Dec28FriChristmas Eve Sermon 2018 December 28, 2018
Grace and peace be unto from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In my sermon this evening I’d like to focus on one small, but significant object in the story of Jesus’ birth, namely, the manger.
The manger into which the newborn baby Jesus was placed.
What message does the manger have for us on Christmas Eve?
God lies in a manger;
quite peculiar as the first sleeping and resting place.
The manger is a place of absence of comfort,
of a lack of the basic necessities.
The manger is no soft crib, or a bassinet with soothing sounds and comforting vibrations, rather it is something quite pitiful and
The presence of the manger reminds us that God has cast himself into the perishability of human life and suffering.
The manger is so important because it reminds us that God has become completely human, and understands poverty, pain and anguish.
Now, the romantic notion of the manger is quite problematic
(that nostalgic image evoked by children’s choirs singing “Away in a manger” with angelic smiles).
We need to look past the cuteness of the “little Lord Jesus no crying he makes”,
because poverty is not cute.
When stomachs growl with hunger ... that's not cute.
When people cry out with longing for abundance…that’s simply awful.
And Jesus had such a beginning of life.
And though the angels were singing “Gloria in excelsis deo”,
bursting with light and joy,
the reality is different,
the perfect world does not exist.
The nostalgic, romantic “Silent Night, Holy Night” is a mirage.
Life can be extremely hard, especially if you are poor.
Life isn’t that idyllic when you live in poverty.
I can see that in the faces of people who come to our church door, begging for help or support.
Their faces are scarred with wrinkles, and they look 20-30 years older than they really are.
Jesus in the manger is a sign and symbol that
God identifies with the least and the poorest.
When we put the manger into the spotlight for the Nativity story ,
then we notice a little more the shadows of Christmas,
and we tend to overlook less the actual themes of the season.
Now let’s return to the Christmas Story that we heard from the Gospel of Luke.
It is worth noting that we never hear the word "stable".
But the word “manger" or feeding trough, occurs three times.
The Greek word for manger,
comes from the same root as eating, and feeding.
What did these feeding troughs look like, historically?
Perhaps if we imagine in our mind’s eye a manger, we come up with a picture of a crude wooden box on two sets of crossed, angled legs.
But the mangers in Jesus’ time certainly did not look like this.
Mostly these feeding troughs were made of stone.
There were three variants for these mangers:
-Archaeologists have found limestone troughs in Israel (about 3 feet long). These freestanding stone troughs were placed against a wall.
-The second option: in many average houses on the side of the house was a side room for the animals and the livestock,
and the floor of this room was lower than the rest of the house (about one and a half feet lower).
And in the step between both rooms was a hollow where the food for the animals was laid.
-The third possibility: In Palestine up into the 20th century, it was common for underground caves (under houses) to be used as cattle sheds, and a hollow was excavated in the cave wall and the cattle feed was placed there.
The oldest traditions in Palestine assume that Jesus was born in a cave.
In the 4th century, a church in Bethlehem was built on top of the supposed birth cave of Jesus.
This Nativity Church can still be visited today, and one can descend into the cave, and in fact such a cavity in the wall of the cave is celebrated as a feeding trough/ manger and the first place where Jesus was laid.
So much for the historical context of the manger.
Now, when God, as Jesus, was laid in the manger,
then Jesus became food, and God became a meal.
So then one should eat Jesus, and thereby eat God,
if Jesus is in a feeding trough.
And in fact Christians have been doing this since the very beginning in a spiritual, symbolic way in Holy Communion.
And we say those words:
body of Christ, given for you.
We eat Jesus and God in a symbolic, spiritual way,
And that makes sense, when we think about Jesus having his start in a feeding trough.
Another thing that we do here at St. Matthews:
In our congregation’s guides to worship are printed instructions for Communion, to receive the wafer in your cupped hands (that is with one hand placed under the other)…
the tradition is that one thereby makes a manger into which is placed the body of Jesus Christ.
When we receive this sacrament (this special sign),
we prepare a place for God within us.
So much for the spiritual eating of God.
And Jesus says: I am the Bread of life …for the World
Jesus is the Bread for the World.
What does this mean?
How are we fed by God?
Here what is meant is not only the spiritual food of God.
God wants all people to be full, physically.
God does not want us to starve.
Humans should have food for the spirit and the body!
If God was born into a feeding trough,
than that is a sign that all should be fed.
Hunger is no fun.
I myself have to eat food at regular intervals.
If I do not get 3 good meals a day, then I get tense, crabby, and I feel unwell.
If I somehow skip a meal because of work or stress, I have trouble concentrating and I am not my optimal self.
My little kids (5 and 3 years old) are similar:
they play pretty well for themselves and are somehow busy and then suddenly, they realize that they are hungry and then the food has to be on the table within seconds, otherwise there will be tears and primal screaming.
But let’s now imagine: people who are really hungry.
More than 8,000 children die every day from hunger and malnutrition around the world.
Every minute 5 children die of hunger worldwide.
In 2016, 3.1 million children under the age of 5 died from hunger. (UNICEF)
What can we do?
How we can solve the world’s hunger problem?
Of course, there are many good organizations that we can support,
such as Canadian Lutheran World Relief,
which addresses issues of food production
and sends aid to areas hit by famine or natural disaster.
Here at St. Matthews we have a great program that addresses hunger needs in our neighbourhood.
It’s our “Out of the Cold” Community Supper on Wednesdays,
and the Thursday morning breakfast.
I encourage (and challenge) each of you, once in your life,
or even once a year to come to an “Out of the Cold” meal
or even to volunteer once.
It's a sobering and grounding experience that brings you a little closer to the root of human existence ...
These meals are mind- and soul-expanding.
I would guess that most of you gathered this evening take for granted that you will get enough to eat,
but this is not the case for the guests.
And it's not just homeless people who come, there are also many poor people who have a home, but still do not have enough to eat.
Last Wednesday I went to our Out of the Cold Community Supper and brought my violin and played Christmas carols.
“Silent night, holy night” was a favorite.
After that, I chatted with a few people over my meal,
as they told a little about their life story.
I heard about childhood neglect as children, foster care, abuse, psychiatric illnesses, drug addictions.
It brought tears to my eyes.
Some people came in and headed straight to the kitchen:
“Where's the food?” they asked. They were obviously very hungry.
The brokenness was palpable.
But that is also part of our society, and something we rather not think about.
“Kitchener is the hellhole of Ontario” says one man.
You can tell that he lives in hell.
It became clear to me last Wednesday:
here were people who are lying in a symbolic manger.
On hay and on straw.
Here were people who sleep in a manger,
where none of us would ever want to be.
Their life is extremely difficult, and characterized by want and deprivation.
God knows what they are going through.
Jesus Christ, bread for the world, lying in a manger.
As we imagine this scene tonight,
let us consider how we might pass on the spiritual and physical food to all those in need, for this is the task of the Christian.
God wants the world to be fed,
and food is necessary for survival:
spiritual as well as physical food.
How do we as individuals and as churches,
serve those who are spiritually and physically starving?
God who gave himself to us in Jesus,
beginning in the manger,
Jesus bread for the world ...
The presence of the manger reminds us that God came down into the transience and brittleness of human life and suffering.
The manger is important because it reminds us that God knows what it means to be completely human,
together with all its accompanying poverty, pain and hunger.
Let us always keep an eye on the manger as an important part of the Christmas story.