From Manger to Cross

Christmas Eve
Ephesians 2:13-16
December 24, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have become near in the blood of Jesus. For He is our peace, who made both into one and destroyed the dividing wall, the enmity, in His flesh, nullifying the law of commandments in ordinances, in order that in Him He might create the two into one new man, making peace, and might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, by killing the enmity in Him (Eph 2:13-16).

In the name of + Jesus.

Christmas is about a Boy who was born in order to be borne by wood. In the moments after He draws His first breath, Jesus is placed in a wooden manger. In the moments that He takes His last breath, He is hanging on a cross. Wood frames His earthly life from His humble beginning to His bitter end. The cross always looms behind the manger. Because this Son of a virgin was born to bear the sins of the world. But by doing so, He reverses the first curse.

From the Manger to the Cross, Jesus Puts Enmity to Death

I.

The manger is an icon of Christmas. No crèche is complete without one. It’s inspired verses for several carols—Away in a Manger is the best known, but less well known is Paul Gerhardt’s O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is. Without the manger, it just wouldn’t be Christmas. It’s a signal for what this celebration is all about. Jesus is borne by the wood of the manger.

“And this is the sign for you,” says the angel to the shepherds, “you will find a baby wrapped up in cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). Not all babies were placed in mangers, it seems. This One, though was different.

Of course there was a practical reason that the manger was called into service to hold the Baby that night—there was no room for them in the guest rooms. Joseph and Mary had travelled to his home town for a census, which meant that all of his other family would be there, too. You know how crazy things when family gets together at the holidays—not exactly the place for a young woman to go into labor. So Joseph and Mary retreated to the lower level of the house, where there was some peace and quiet. Except for that’s also where the animals were kept at night. So a manger it is for the little Lord’s first bed.

But more than a practical solution, it shows the nature of this boy’s birth. It’s not a golden crib with silks and satins. This birth was humble. Surrounded by beasts of burden, and animals that may have ended up as sacrifices.

After the shepherds are directed to the manger, the angels sing a hymn: Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men (Lk 2:14 KJV). In this manger is God’s gift of peace, because in this manger is the flesh aof Jesus Christ. For He is our peace, who made both into one and destroyed the dividing wall, the enmity, in His flesh (v 14). The marvel of this night is that the eternal, almighty, omnipotent God of all creation becomes flesh to end the hostility and to give peace.

II.

The hostility, or the enmity, is not primarily between God and man. As we heard at the beginning of the Christmas story, And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your descendants and her Descendant. He will crush your head and you will bruise His heel (Gen 3:15 AAT). What this means is that the Boy borne by the wood of the manger was born to die. The wood of the manger is a reminder that Jesus is borne also by the wood of the cross.

It was not a painless peace that Jesus brings. When Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus to the temple for dedication, Simeon prophesies that a sword will also pierce Mary’s soul (Lk 2:35). What is joy without sorrow?

The hostility that exists between the righteous Seed of Eve who is now enfleshed as the Son of Mary is because of sin. But that sin is amplified by the Law, St. Paul writes to the Romans (Rom 5:20). And so in an attempt to gain righteousness by the Law, the sons of Satan put Jesus to death. They hung Him up on a couple of pieces of wood to make an example of Him whom they accused of being a law-breaker.

But that’s the exact opposite intent of the Law. Hate and hostility and death does not fulfill the Law. Love is the fulfillment of the Law.

Yet what at first brings pain and sorrow is what brings peace in the end. Jesus was borne upon the wood of the cross nullifying the law of commandments in ordinances, in order that in Him He might create the two into one new man, making peace, and might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, by killing the enmity in Him (vv 15-16). When Jesus was put to death, so was the enmity of Genesis 3:15. And there is peace.

Mary and Joseph and the shepherds were all very near to the flesh and blood of Jesus; they saw it laying in a manger. But you are far off. 2,000 years and half a world away. But tonight you are even nearer than they, because of the blood that Jesus shed. The flesh and blood that was borne by manger and cross is your peace tonight. The hostility is ended.

Merry Christmas.

In the name of + Jesus.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user MTSOFan