Fourth Sunday of Advent 2014
Scripture: Luke 2.1-7
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
“He was a baby and a child, so that you may be a perfect human.
He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that you may be freed from the snares of death.
He was in a manger, so that you may be in the altar.
He was on earth that you may be in the stars.
He had no other place in the inn, so that you may have many mansions in the heavens.
‘He, being rich, became poor for your sakes, that through his poverty you might be rich.’ (2 Cor 8.9)”
(Ambrose of Milan, circa 375 AD)
“If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do. If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you!”
(Souling, traditional Christmas carol)
It is hard to imagine Christmas wthout baking. Cookies, pies and breads all play a essential part of this great holiday.
It will be no surprise to the foodies among us that God loves to bake, too. Remember the bread of passover? How about the manna in the desert, or the five loaves that fed five thousand? Most important of all for Christians, we cannot forget the last supper and the bread of the eucharist.
Something’s Cooking in Bethlehem: God’s Bread Recipe
Start With the Finest Wheat: God’s Promise
There was a reason this all took place in Bethlehem (bread-city). Bethlehem is loaded with meaning. Not only was it the city of David, the anointed king. But this is where the outsider Ruth was redeemed by Boaz during a fateful wheat harvest long ago. And this is where humanity first was given a taste God’s redemption on that first Noel — where the true bread from heaven came down to earth.
God’s promise of redemption was foretold and laid out clearly throughout the narrative of the Old Testament. These promises go back to Abraham — and even farther, all the way to Adam and Eve. God’s desire has always been for us to love Him and to love one another. His word teaches us to set aside selfishness and look out for the interests of others; to work for peace and justice wherever we go. His word and His promises are sure — they extend to you and me today.
If we long to see God at work in our lives, we must bake with His flour — we must live according to His word — not according to the perishable words of men but according to the inexhaustible promises of God.
For some of us, this means we simply need to get to know His promises better; those should start by reading the Bible. For others it is time to dig deeper into those promises; those should get involved in one of the many studies offered by this church, taught by Paige, Jeremy or Gidgitte.
But for some here today, the problem is not that you don’t know the promises, but that you have wandered from living according to them. My earnest prayer for you is that you will learn to swallow your pride and return to God. If you had not known nor had not heard the words of God, you might have an excuse. But if you know the truth and then turn from following it, you are without excuse.
Are you living on the second-rate flour of men, or the imperishable promises of God?
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” (John 6.32)
Add Some Heat: Trials Bake the Cake
This Holy Night must have seemed like unholy chaos to Joseph and Mary -- yet all was happening precisely according to God’s meticulous plan.
I cannot imagine that the timing and location of the birth of Jesus could have been seen as a good thing from Joseph and Mary’s perspective. We have all had those road trips where everything seems to go wrong. The Bethlehem journey was an unexpected road trip at an inopportune time. The census was a pile of government red tape taken so that Caesar could collect more taxes and register more young men for military service. There was nothing in this for Joseph and Mary. No dingy motel room to sleep in, just a cave out back. And then, just when you thought it couldn't get any more difficult, the contractions began. The first Christmas must have been viewed by Mary and Joseph as a serious trial.
Dough must be wrung, stretched and kneaded, then subjected to intense heat before it can become bread. If you asked a lump of dough if it was enjoying the process of becoming bread, it would probably answer with a resounding, “No!”
And yet, this was all part of God’s perfect plan, celebrated throughout the ages as the perfect night, a night divine.
Is it possible that what you experience as a frustrating disruption to your plans is nothing less than God himself baking His bread in you? Could it be that the heat of intense trials could be nothing less than heaven working its way into to your soul?
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1.2-3)
Take and Eat: Tasting is Believing
Just as the children of Israel were rescued from sure death by manna in the desert, we are rescued from hell by the bread sent from heaven — the sacrificial offering of God’s own Son.
The absurdity of God in a feeding trough is made wonderful by this wild truth: we are the beasts in the barn. Think of how often Jesus calls his people sheep! We, like beasts, have all gone astray. We, like beasts, need to feed from the trough of Gods mercy.
The manger, a simple feed trough, was more than just a convenient place to lay a baby; it was an exquisite wink from God. This lowly manger — where beasts must come for life-giving feed — is where all humankind is invited to partake of the bread that brings eternal life.
For beasts, the manger represents fullness, joy and utter satisfaction. For the believer, the manger represents the fullness of the soul in which we never hunger again.
The mystery of the manger becomes even more profound when we remember that God Himself made this offering. Under Moses’ law, it was the people who brought the sacrificial bread offering to the temple of God. But now, in Christ, the tables are turned completely. It is God who brings the peace offering to us — not in a temple, but in the dark caves where we dwell.
In Christ, God’s people no longer need to make unending peace offerings of bread to seek forgiveness from God. No, in Christ, in the incarnation, God himself become the sacrificial bread, He himself becomes our peace offering. No other religion can claim a God who offers sacrifices to men. Still, many refuse His perfect offering, as though it were not good enough. Like a man who refuses a gift at Christmas, there are some too calloused and stubborn to receive the gift of God, which is eternal life.
Will you let the opportunity pass you by, or will you taste of His love for you?
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34.8)
He Became Bread and Offered Himself For You
How are you offering yourself to him?