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Worship Message - In a Manger-Did You Know?

In a Manger…Did You Know?

Today, for the message just a few days before Christmas, a look at Mary. A look based on two Christmas songs, the first one being Away in a Manger, the second one asking an interesting question.

First, Away in a Manger, a song to be considered after thinking about the woman who placed Jesus in a manger, that being His mother Mary. A woman - a very young woman - who took on a very big task when she accepted the role of being the mother of the Lord.

The assignment of the task, along with her acceptance of it, is told about in chapter 1 of the Gospel of Luke. It begins with Mary, one day by herself, being visited by the angel Gabriel.

Gabriel’s appearance was sudden. His message was, at the start, confusing. He referred to Mary as being favored.

That must have been confusing to Mary since she was a woman. Women were not highly respected at that time in history, even in the Jewish homeland. Since she was young. Since she lived in Nazareth, a small town in the northern province of Palestine, far away from the hustle and bustle and importance of the capital city of Jerusalem to the south.

Gabriel added that the Lord was with Mary. That she knew because she was a Jew and Jews were known as God’s people. But favored? That did not make sense.

Neither did it make sense to Mary what Gabriel also said. “Do not be afraid,” Gabriel told her, “for you have found favor with God. So much favor He has chosen you to conceive in your womb and bear a son, whom you shall call Jesus.”

That did not make sense because it seemed the conceiving was to happen right away, which was confusing to Mary since she was not, at that time, married. She was engaged to a man named Joseph, but they were not married, and she had no intention of doing what was necessary to conceive. To do that before she was married.

Mary was about to ask Gabriel about the timing of what he announced, but Gabriel had some more to say. He told Mary the son she would birth was going to be great. Great enough to be called the Son of the Most High - the Son of God. Great enough to occupy the throne of David. Great enough to rule over Israel forever. So great His kingdom will never end.

All those things were ways of saying Mary’s son was to be the Savior of the world, which must have been amazing to Mary. But still the question, which she then asked Gabriel. “How shall this be since I have no husband?”

Gabriel’s response? In our modern-day wording, it was basically, “Don’t worry about it.”

Gabriel explained the Holy Spirit would come upon her. That the power of the Most High would overshadow her. That those things would happen so her son could be called holy and the Son of God. But that was it.

Consider the decision Mary was called upon to make, right then, right there. Conceiving before being married was bound to create problems with her family and friends. Could Joseph really be expected to believe her? Would he break off the engagement? The nice, quiet life Mary had envisioned was probably not going to happen if she agreed to what Gabriel said was God’s plan for her. How could it be a quiet life being the mother of the one destined to be the Savior of the world?

What a decision Mary had to make. Her plans or God’s plans? A normal life or a life in the limelight for all of history?

Mary’s decision? She said to Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

Right away, Gabriel left Mary.

I wonder if it took a little while for Mary to decide whether what had just happened was real. Or was it some sort of dream? Maybe a hallucination of some kind.

That wondering may have lasted a while. But soon, Mary did conceive. Eventually that became evident. At which time the reactions she thought might occur no doubt did occur. Including rejection by her family and her friends, all of them assuming, since she still was not yet married, she had been immoral. Which even then reminded her her life was going to be very different from what she had planned just a short time earlier.

Fortunately for Mary, Joseph did not abandon her.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph intended to call off the engagement. His intent was to do so quietly. Apparently he still liked Mary, despite what appeared even to him was her immorality. But right before he was going to file for divorce, which was the way to end such a relationship as Joseph and Mary had back then, he was visited by an angel. Perhaps it was Gabriel. The angel visited Joseph in a dream, in which Joseph was told that Mary had not been immoral. That her son was holy. “Stay with Mary,” was the angel’s plea. Which Joseph did.

But even after that, life for Mary was difficult. So difficult that, shortly before her son was to be born, when Joseph needed to make a trip from Nazareth, where they lived, to Bethlehem, near Jerusalem - a journey of many miles - Mary went with him.

The journey had to have been difficult for Mary. She was very pregnant at the time. The distance was many, many miles.

Mary and Joseph faced all the normal problems of travel. Rough roads. Maybe some storms. Some dangerous areas outside towns and cities and thieves in towns and cities. All that time on a donkey.

Then, when Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room for them in the town’s inn. The result was being sent to the stable near the inn. That was better than nothing, but it was in the stable - in a barn - in what was actually probably a cave - that Jesus was born.

