Jesus said: "Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is, Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost."
It is almost December 24th. Christmas Eve. If you have read all the way through this book since December first, then you know the mystery by now. Somehow, through some the plan of God alone, we have been witness -you and I- to 23 differing characters in a head-on collision with the infant baby son of God. Some of them were easy to watch, because they were people who had walked with this infant-King all their lives and were here to simply celebrate and worship and give Him their love and thanks. Others were painful, like the wandering lost outside the cave who could not find their way to this child and who desperately needed to be led here before it is too late. Some were stubbornly holding on to their own beliefs that they had their lives figured out and they didn’t need to kneel in the muddy straw and let this baby touch them.
For some it was too late, like those denied access outside the cave because they had failed to recognize this child in their time on earth and now they sought a second audience that they would never receive, but would pursue throughout eternity.
For some, like me and my friend Kelly, and others, this night represented something new and different. We are those who have known this baby but who had fallen victim to the failed teaching of strict legalists and we had grown fearful of this child’s Father. God knew this and allowed
Himself to come to us in the form of His beautiful little son, Jesus, a baby we could touch and hold and coddle and comfort. A baby who would do in our hearts what all babies do…make us smile and tear down our walls.
For me and my friend Kelly he represented a bridge between the image we had of God our Father and the real Father that God is. Jesus called to me from my fear and self-loathing and self-punishment, and He said, “I love you so much, that I decided to come as a baby. Nobody is afraid of a baby. Come and touch me…come and hold me and let me touch you. I have missed you and I want you to come home. Let’s start the journey here in this cave…come and hold me, I love you.”
His call went out as he walked this earth; “Come and be my friend, all you who are so very tired from working so hard and carrying such heavy burdens, because I will give you rest. The work I do is easy and the burden I bear is light. Put down the heavy suitcase that you keep shifting from one hand to the other...it's too heavy. Put it down and hold me instead...I'm just a baby...”
For others, like Andre Deputy, Jesus meant the final step of restoration and redemption, as he found the very people whose lives he had ended had come to worship this child with him. Andre and the Smiths, a murderer, his victims and Jesus all in the same frame of time. That can only happen through a God who chooses to forgive what others cannot even choose to stop whispering about. Only a baby could reduce a murderer to tears of repentance, change his life forever, impact an entire prison, and then reunite him with his victims in worship…only this baby could do that.
Only this child could so impact a Roman soldier that he would leave his post, drop his armor, and risk his own life just to say thank you and to worship the God who He watched give over his son to death on that terrible Friday afternoon. Only this baby could move that gruff and gritty man to tears of joy and redemption and only the innocence of that baby could remove bloodstains of guilt that no soap on earth could wash.
Jesus is the only person who could have filled the tremendous empty hole in the soul of my friend Kelly, and who could have offered her forgiveness and peace for one horrifying decision that was forced on her. Only Jesus could begin the journey of redemption and restoration and forgiveness. Only this child could convince her that His Father was not angry with her…but that He loved her so much that he took on a form she could never fear and could not resist.
Only Jesus can remove all the manmade falsehoods regarding God and anger, and judgment, and punishment. Only Jesus can teach us what God’s grace is really like, how far it would reach to rescue us, and how much God longs to touch us. Only Jesus can be touched by anyone without fear or regret. Babies have no memories. Babies don’t care anything at all about our failures or shortcomings. Babies just want to give and receive love.
It is the final night of advent. Tomorrow we begin the celebration of Epiphany …Christ’s arrival. But tonight…tonight is the last night of His coming. And He has come here to this cave, this hovel of rock and straw and mud, for you. He chose this method, this place, these surroundings, and this moment…because of you.
Everything in the plan of redemption points to this moment in time, and to this place where nobody would ever think to look for a savior. That was His plan. He didn’t want you intimidated or frightened. He didn’t want you to come into a throne room, or a courtroom for your first encounter -or first encounter in a long time- with God in human form. He wanted to make this as easy as it could be. So easy you might not even realize at first that this was God himself.
