December 15, 2016
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
2 Samuel 7:1-17
I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.
[2 Samuel 7:6]
“Away in a Manger” is consistently ranked in the top two or three Christmas carols in both the United States and Great Britain. It has been set to over 40 different tunes. It’s a pretty song that suggests pretty images of children caroling and Hallmark cards.
We know very little about the actual physical circumstances of Christ’s birth. It is debated whether the “stable” was the courtyard of a house, the lower-level of a home, a separate stable-building or a cave. And, we have no idea what the physical manger looked like.
The word “manger”, comes from the French word meaning to eat. So more specifically, Jesus was born in a feeding trough for those animals. And yet this manger has become an icon that is almost synonymous with Christmas.
Compare this humble birthplace of our Savior with the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Temple was an impressive sight. It took brilliant engineering and sheer effort to assemble the massive stones. Think of the fact that many of those who worked on the structure didn’t live to see its completion. Its construction took hundreds of years.
The Temple was meant to be a symbol of God’s presence among the people. Yet the very beauty, the very immensity, the very profundity of the Temple served only to make it something ultimately dangerous. One can sense God’s apprehension in God’s warning to David in today’s reading from Samuel.
Like the Temple, our church facility is a tool for ministry, nothing more. It has been provided to us by God and by the faithfulness of those who have gone before us, but if we do not learn and remember how to use it wisely and well, it can become a danger to us. Complacency and arrogance about a church building can be deadly. No matter how secure the building, no matter how secure the institution, it can be overthrown.
I have often told congregations that the church is not the building. It is not the walls that embrace you, but rather, it is God’s tender mercy. We tend to base our identity in physical structures knowing full well that they will someday be torn down. If we base our identity in Christ, we’ll know that God’s love for us will never end nor can it be physically destroyed.
Ponder the humble birthplace of God’s son. Reflect on the fact that God’s presence cannot be contained in any physical dwelling, whether a stable or a temple. The things we humans build, no matter how grand, will perish; the things God builds, no matter how small, will endure, even to the end of the age.
The glory of God lives among us.
Loving God, may the gift of your child transform us in such a way that we are filled with your love and become a reflection of that love to others. Amen