No one was there to help Mary except Joseph. No one else was there to greet the new one to be named Jesus. Just a lonely couple in a small town in a cave, along with a few animals, witnessed the birth of the Savior.

After which Jesus was laid in a manger, which brings us to the first of the Christmas songs for this message, which is Away in a Manger. Let’s think about the words.

Away in a manger. Manger is another word for feeding trough. No crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head in a manger.

It would not be long before some shepherds would arrive to meet Jesus, but at first, just the stars in the sky joined Mary and Joseph in looking down where Jesus lay, asleep on the hay.

And yes, there were some animals in the cave that night, including cattle. They lowed, which awoke Jesus. But He did not, according to the song, cry. Why? Maybe it was because He was a calm baby. Maybe it was because He, as the creator of the world, knew those cattle. Maybe the lowing was how the cattle praised the Savior just born. Or maybe it was Mary’s quick attention to Him that kept Him calm.

But what a scene. A scene of peace and quiet. Which must have been nice for Mary and Joseph after all they had been through with the rejections and the recent traveling. The baby was born. He was healthy. Mary was fine. What a peaceful scene it was that night.

A scene that leads to one reaction each of us should have, and some requests each of us should make.

“I love Thee, Lord Jesus.” May that be our reaction to Jesus, even now.

The requests? “Lord, will You look down from the sky and stay by my cradle? Will You stay by me in whatever darkness I have? Will You do that till morning is nigh? Be near me, Lord Jesus. Please stay close by me. Forever love me.” What important prayers those are. In fact, “Lord, please bless all the dear children in Your care.”

That last phrase reminds me. I do not do this so much anymore. I mean, you have to get new material every now and then. But I used to respond, when I was asked what I want for Christmas, “world peace and love for all the little children.” My niece Nichole kept reminding me that was not at all helpful, and I did give up responding that way when it was clear she was tired of hearing it.

But that is what the words of the first song for this message say. “Lord, please bless all the dear children in Thy tender care.”

And one thing more. “Fit us for Heaven so we can live with Thee there.”

* * * * *

As today’s first song reminds us, the night Jesus was born, Mary placed her new-born child in a manger.

As she did that, I wonder what she knew about Him.

Mary knew a lot. Remember that Gabriel had told her her son would be great. But I wonder if she knew all He would do. Specific things He would do. That wondering takes us to the second Christmas song for this message, which is Mary, Did You Know?

Are you familiar with the song? It was written by Mark Lowry of Bill Gaither Vocal Band and Bill Gaither and Friends fame. He wrote the words of the song. The story I have heard is that Mark, a very active, talkative man, one night became very quiet in his part of the traveling bus. Some of the others on the bus began getting a bit concerned if he was alright when he suddenly appeared with the words of Mary, Did You Know? He showed the words to fellow musician Buddy Green, who put the words to music.

What an interesting question the song presents. Mary, did you, the night of His birth, as you laid Him in a manger, know your baby boy would have a ministry that would include so many things?

Let’s consider just some of those thing. Things mentioned in the song. Including Jesus walking on water.

Very briefly, one night, Jesus had His disciples get into a boat and head across the Sea of Galilee. While on the Sea, a strong wind arose, causing the disciples to struggle and be in trouble. Jesus, still on land, saw what was happening. He left where He was praying and walked to where the boat was. He walked on the water to get there. A short time later, the wind ceased. Jesus saw to it.

Another time - another night - Jesus was in a boat with His disciples. They were once again crossing the Sea of Galilee, when suddenly a great storm arose. The storm caused winds that beat against the boat, threatening to fill it with water, which would have caused it to sink. All on board would likely have drowned.

Interestingly, Jesus was asleep at the back of the boat, but the disciples woke him and said, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”

Jesus awoke. He stood up, cast His hands out toward the sea, and rebuked the wind. He then rebuked the sea, saying to it, “Peace. Be still.” Immediately the wind ceased, and there was a great calm on the sea.

Mary. Did she know the night of His birth that Jesus would one day walk on water? That one day He would, during a storm, display His power over nature itself?

Did she know that during His ministry, Jesus would perform healing after healing, including healings of blind people and deaf people and lame people?

There are multiple examples of each kind of healing. I will highlight just one of each.

Concerning the blind, one day, just outside the city of Jericho, two blind men were sitting beside the road Jesus was on. They had apparently heard Jesus was approaching. They had apparently heard His reputation of being powerful. And kind enough to use His power to help others. They cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”

Others in the crowd - those who were healthy - scolded the two blind men, telling them to be quiet. But they cried out even louder. “Have mercy on us,” they continued to cry.

