What is the one goal of the majority of young children during Christmas? Isn’t it to get as many presents as they can? For a lot of kids, Christmas is the culmination of all their good deeds throughout the year, hoping that Santa brings them all their heart desires. And when Christmas starts being seen in the stores, and the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” comes on the radio, being on the nice list becomes front and center to their lives. And if you know anything about Saint Nicholas, you would know that he doesn’t take kindly to those on the naughty list. In fact, Saint Nicholas in 325 A.D. was one of the bishops summoned to the first council of Nicacea to discuss issues about Church doctrine and the canon of Scripture.
During these discussions, while a bishop named Arius was speaking, Nicholas became so upset with the way in which Arius portrayed God the Father and God the Son, that he got up from his seat, walked across the chamber, and to the shock of all the other bishops, slapped Arius in the face for his views.
So when the song says, “You better watch out, You better not cry, You better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town,” it should add, and he’s ready to slap some people.”
But it’s this idea that Christmas is a culmination of things, that brings us to this Christmas Sunday and back into our Christmas series “ARK”.
For the last three weeks we have been looking at three of the arks of the Old Testament. Each one adding to the story of God and humanity. Today, begins the culmination of that story.
So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be starting in Luke chapter 2 verse 1. This is the Luke’s perspective of the Christmas story. See the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth is found in only two places in Scripture, Matthew and Luke. Reading the two together gives us a well rounded view of what was happening at the time of Jesus’ birth. Matthew gives us what happened when Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy, then we are fast forward after the birth to the arrival of the Wise Men, then immediately were told of Herod’s killing of children, and the Jesus’ family’s escape to Egypt.
With Luke, we are given more details of the birth of John the Baptist that proceeds Jesus’ birth. We’re told of the angel Gabriel speaking to Mary and announcing her pregnancy. And finally, a more detailed reason of why Mary and Jospeh were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. And it’s here that we pick up the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2, verse 1.
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius [Ker-een-e-us] was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
For the last three weeks we have discussed three arks, and now here is our fourth ark, the ark of the manger. Let’s dive into why the manger is our fourth ark. First off, the Greek word for manger is, phatné (fat’-nay), which means a couple of things: a cattle-crib; a feeding box for cattle; feeding-trough, a stall, and of course it’s most common form, a manger.
Now, unlike what we have seen the last three weeks, neither the Hebrew word tebah nor aron, the two Hebrew words meaning ark in the Old Testament appear in this passage. In addition, not even the Greek word for ark, kivo̱tós (key-vote-o-s), appears in this passage. So why then is the manger an ark?
Well if you’ve been following along with me for the last three weeks, we’ve been trying to understand what an ark is by Old Testament standards. The reason being, is that the word ark, both tebah and aron, both mean a box or chest. But when put into practical use, tebah is used first of a giant boat and second of a small basket. Aron on the other hand, is used of a box, both in the ark of the Covenant that we talked about last week, and the other two uses of it in the Old Testament.
So the question becomes, what is the proper use of the word ark, when it’s uses runs the gamut from a small basket to a gigantic boat?
It’s here that we showed that the one common use of the word isn’t in it’s strict definition, but rather what it represented. The first ark, was the gigantic boat known as Noah’s Ark; it represented God’s regret that judgment had to come to humanity. The second ark, Moses’ basket at three months old, represented God hearing the cries of humanity. The finally ark, commonly referred to as the Ark of the Covenant, represented God’s desire to have his presence dwell with humanity.
The manger is an ark, not because it uses the Hebrew or Greek words for ark, but rather because it encompasses all of these ideas into itself.
What do I mean by that?
First, let’s take a look at God’s regret that judgment has to come. Speaking of the coming Messiah, the prophet Isaiah writes in his 53rd chapter, “2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”
God judged all of humanity with a giant flood with Noah’s ark, and God is going to judge humanity once again. Except this time, instead of a world wide flood, we get one man taking on the whole of the punishment that we deserve. The manger represents this, because as Matthew records in his Christmas account, the wise men brought three gifts, two of which were used in both religious ceremonies pointing to Jesus’ being a priest and in burial rituals, pointing to Jesus’ death.
The manger also represents God hearing the cries of his people. In Job chapter 9 starting in verse 32, Job cries out to God from a deep despair that recognizes the separation between humanity and God. Listen to what Job says when talking about the gulf between God and people, “32 He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. 33 If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, 34 someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. 35 Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”
Job’s cries are answered in the manger, as Paul writes in the second chapter of his first letter to Timothy, it reads, “3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.”
The manger is God hearing the cries of humanity, that they are lost in sin, and have no exit. So God creates a way for humanity, and that way goes through the manger, through Jesus.
Finally, the manger represents God’s desire to dwell with his people. In the commonly referred to Christmas passage found in Isaiah chapter 7, verse 14, it reads “14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Now, in Matthew’s Christmas story, chapter 1 verse 23, we get the interpretation of the name Immanuel, which means God with us. But to take it a little more simple, the name is a combination of two Hebrew words, Im and El. El is the common use of God in the Old Testament, and Im is the word with. So at it’s simplest, Immanuel is God with. God will be with his people. In the manger, he has achieved the purpose of what the Ark of the Covenant was only a symbol of. God’s presence with humanity. Jesus, God on earth.
Paul, speaking about Jesus in his letter to the Philippians, wrote in the second chapter, “6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
Jesus, God himself, walking and talking with humanity in a way that had never happened before, yet as always God’s desire happens through the manger. The manger represents, the regret of God’s judgment, God hearing humanity’s cries, and the presence of God with us. The manger roles them all into one, and that’s why it’s the Ark of God’s Heart.
See, the story of the Bible is simple: God created us to be with him in his presence, but our sin separated us from him, causing God to have to judge us. But in our sinfulness, God found a way to fix the problem of sin and bring us back to him, back to a place of experiencing his presence. The manger, the ark of God’s heart begins that fix. And next week, we will talk about the final ark in our series, the Ark of Completion.
But today, on this Christmas Sunday, if you find yourself not in a personal relationship with God though the Ark of God’s Heart, which means, you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, I want to call you to that relationship. We can all look at our lives, and know we have sin. We lie, we cheat, we steal, we gossip, we lust. We hurt other people with our words, our actions, and even our thoughts. All this is sin, that separates us from the God who loves us, and puts us under his judgment. But, God doesn’t want to leave us there, he came down as Jesus to take on the judgment we are under and the punishment that it brings, so that we wouldn’t have to experience it. That is Christmas. God with humanity to begin the process of bringing us out of sin and back to his presence.
And it’s done through Jesus’ perfect life, and the death he experienced for you and me. And all we have to do is simply accept his sacrifice for us, his taking our place in judgment. And we need to call on him as Lord of our life, turning over our life everyday so that he can live through us.
Christmas shows us that sin has lost it’s power, because God came to us almost 2,000 years ago, and one day, God will return for us. But more on that next week.
This week my challenge for you is in two parts: First, if you haven’t accept Jesus as your Savior, then do it before Christmas. That would not only be your best gift of the year, but also the best gift for the rest of you life. Everything that I’ll ever receive on Christmas, pales in comparison to the gift of Jesus as my Savior when I was 16. And I want you to have that same life altering gift.
Second, if you have accepted Jesus as you Savior, first take some time to praise him, and then, pick one person before Christmas day, and show them God’s love. It’s that simple.
Today, let us be the people of God that celebrate Christmas, not for what we get, but for Who we got. We have Jesus, and that’s better than any present we’ll ever receive. Amen.