by Sasaki Michio, Kyodan vice-moderator
Pastor, Shizuoka Church, Tokai District
While telling the story of Christ’s birth, Luke repeats the phrase “lying in a manger” to reveal the image of the holy infant. This was also the sign by which the angels told the shepherds they would recognize the child. In a world of poverty and hardship, Jesus lays himself down on the earth. In a few words, Luke shows us that the Christ child puts himself in the midst of our actual walk in life. At the same time, Luke shows us that as we walk through our troubled lives, we are also put in the midst of Gods love.
As we await Christmas, we live in the reality of this world. In society and in our various lives, there really are not that many occasions of joy. Rather, we go through life carrying with us our pain and sorrow. As long as we are alive, we cannot escape that reality. This is true for any generation. The shepherds who received the angel’s news were taking care of their sheep out in the fields. It was a dangerous existence, allowing for little sleep. Daily subsistence in poverty and hardship was their existence. Life was lived while dozing. They had many troubles and sleepless days. But in the midst of that mundane existence, an angel brought them news of great joy. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (ESV) This reveals the truth and sign of Christ’s birth.
Moreover, the singing of the host of angels right after the announcement was a great contrast to the sign. God's tremendous glory was lying in a poor manger. There was no room, bed, or proper baby clothing. All that was available were a few cloths, some straw, and a simple manger from which animals fed. There, our Lord Jesus laid himself as a newborn baby and revealed that image of himself to us. If the angel’s announcement had not been made, no one would have noticed the birth of this small child. But this is the way the hand of God works to accomplish God’s work in our world. God dwells with us in the reality of our pain and poverty and warms us with the warmth of God’s life.
The following words come from the scriptures: “For unto you is born this day . . . a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” These words tell us of the work of salvation done through God’s hands, and they are the Gospel to be preached from that point on. Also, in the Apostles’ Creed, which we as a church confess, the crucifixion and resurrection are confessed, telling of the reality of God’s salvation.
In Luke’s gospel, where the nativity account is recorded, the word “returned” has many meanings attached to it. The angel Gabriel returned after announcing Jesus’ birth to Mary. After Mary stayed with Elizabeth, she returned. The angels who brought the news to the shepherds also returned. And the shepherds returned after beholding the holy infant in the manger. All of them accepted God’s will and returned. However, Jesus did not return to his throne but remained in the world with us. That Jesus continues to walk among us until he accomplishes the will of God. The joy of Christmas is to invite this person, Jesus, accept the salvation of God as our own, and give thanks for the joy of living in his love. Through the coming of the Holy Spirit, the reality of Immanuel and peace is manifest in our lives. (Tr. WJ)