Jesus stopped. He asked the two men what they wanted Him to do for them. When they responded, “Lord, let our eyes be opened,” Jesus touched their eyes. In an instant, they received their sight.

Another time, as Jesus was walking from one place to another, a group brought to Him a man who was deaf. The man also had an impediment in his speech. The group begged Jesus to touch the man and heal him, which Jesus did by putting His fingers into the man’s ears and then spitting and touching the man’s tongue.

Interestingly, sometimes Jesus healed with just His voice - just commanding the healing and it happened. Perhaps this man needed the Lord’s touch to make it even more real for Him.

Jesus touched the man’s ears and the man’s tongue. He then commanded, “Be opened.” In an instant, the man’s ears were opened. His tongue was released. Immediately the man was able to hear and speak clearly.

Yet another time, when Jesus was teaching a houseful of people, suddenly a man appeared before Him. A man who was paralyzed and was therefore lame.

The man had been carried to the house by some friends, who wanted Jesus to heal him. When they could not get the man inside the house, they went up on the roof, cut a hole in it, and lowered the man on his pallet from the roof to where he was right in front of Jesus.

Jesus could have been upset having His teaching lesson interrupted. Instead, He stopped His teaching, taking time to heal the man. After which the pallet was lowered to the floor. At which time the man stood up. The man then grabbed the pallet and walked out of the house.

Mary. Did she know Jesus would heal so many people? And not just the blind, the deaf, the paralyzed. Jesus also healed some from leprosy and some from other physical ailments. He healed some from demon-possession. He also - what wonderful miracles these were - raised some who had died.

For instance, one day a ruler of a synagogue went to Jesus, pleading for the Lord to heal his daughter.

Jesus was on the way to the daughter when she died, which caused the ruler to tell Jesus to not bother to continue on to his house. Jesus continued to the girl anyway, where He brought her back to life.

Another time, a funeral procession passed by Jesus.

The only son of a widow had died. Jesus had compassion on the woman. He stopped the procession and spoke to the man. The dead man. “Arise,” the man was told. The man sat up and began to speak.

And yet another time, Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, died. Four days later, Jesus arrived where the death had occurred - where Lazarus had been buried.

Jesus went to Lazarus’ tomb. He ordered the stone to be taken away from the tomb’s opening.

One of Lazarus’ relatives objected, afraid of the smell. But Jesus insisted. Whereupon, after praying, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”

Lazarus came out. He was still wrapped with the burial cloths, but he was alive.

All this - the miracles, the healings, the raising of the dead - is mentioned to remind us Jesus was not just born. As important as His birth is, He was not just born. He grew up into a ministry. And not only did He walk on water and calm storms and heal, even from death. He also taught. He did that by word. He did that by example. He did all that to the point of becoming the sacrifice - the Savior - He had come to be.

Listen. Throughout the ages until Jesus, sacrifices had been offered by the people of God. Often those sacrifices were lambs.

The sacrificial system exercised by the people of God was important. After all, it had been established by God. But the sacrifices were not permanent. They had to be done over and over again. That is because they simply covered over sins. They did not eliminate sins to the point of people being able to sin no more.

What was needed was a perfect sacrifice. A sacrifice that would not only cover over sins, but wash them away. And make it possible to live above sin.

At the age of 33, Jesus became that sacrifice. He became the perfect Lamb. He became that when, on what we know as Maundy Thursday, He was arrested. When, on what we know as Good Friday, He was beaten and tortured before being nailed to a cross, upon which He died, after which He was buried in a borrowed tomb.

When Mary laid Jesus in a manger, did she know Jesus would die?

And by the way, Jesus’ death was not the end of Him. On the third day after His death and burial, He rose from the dead. We are going to celebrate that 15 weeks from today.

A few weeks after He rose from His tomb, He returned to Heaven. All of that showed Jesus is the great I AM.

Today, may we know what Mary came to know. Today, may we accept all that Jesus did in His miracles and His healings and His teachings and His sacrifice and His resurrection. And may we go beyond just knowing and accepting those things. May we accept Jesus as the Savior He is.

Please make sure you believe in Him. That is the only gift Jesus wants. That is the best gift you can have because accepting Him will give you the gift of His blessings now and an eternity with God forever in Heaven.

May we know what Mary came to know. May we accept her son Jesus.

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