Sermon: Strange Way To Save The World: Why A Baby?
Scripture: Isaiah 9: 6-7
Date: December 4, 2016
I don’t know about you but when I step into the voting booth to choose leaders, I often defer to the ones on the ballot who have a little grizzle on their bones. Who have not just political experience, but some life experience too. And I’m not a real term limits kind of person either. To me longevity in office can be a real plus if the person is effective as a leader. This year our main choices for president were both pushing 70 and as long as they are healthy, I don’t have any problem with that. Of course, we ended up electing the one who had no real political experience, but he certainly has an abundance of life experience, though I confess that I am a bit uncomfortable with the first public office that a person holds being the Presidency. I guess we’ll see how that works out.
And here’s the thing. When the Jews were looking for a Messiah in and around the time that Jesus was born, I suspect that most of them were looking for someone with a little grizzle on their bones. After all, if the Messiah was going to save the world, He or She would need to go against the Emperor of Rome who presided over the most powerful army that humanity had ever known. The Roman Empire stretched across most of the civilized world and to preserve that level of control the Emperor ruled with an iron fist. They were looking for a Messiah who would once again slay the giants that sought to control Israel, much like King David had. A great King or general who controlled an army that was powerful enough to stand against Rome. That’s how they understood at least most of the prophecies concerning the Messiah. A generation before many had embraced Judas Maccabbees, the great leader who had led the revolt against the Greeks and established Jewish rule in Israel once again, as the Messiah. But that period of peace and self rule had come crashing down as the Romans advanced across the promised land. And so they continued to wait for that great leader, the Messiah promised by God, who would reestablish David’s Kingdom once and for all. But, you see, they had missed, or chosen to ignore, a few of the prophecies concerning the Messiah, that spoke not of a great King, or a powerful general, but rather indicated that the Messiah would come as a baby. Isaiah had said, “Unto us a child is born, a Son is given” and “a little child shall lead them.” And even those who knew those prophecies assumed that the child would then grow in wisdom and power, as Luke put it, into that great leader that would establish God’s Kingdom in Israel. But it didn’t happen that way. God’s strange way to save the world was to send a baby to do what was perceived to be a man’s job.
They could not conceive of a Messiah, a Savior, that was a baby in a manger. Born into poverty not privilege. Born helpless not powerful. A Baby is such a strange way to save the world. And with the hindsight of 2000 years we think, “Of course, that was the plan all along. How could they have missed it then?” But I’m not so sure that most of us really understand it today. So many go to great lengths today to make Christmas about something other than the birth of Jesus. We focus instead on the Spirit of Giving or peace on earth. Even in the church we are quick to move on past the birth of a baby Savior. Churches that are packed on Christmas Eve are nearly deserted on the Sunday after Christmas. We’ve moved on to focusing on the New Year and our resolutions to somehow make our lives better. In the church calendar, we nearly skip over the childhood of Jesus. Three weeks after Christmas we are talking about the 30 year old Jesus coming to the Jordan to be baptized and beginning his ministry as though that baby in the manger had no ministry to offer. We are quick to forget that God’s strange plan to save the world included a new born baby.
So this morning, as we continue to think about God’s plan to save the world, we need to think about the question of Why a Baby? Why a baby Messiah? How can a baby save the world?
Well let me suggest, that the answer might lie in the characteristics every newborn baby brings into the world.
And the first is the innocence of a newborn. You see, here’s the thing. Human beings are never closer to the perfection of creation then we are at the moment of birth. We are not born as sinners. We are born into a sinful world. The angel that came to Joseph told him that the Messiah would be born, not to save the people from the Romans, but to save us from our sin. And to do that, the Messiah would need to call us back to the sinless state in which we were created in the first place. And only a baby, a sinless one, could ultimately do that. All of the others that God had called to rescue his people – Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, David – He called out of their sinful states. They were already tainted with the sinfulness of the world. But the Messiah would be sinless in nature, in order to take on once and for all the sinfulness of all the people. And so the Messiah would be born a Savior, not called out of the world to be a Savior. The people’s concept of who the Messiah would be came from their understanding of the need for atonement for sin. They believed the Messiah would come and make the Romans and the corrupt Jews atone for their sins against God’s people. But God’s strange plan was for the Messiah to come and offer forgiveness to all. His life would be the atonement so that all can be born or re-born in God’s eyes. The Messiah’s atonement would save us from our sin. Would save the world from sin. Recall the story of Nicodemus. A prominent Jew. A member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Temple. He came to Jesus in the middle of the night. “What must I do to follow you Jesus?” He surely expected Jesus to offer some tasks to be performed in order to somehow earn his place. But what does Jesus say? Essentially, Nicodemus you can’t earn your salvation. You must be born into it. So you have got to be born again. You’ve got to become a baby all over again.” “How can that be” Nicodemus says, “I’m an old man. Talking about being born all over again doesn’t make sense to me.” How can a baby be the Messiah? “But Nicodemus, I’m not talking about being physically born again. I’m talking about spiritual rebirth.” You’ve got to approach the world with the innocence of a newborn, before you can be saved. God sent the Messiah as a baby to call us all back to the innocence and perfection of a world that, just like a baby, was born without sin.