He wanted you at ease, comfortable, free from all the things you thought you knew about Him, and free to just feel free to touch Him. Because babies are at their best when we touch and hold them…because then they can touch our souls in return. You already know He would die for you…everyone knows that, and if you are here at this manger tonight you have at least some working knowledge of why He came.
But perhaps the only thing more amazing than Him dying for you, is that He would come for you in the first place. He traded a kingdom for this place. He left Heaven for this cave, this manger, this poverty. Why? Because this place…this is where you were. You, and I, and all of us have long ago lost our way to Him. Some of us have never experienced Him before and we don’t know how to get here…or what to do with Him once we realize can hold Him.
Others of us -like me- grew up with His story on our lips. But somewhere over the years, we fell down, got dirty, worked up a whole history of our very own, became ashamed of what we’d done and who we became, and we forgot that this baby ever loved us. Somehow we thought that this tiny baby, this precious son of God, ever cared about the stupid things we do to ourselves as we stumble through this life.
Somehow we decided that an infant can be harsh, that He can judge, that He can refuse our overtures of love, that he can reject us. It’s preposterous but we fall for it all the time. “Jesus could never forgive this…” we tell ourselves. “Jesus would never take me back after I did…” The truth is that perhaps the only thing that would make this child cry, is us staying away from Him because we think things like that.
David was an adulterer and a murderer…and God said he was “the apple of my eye” and referred to Him as “a man after my own heart.” I don’t know what sin you might be lugging into this cave tonight but this tiny baby has already loved a murdering adulterer so much that he used cute little terms of affection. I am sure I speak for Jesus when I tell you… “Come on, He doesn’t care what you’ve done.”
Does He just ignore sin? Does sin not even matter? No of course not. Sin can’t remain in the presence of a Holy God. But sin doesn’t make God angry at us. Sin makes Him angry at sin. The way a mother hates polio after it has stricken her child. God understands that the real punishment for our sin is the distance it creates between Him and us. He has no desire to add anything to that. Like the father of the prodigal son, He stands ready each day, looking for the slightest sign of your silhouette on the horizon, ready to run and bring you home. Just like that father did, there are no words of anger, no mocking ridicule, no rubbing your nose in the theological garbage you have stepped in.
No, there are only tears of joy from a Father who has missed you so very much and who long ago forgot what it was you even did to drift away. He only noticed that you weren’t there, not why you weren’t there. What you did was laid on Jesus’ back at Calvary. Even what you did after you became His child. All He knows is that you’ve been gone a long time and He wants you home.
So now you are here, on Christmas Eve, face-to-face with the infant “Man of No Reputation,” and Jesus is reaching a tiny hand out to you and he is wanting to be held…in your arms!
Like Andre Deputy, maybe you have a gift fashioned from the remnants of your failed life. Like my friend Kelly, maybe you need to bring something intended for someone else and let this child comfort raw and aching wounds. Like the Roman soldier, maybe you need to finally be washed clean. Like me…maybe you need to see how the Father really feels about you, by feeling how the Son feels in your arms.
Whatever it is you need from this moment…you are here. This is your head-on-collision with God in the flesh. You are caught off-guard for a reason…because reasoning and intellect have no bearing to a baby just hours old. You don’t need to outwit Him, out-think Him, or out-maneuver Him. You just need to reach down into the little feed trough, touch the baby Jesus…and be touched. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you right now. You need a Savior, we all do. Jesus was born in this cave and in the Christmas Season it’s easiest to think of Him as a baby. But He also came to be the brutalized figure hanging on the cross.
This little baby that we celebrate at Christmas grew into the man we see writhing on the cross on Good Friday. He did this for you. For your sin. For mine. Now is your moment. Now is your chance to accept the gift he offers you and give Him a gift this Christmas.
Ask Him into your heart…
…and join the shipwrecked at the stable, and those who have been changed forever by a tiny baby, in a dirty cave, in the city of the King.
"And redemption rips across the surface of time, in the cry of a tiny babe" --Bruce Cockburn
“Life comes down to one thing…how will you answer He who knows how to ask the great questions?” -Brennan Manning
“Hear what God says: When the time came for me to show you favor, I heard you; when the day arrived for me to save you, I helped you. --The Apostle Paul (II Cor 6:2)