When you stop to think about it, or more importantly, when you start to feel about it-to ‘get’ the deeper human meanings, it’s a wonderful story the ancient story of the birth of the Christ child in a stable, in a manger-the eating trough of the animals.
This is a marvelous mythology, the truth of which we realize on an intuitive level. The distant Creator God comes to earth as a human being-a God to whom we can relate.
This human God enters the scene in a very humble way-born in a stable, a feeding trough-manger.
The word manger comes from the Latin verb ‘mandere,’ to chew. Well, it’s something to chew on for a lifetime. Of course as literal fact it’s hard to swallow.
But it was never meant to be taken literally. It takes work Imagination. When you work at it, when you bring yourself to the story, it can take on new and wonderful meanings as the years of your own life reveal the deeper truths that are there, waiting for you to make the journey, to follow the star, to leave the old kingdom where you think you’re king-the kingdom we call ‘my opinion,’ or the kingdom we call ‘the real world.’
When you enter the story, using your imagination, your intuition, then it’s a story full of hope, full of the kind of miracles that remind us that this life itself is an unfolding miracle.
Of course it all depends how you look at it-how you see. Hope is itself a way of looking at the world, your own world. Hope is a vision of the present in a state of pregnancy.
Indeed, the story begins with Mary’s pregnancy. She’s ‘expecting.’
What are you expecting.tonight? You made a point of being here to ‘get into the spirit of the season’ by listening to the songs and stories- perhaps to sing, and to be touched by the music and candles. But do you really expect to be changed, at all, in a positive way?
Most of the elements in the service tonight are intended to help you feel the spirit of the season, and that might be enough; we could leave it at that.
The message I want to bring in these few minutes includes the possibility that you may get some new insight into the old story, some new insight that may touch your life, some new insight that can be a guiding star on your life journey.
Who cannot relate to the story of three kings who leave their kingdom-the place where they have the power, the place where they are in charge?
What would it take for you to leave your little kingdom where you are in charge-it’s as unlikely as changing your mind! It would be as rewarding as liberation-freedom.
The three wise men made a long, difficult journey, and they brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
What do you bring-what’s your gift? What do you have to offer?
It was at a service similar to this one, on a Christmas Eve in the Unitarian Church in London, in 1842, that 30-year old Charles Dickens got his idea for A Christmas Carol, the story of Scrooge and his transformation-the great, painful process of change he went through, his liberation.
Published a year later, in December 1843, Dickens wrote a preface in which is said, “I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly and no one wish to lay it.”
In the Christian story, Jesus is called; Wonderful; Counselor; the Mighty God; Everlasting Father; the Prince of Peace. That’s a direct quote from the Old Testament, it’s from the book of Isaiah; Handel didn’t make it up.
Jesus is called the Messiah, the Redeemer.
In this very human and humanizing story, Jesus represents what we all need: peace of mind-a coming to terms with the inner forces that wage that eternal struggle that sometimes feels like a battle raging inside.
He represents what we all need: a wonderful counselor; someone who will listen; someone who will not dismiss our concerns, even if they don’t sound as earth-shaking as the concerns of those whose suffering is more obvious than ours; someone who will not be afraid to find out ‘what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone;’ someone who will not reject us once they find out who we really are, flaws and all. Human!
He-this human Jesus-as-God represents what we all need: redemption-our need to feel like we’ve paid our debt for the flaws, the mistakes, the imperfections, the defects of character that make us so very human. The redeemer-someone who helps us unlock the chains of guilt, remorse and regret so many of us carry.
So he is called by many names, because he represents the many aspects of what it means to be human; and the many things each of us needs: The Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, The Redeemer, The Messiah, the anointed one-these are aspects of what it means to be human, what it means to struggle through life from day to day.
(One web site I went to lists 593 names for Jesus, with the appropriate Biblical reference.)
The names attributed to Jesus in the Bible suggest some potential in each of us. For example, you and I have the potential to listen carefully and caringly, to be a wonderful counselor. When we provide that kind of caring, listening ear, just at the right time, we become the Redeemer.
Let me give you an example from my own life.
Thirty years ago, as a young minister trying to find my way, I got in trouble with some people in the congregation I was serving because they held me responsible for a Sunday morning program that I was not involved in–it was outside of the box-too unusual for them. It was the early 70’s. Some said the music at this experimental Sunday service wasn’t appropriate; some were offended by the casual dress of the musicians.
I did my best to listen to their concerns, taking responsibility for that service-I knew where the buck had to stop. So I tried to listen and to apologize, to let them know that I respected their views. But it wasn’t working.
It dragged on for longer several weeks, with meetings of the Board of Deacons and Deaconesses. Then one day there was a knock on my office door-I was sort of hiding out in my office. I opened the door and there stood one of the solid and staunch Deaconesses who had been among those most upset with the incident came in and stood in the doorway, clearly indicating she had something to say, but she refused my invitation to come in and sit down.
She stood there in the doorway of my office, and I looked into her softened face with some surprise, and I’ll never forget what she said. She looked me in the eye and she said, simply-but-firmly, “You have bent the knee enough!”
That’s all she said: “You have bent the knee enough.”
At first I didn’t get it. I had to think about what she was saying to me, what she meant. I was dumbfounded. Her words echoed in my head.
In that moment, with that one, simple comment, she became my redeemer. I finally understood what a redeemer is. I understood in a very personal way the power of redemption-one of the names attributed to the loving, human Jesus in the story. She said, in effect, “It’s okay, you’re okay, and now it’s time to leave this behind you.”
The legend of God being born as a babe in a manger comes alive for us rational types only when we realize it’s about you and me. It’s the human story, too deep for simple, historical facts; deep enough to dig way down into what we call our potential-the potential for each of us to grow, to deepen our understandings, to participate in the process of one another’s salvation, to be redeemer, to be the Prince of Peace.
We need to discover these truths again and again; we need to discover them for ourselves, but we can’t do it by ourselves. May we continue to find ways ‘to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.’
Peace be with you..