And then babies are born with unlimited promise. They are the promise of new life. No matter the circumstances into which they are born, they are a bundle of hope. There is the feeling that this child has the potential to be anything that God wants them to be. Of course, reality soon sets in and the world begins to temper those hopes and dreams. Put conditions on that promise. But for an instant, that new born baby was pure hope. Pure promise. Life as God intended it to be. Perhaps Phillips Brooks put it best when he wrote: The hopes and dreams of all the years have met in thee tonight. Each time a baby is born, it becomes, if only for a time, the vessel which contains all of our hopes and dreams. The promise that new life comes in the midst of the old life where we have been struggling. When the Messiah came, the hopes and promises of God met in a baby, and were once again released into the world. First to Mary and Joseph. And then to Shepherds. And then to Wise Men. And then to all the world. The Messiah was God’s promise fulfilled but also renewed. He came as new life in order to offer new life to all. A reminder that God’s promise is not just about the immediate circumstances of our life. It’s hard to imagine that Mary and Joseph, sitting in what was probably a cave, saw a great deal of promise for their life as they left Nazareth and made the hard journey to Bethlehem. Essentially homeless, unemployed, friendless. Family had no room for them in their homes or their hearts. Not sure where their next meal would come from. But they carried God’s promise of new life with them. And when their baby was born, the promise, the hope of God, was renewed. I remember the moment that our new born Anna was placed in my arms for the first time. It was a moment of complete joy. The moment that Karen and I had been waiting for. And when she smiled at me for the first time (I know. I know.) I saw not only new life that was my baby girl. I saw new life for me. I knew at that moment that my life was never going to be the same. She was God’s promise that no matter what might come, God would be there. She was God’s promise of salvation for me. That’s what babies are. That’s what the baby Jesus was on that night to a world that was lost in it’s sin. The promise of salvation. The promise of new life. And while priests and kings and grown up Messiahs could talk about God’s promise, could even find hope in the words of scripture, only a baby, untethered, untainted, by the sins of the world, could be the promise – could be the hope. God sent the Messiah as a baby to renew His promise of new life, to be a beacon of light and hope in a pretty hopeless and darkened world.
And then lastly I would say that God sent the Messiah as a baby to foreshadow the vulnerability of God’s love. You know there is nothing as vulnerable as a baby. A new born baby is completely dependent on others for everything in order to survive. Last week I talked about what helpless creatures sheep are. That they are completely dependent on the good shepherd for food and water and protection against all enemies. And perhaps because of this, the favorite animal for sacrifice in the Temple for atonement for sin was the helpless lamb before it was blemished by the world. Well, I don’t think it is any coincidence that we often refer to the new born Jesus as Mary’s little lamb. Completely vulnerable. Completely dependent. The perfect sacrifice. And the irony is that the very reason that God sent the Messiah as a baby, the vulnerable savior, was the very reason that most did not recognize Him when He came. They were looking for a Messiah who would be invincible, not vulnerable. Eternal. Immortal. The atoner not the atonement. And God sent a baby. A Messiah who would live in our midst. Grow up in our midst. But who would also die in our midst. Because humanity had it wrong. Kings and emperors and their armies were not the enemies that needed to be defeated in order for the people to live in peace forever. The true enemies were sin and death. And it would take a savior as vulnerable as a newborn baby to defeat those once and for all. God’s Messiah would not brandish a sword, but rather a Cross. He sent the Messiah as a baby to say stop placing your faith in kings and armies, the forces of this world. That salvation comes when we become as helpless, and vulnerable and completely dependent as a newborn. What must you do to live eternally Nicodemus. You must be “born again.”
A Pastor shares: Once there was a Christmas play held in the most unlikely of places, a maximum security prison. This prison held the worst possible offenders including murderers, armed robbers and rapists. The prisoners themselves would act out the story for the other prisoners. Since they were in a maximum security prison nothing was allowed to be brought in for the play. All the costumes and props had to come from within the walls of the prison. A mop head was found for Mary to use for hair. A ski mask with cotton balls glued on socks was used for the sheep. A discarded cardboard box was used for the manger. Everything was falling into place. Then someone asked a question about the baby. What would they use for the baby Jesus? Someone suggested that Mary hold a blanket with nothing inside to represent the baby Jesus. But on the day of the performance the chaplain came running into the group of actors. He had found something from his office to use for the baby. And so the show went on. The Christmas story was beautifully portrayed at the maximum security prison. The inmates enjoyed the play, and those taking part found the experience meaningful. Then came the dramatic scene where Mary revealed her baby ” the Christ child. She very carefully unwrapped the blanket. The object she was carrying wasn’t a baby or a doll but it was a cross from the chaplain’s office. Suddenly in that unlikely place the Gospel message truly came alive. The innocent, hope filled, vulnerable Messiah represented by a cross. Such a strange way to save the world.
A pastor by the name of Darrell Johnson writes:
The stage was set. It was finally the fullness of time. The world had long been in prison, caught in a web of sin and death, controlled by a network of forces and powers hostile to God and his people. God almighty, King of the universe, Lord of history, the rightful sovereign of the Earth, was about to invade this world. He was about to come and conquer the great enemies, sin and death, and to triumph over the powers of evil.
With one word God could have sent ten thousand angels and overwhelmed this earth with omnipotent power. But He chose a much different approach – a sleepy, quiet approach. And the only sound you hear is the gentle breathing of a baby sleeping in his mother’s arms. A baby. A baby. A baby.