressed in baby flesh. The Word become flesh! As one hymn writer wrote of Christ:
Humbled for a season,
To receive a name
From the lips of sinners,
Unto whom He came
(Caroline Maria Noel, 1817-77)
It was God the Father who gave “Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” But here He is in humble surroundings. Mary, Joseph, and no doubt a few horses and donkeys, straw, hay and the filth of horse manure. And some shepherds on their way looking for the sign. And in their hearts they would be singing, “O come! Let us adore Him! Christ the Lord!”
Born in a stable, the One who is able,
To wash all our sins away!
Infinite worth in so humble a birth,
Thank God for the first Christmas Day!
The High King left His royal robe in Heaven and came to earth to have rags wrapped around Him, even swaddling cloths! Would you condescend to become a cockroach? How about one of those dung beetles? Dung beetles really break a sweat as they roll those pieces of animal manure. Would you lower yourself and live among the muck and filth of sinful humanity? Well, words fail to express the depth what the King of Glory did for sinners such as you and me! A picture paints a thousand words, so the shepherds were given just that, the sign was: A Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger!
One of the good things about Christmas is that the Lord, as it were, is stopping the spinning world, not to ask for directions, but rather to give them. As a Christian you might not like the way Christmas seems to have been hi-jacked. You might not like all the Christmas trees and glitter. Santa Claus seems to have taken on divine attributes!
He knows when you are sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake,
He knows when you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake
(John Frederick Coots & Haven Gillespie)
This is to speak of Santa’s Omniscience. And how does he manage to climb down every chimney of every house, even houses that don’t have chimneys – with his big bag of presents? This is to speak of Santa’s omnipresence – honest, no pun intended!
There was a story about a department store in Japan that was interested in Santa Claus. Apparently Christmas isn’t really celebrated in Japan. Anyway, the story goes that this particular department store was attempting to cash in on the West’s Christmas shopping phenomenon. However, the trouble was that they hadn’t done enough research into Christmas. The story goes that they had a crucified Santa! They had Santa on a cross! Now, I know that many Christians see Santa as an imposter to Christmas and would like to see the back of him – but putting him on a cross is not the way to do it. People may grant Santa attributes which belong only to God, which is blasphemous enough. But to replace the crucified Christ with Santa on a cross is downright diabolical! For, it was Christ, not Santa, who died to save lost sinners. But before you get too flustered, let me say that I’m not convinced that this is a true story. But I am convinced that it’s quite possible. Let’s say you were a Japanese department store owner in Japan. Let’s say you were wanting to cash into the Christmas phenomenon. What kind of sign would you put in your shop window to let your customers know about Christmas? Would you choose Santa? Or would you choose Jesus? That is the $64,000 question, isn’t it?
DO YOU WANT THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD? Then follow Santa! OR DO YOU WANT THE THINGS OF HEAVEN? Then follow Jesus! Do you want only the world’s riches? or do you want the riches of the Kingdom of heaven? Each year at Christmas the West is asked to make up its mind. For each year at this time God reminds Australia to: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” For each year the Lord has His messengers who are traveling on their way to heaven stop, not to ask the Western World for directions, but rather to give the Western World directions! But the trouble is, How many people in the West actually know how lost they really are? All we can do is take the opportunity the Lord gives each Christmas. Let’s direct everyone, whether they’re too proud to admit they’re lost or not, whether they admit they’re lost – let’s direct everyone to look at the sign. You can’t miss it. It’s here every Christmas. “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
The sign is a sign of your lost-ness and my lost-ness. The Lord of Glory had to leave His heavenly mansion to be born in a stable. Why? Because all mankind has lost its way, all we like sheep have gone astray. And here’s one of the ways we’ve all gone astray, You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why… We think we can get to heaven by hitching a lift on the back of Santa’s sled! We think God’s making a list and checking it twice, He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice! We think that God will save us from Hell and give us the gift of everlasting life if we try to be nice! Well, if that’s the case, if God will let us into heaven for our trying to be good, what is the Babe doing lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths? Why would he have bothered leaving His glory in Heaven to be born in the shame of a horse’s stable if all we needed to do was try to be good to be right with God? Don’t you think God would have told us if this was the way of salvation?
We have to stop thinking of God as if He were Santa Claus, as if He would be pleased with our not being naughty but nice. No, the shepherds were given directions where to find the Savior who is Christ the Lord. Like the shepherds, all of us need to find the Savior who is Christ the Lord. Why? Because a Savior saves! And what does the Savior who is Christ the Lord save us from? He saves us, e.g., from the punishment we deserve from treating God as if He were Santa Claus!
You’d better watch out! These shepherds weren’t asking for directions. Perhaps you aren’t either. But the Lord, by His grace had one His messengers stop and give them directions. Each Christmas He has His messengers stop and point the West – even the whole world to the sign. The sign is still here. The street might be a bit cluttered with bill boards advertising their wares. However, you can’t miss this sign. It’s right in front of your nose every Christmas.
So, what do you do when you see the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger? Do you just keep on driving to beat the Christmas rush hour? Do you just keep on pushing your Christmas shopping trolley? Do you just rush to church on Sunday morning or Christmas morning and then rush home again? At Christmas, are you more interested in the turkey wrapped in tinfoil sitting in the oven than the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger? Perhaps you might be too slow in asking for directions. Perhaps you might too quick. However, the real question is this: How good are you at receiving directions? This Christmas let’s all take the time to stop and tell others about the sign we’ve seen.