The Ultimate Sign

“And this will be a sign for you, you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”.

Christmas Eve, 2008


                   Just the other day Lisa and I were looking at our past family Christmas letters, and commenting how glad we are to have kept them, but also how difficult it is to sum up ones year in a page.  After all family Christmas letters are filled, God willing with limited words, just a few signals or signs of what our lives have been like in the past year.   They don’t contain everything, but enough to let friends and family know what life has been like this past year.   Many who are here this evening, have been to this Christmas Eve service, at this time for many years.  It is a tradition.  The life we live, and the experiences we have had for the previous 364 days, are as varied as there are people in this place.   For some this year has been outstanding, with new joys and continued accomplishments.  For others, this has been a year to forget or at least parts of a year to forget.  Sadness, ill health, or just being kind of stuck in your station of life, may have been the order of things for you this year.   Still others have had a year of small ups and small downs, a lot of the hum drum, same o, same o kind of living. Yet however varied our individual stories are, once again we gather here on Christmas Eve to unite our stories to the one story that really matters.   We come together to hear again that account of God entering our life, leaving signs of his entrance, and doing so in a way that only the Holy one could do.      It is this Christmas story, or maybe better said, account of, how God chose to mark our life with signs that point us to what really matters.    “This shall be a sign unto you, you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”.

           We like signs that we can see, God likes signs that we can hear.  The Words/Signs spoken of God’s story uniting to our story can be heard in our Isaiah reading.  Some 600 plus years before the presence of Jesus, the writer says “For to us a child is born  to us a Son is Given, …….. he will be called wonderful counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.    That his throne that unlike  David’s throne,   would never end.    The signs pointed not to some distant king, but rather to a king that would be there to give us things this world simply cannot provide.  (Peace, justice, and righteousness, forgiveness…to name a few).     For 600 plus years these words which were intended to be heard, were just that, words.   Yet God used them to create something, something called faith.  This was necessary because between the time of Isaiah’s message and Jesus birth the visual signs often didn’t match what the ears heard.  There were wars, there was death, there were conflicts, and yes there were different kings, many different kings.  

          The signs continued with words, this time it was a decree, that all should to their home town so they could be numbered.   Apparently pregnant with child wasn’t reason enough for Mary not to travel some 90 miles to Joseph’s hometown.  These were words you had to follow or the justice of Rome would be upon you.  

          There were others words, other signs.  Joseph had already heard from an angel, and Mary heard from Gabriel, that she was with child.  To Joseph the angel said “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  To Mary, Gabriel said “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”   Signs/ Words,  that once again proved to be true.   

          The shepherds also had a sign.  At first it was a visual sign.     The angel of the Lord appears to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them.  What a sight!   Yet, what does this visual do?  It brings them fear!  Fear of all sorts of things, most of it probably stemming from their own unworthiness to stand before such a visually awesome God.     Yet, the angel calmed these fears with words/ signs.  “Fear not, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people”.   This was not a general declaration, rather this was a personal message delivered especially for them.   God was taking His story and shaping it so that it would fit into their stories.

           Then the Shepherds were given a visual sign, a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.    What sort of sign is this?  Sure it was unusual to be in a feeding trough, but outside of this, this baby probably looked like any other baby.     “Yet when they spoke about this child they didn’t tell others about what they saw, (the size, the weight, and so forth) but rather all that was spoken about him by the angels.  “And when they saw him, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning the child”.      Here is a child born for you, he is Christ the Lord.     God was using these words spoken of to the shepherds and spoken of by the shepherds to create this thing called faith.  Faith in his real love, and his real life.   Here was God combining his story with everyone else story in a way that had never been done before. 

          The very real story of our Savior’s birth is just the first chapter.  The next chapters include a perfect life, a caring life filled with miracles, and toward the latter part of the book a culminating chapter that speaks of this same Christ hanging from a tree for you and for me.      Obviously this account/story is not the final chapter.  While this chapter has been written, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead” we just haven’t gotten there yet.  Yet, without this early chapter,   the whole story falls apart.   Without him, our whole story, whether good bad, or something in between simply does not hold together.        

          In the mean time we live our stories which like those in Isaiah’s day, like Mary and Joseph, like the shepherds, are to be lived following his Words.    These signs, heard, sung, and read here tonight, are the way God combines his story with your story.  It may not seem like those two stories have much in common, that is your life, and the redeeming life of the living Savior.  Do not worry, you are not the one authoring this book or even making sure both stories, yours and his, fit together, your Savior is, and because of this Christ child born for you, all signs point to a very very good ending.  Amen.