O JESUS CHRIST, THY MANGER IS...
...But now, in these days of the end time, God has spoken to us by His Son. Hebrews 1:1-6
THE opening of Paul Gerhardt's hymn O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is my paradise at which my soul reclineth says exactly what our meditation is about and what our intention is. The reclineth in verse one suggests a picture of banquets in ancient times. Guests did not sit at table. Rather, lying stretched out on couches reclining on one elbow, with feet extended away from the table and heads in toward the table, they contentedly ate and conversed. Hence, the title of this sermon is, O JESUS CHRIST, THY MANGER IS MY PARADISE AT WHICH MY SOUL FEASTS CONTENTEDLY.
According to the prophet Micah 5:3, the descendant of David would be born in Bethlehem from which would come forth He who was to be ruler over God's kingdom forever. Bethlehem means "house of bread." How fitting! He who called Himself the bread of life is born in the house of bread. The eternal Word of God takes flesh, and that flesh is the life of the world. Whoever eats this bread -- this flesh of the Son of God -- will live forever. He said so! He, the one who made cleansing for our sins; He who now sits down at the right hand of the Father to rule forever, He said so! What He offered for our purification was His own body, His own blood. In the manger at Bethlehem lies that One who is the Father's Word in human flesh for us.
You will find Him in a manger, said the angels -- a manger, mind you -- where the cattle eat. Consider, now: this bread of life from heaven is the gift to us of our feeding God to nurture us on the food of eternal life and to intoxicate us with the drink of eternal joy. Like the shepherds, we have come this morning to worship Him. With single minds and hearts, let us come to feast our souls at the manger of God's Son, for from the One in that manger, joy streams. Let our hearts be single in intent, full of glad sounds, crying out our amazement and ecstasy: O Jesus Christ, your manger is the paradise at which my soul feasts contentedly.
The feeding God gives is not only feed for wild animals. He gives not only food for the stomach and drink for thirst, but this God also gives us His Word -- the eternal food for our souls to live in joy forever. When first our ancestors Adam and Eve -- standing before Him in their shame and burdened with the unbearable debt they had incurred and passed as inheritance to their children -- heard the word of the descendant of the woman who would come to crush the serpent's head; ever since that time, the Word of promise has been like appetizers for believing souls. In various ways and in different styles, God spoke in times past by the prophets. By that Word, God fed faith and nurtured hope in His faithful people, But now, in these days of the end time, God has spoken to us by His Son.
Moreover, what a word God speaks! The coming of Jesus Christ is not merely the coming of the one who came at the end of the days. With Jesus Christ, the days of the end have come. Now is the end time, for now is the day of salvation.
Reflect on what the Holy Spirit says about Him in the Letter to the Hebrews read this morning. (1) Jesus is the heir of all things. Whatever power and riches lie in the Word of God -- Jesus is the heir. (2) Whatever there is of life or hope -- Jesus is the heir. He is heir and owner by right of sonship. (3) He is not a creature to be elevated to a position of honor. He is the very reflection of God's glory and the character of God's very nature! Very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. (Nicene Creed)
Furthermore, this tender and pure little Jesus in the manger is the mighty Word by which all things are created and still hang together. This God is man, our brother. This man is God, our Savior! By His Word, the whole universe hangs together and serves His purpose. He is God's right hand man, the arm that God makes bare, when He rolls up His sleeve to get into the fight to save us. Sitting at God's right hand, Jesus rules by the forgiveness of sins for your benefit, for your blessing, for your joy in eternal life. In that manger lies the man, God's right hand, coming to us because we could not come to Him.
He enters the flesh as a naked and helpless infant. He needed to be fed by His mother, to have His infant needs attended to by His parents, to be wrapped in receiving blankets to protect Him from cold. And as we shall learn on Holy Innocents, three days from now, He needed to be carried in the dark to Egypt when Herod determined to kill Him. Willingly He enters into our flesh for the purpose of making a sacrifice, a sacrifice that will save the lives of the condemned brothers and sisters He joins. The sacrifice will not be some other creature - some goat or bull. Neither will He, as some do, sacrifice the child of their bodies for the sin of their bodies. He does not "off" another for sacrifice. He is the priest who offers Himself in sacrifice.
He sits at God's right hand. He did not get to this throne of power with a political power play by which He outfoxed His enemies. He did not rise to this rule merely by outlasting His opponents, or out-campaigning His competitors. He sits at God's right hand as the man from God who paid the price for our redemption, the one whom the Father elevated to rule all things for the Church. Luther's addition of the third stanza to the medieval hymn "Now Sing We, Now Rejoice" says it clearly:
Now thro' His Son doth shine, The Father's grace divine.
Death o'er us had reign'ed, Thro' sin and vanity;
He for us obtain'ed Eternal joy on high.
May we praise Him there! May we praise Him there!
Indeed, praise Him! The Holy Spirit plainly teaches us in the reading today from Hebrews to worship Him alone. The shepherds give you the perfect example. Listen to the Holy Spirit, and follow that example. Where shall joy be found? Where but on heavenly ground? He from whom joy streams lies in this manger in Bethlehem -- the house of bread.
Did I say Bethlehem? Yes, I did, but don't think you must now buy a plane ticket to the Holy Land. Your house of bread, your Bethlehem, is where the bread of life comes to feed you.
The amazing wonder of the birth in human flesh and blood of the Son of God lies at the basis of this amazing wonder that here, in Christ Lutheran Church by His own Word, this Lord exercises the power of God's right hand. His right hand is wherever He is with His sure Word of grace to give and to do for you what He promised. The priest of the sacrifice of Calvary is alive to administer to you the benefits of that sacrifice. He brings to you -- in this lowly place -- the body of your redemption and the blood of your forgiveness. Here is the manger of Jesus to feed our souls.
He is begotten eternally of the Father; He is Son by birthright. He is born of Mary for you and me, whose births were under the cancerous death of sin. By Him, you are begotten anew -- born again -- to be sons of God by right of His rightness. The feast is for you.
Come to the feast, for all things are now ready. The days of the end are here. Now, fully, perfectly, and for all time, God has spoken by His Son. The manger in which He lies among us is indeed the paradise at which our souls feast contentedly. Your paradise is that manger of Jesus. There you rest in the peace from heaven, in sweet conversation with the Lord of the feast and with all the fellow-believing guests to feast contentedly, even though there may be conflict, turmoil, temptation, sin, confusion, struggle, and failure around and within you. Not one of you may live in ideal conditions, but where He feasts with you and where you live with Him it is turned into paradise by Him, now, for you, until A crown be thine and honor in full measure. Amen.