Last night the first snow flake came, and this morning, as you trudged off to school, the world was white with the grief of winter. . . When I look through our big windows toward the east, I am almost blinded by the sun on the white snow. . . Perhaps this afternoon as the sun goes down, we can take a walk past the cemetery to see the living evergreens among the tombstones over the dead. . . a strange contrast, but no more strange than the contrasts of the night over Bethlehem two thousand years ago. . .
I wonder whether you have already seen these contrasts?. . . Angels and shepherds. . . Virgin and Child. . . wise men and a carpenter. . . sheep and the heavenly host. . . It was really a topsy-turvy night. . . And the ultimate mystery of it lies in two basic nouns which are very strange when they are put together: God in a Stable. . .
Perhaps you will remember on Christmas Eve that the word “stable” is not used in the story. . . only the word “manger”. . . like most Judean stables this was a cave in the rocky hillside, safe from the prowlers of the night. . . The Baby was literally born under the floor of the world. . . as lowly and humbly as anyone in all these thousands of years of birth and life and death and history. . . certainly lowlier than any one of us who are now celebrating His birth. . . If anybody was ever born on the wrong side of the tracks, it was Jesus of Nazareth. . .
One of our troubles has been that we have romanticized and sentimentalized the stable and the manger. . . We see them through the warm glow of our comfortable homes, our candles and our well-fed bodies. . . Perhaps we have never quite dared to face up to the fact that a stable is no easy place to have a baby. . . and a manger is no good place for a child to begin life. . . It was cold, ugly, dirty, and mean in Bethlehem that night. . . far, far away, as far as you can get, from the golden streets, the pearly gates and the chanting of cherubim and seraphim. . . all the things that make heaven Heaven. . .
Why do you think that God wanted the Baby to be born in a stable?. . . Why not at least in Nazareth or the Inn or a house?. . . I am sure that in your years of life you have already learned the answer: In order to do what He came to do He had to come under the worst and the lowliest. . . He had to be born like an outcast or an outlaw in order to show once and for all that before God there are no outcasts and no outlaws. . . There are sinners, but they can become saints. . . There are bad people, but they can become good. . . There are poor people who can become rich. . . There are shepherds who can talk to the princes of heaven. . . and all this can happen and has happened because He went lower than anybody else in the history of the world. . . so low and so lowly that no one need ever to be afraid of the manger and the Baby in it. . . Perhaps you will remember that a few years ago I told you about this and asked what you can do about a Baby drawing its first breath in a stable. . . Certainly you cannot hate it or despise it. . . Do you want to run away from it?. . . No—A true Christian will never allow you to forget that you really can do nothing to a baby but love it. . . and the Baby, above all this one, always knows if you really do, and He will know it again this Christmas as He has for nineteen hundred years. . .
And all this is because He is God in the stable. . . How easily I write those words, and how calmly you may read them. . . God in the stable. . . Do we really know this at Christmastime?. . . with the knowledge of love and wisdom and faith and worship. . . Who was the Baby?. . . We say it regularly in church, “God of God, Light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made.”. . . If you had come to the stable under the world that midnight with seeing eyes, you would have to repeat some words written a thousand years before the Baby was born: “Of old hast Thou laid the foundations of the earth; and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou shall endure. Yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shall Thou change them and they shall be changed; but Thou art the same and Thy years shall have no end.”. . . The Child of Bethlehem and the Lord of the outstretched universe will live forever. . . At Christmas midnight the clock of the universe holds its hands upright in worship and adoration, for the valleys of time are exalted and the mountains and hills are made low. . . and the rough places plain. . . because God was in the stable and loved us, the proud and disobedient children of Paradise Lost, with a holy, consuming, and everlasting love. . .