By Theodore Stolp
Christ will be cradled. Agitation may ban the Christmas crche from some public place. Yet the cradled Christ is still before men.
“Away in a manger,” sing children’s voices. An art print of a famous crche adorns a national magazine. Homes vie in creating the most attractive manger scene. Even live actors are used for such scenes in parks and churches.
The very Christmas tree, bright with evergreen and blaze of lights, points to just one thing: the announcement in Luke’s Gospel: “Unto you is born . . . Christ the Lord. . . . Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Thy cradle, kingly Stranger,
As Gospel tells,
Was nothing else
But, here, a homely manger.
In More than Manger Hay
“To you is born . . . Christ.” The Babe is cradled in more than manger hay. In miracle was He cradled. For the One to be sought in the manger is described as “Christ the Lord, whom nor the earth nor heaven of heavens can hold.” The poet hails Him
Immortal Babe, who this dear day
Didst change Thine heaven for our clay
And didst with flesh Thy Godhead veil,
Eternal Son of God, all hail!
“God sent forth His Son,” St. Paul states, “made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” With awe and reverence the angel Gabriel puts it in this announcement to Mary, mother of the Child: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”
Oh, miraculous wisdom, that knew a way to fuse God and man in the Person of this Babe! Oh, might miraculous that could bring about a birth in which the eternal Word becomes a newborn Child! Oh, miracle of miracles! Before the stupendous miracle of the Incarnation we can only join in the poet’s exclamation:
Oh, how I wish my mind could be
As boundless as the deepest sea
‘Twould still be lost in wonder!
In Prophetic Visions
Yet the Christ was cradled before ever the miracle enswathed or the manger held Him. The Christ was cradled in prophecy. Of Him in the manger the bright angel declares: “Which is Christ””the great Anointed,” which signifies the One of whom prophets of old spoke. Every “anointed” of the Old Testament prefigured Christ the Lord.
In this “Anointed” of God men find sure help. Pointing to Psalm 2, Acts 4:26, 27 names the “anointed” One: “The holy Christ Jesus.” Jesus Himself declares God’s prophecy fulfilled in His own person, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He hath anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor.”
When the prophets spoke of the Lord who is our Righteousness; of the Priest who shall be forever; of the Servant who shall bear men’s sins and pray for the transgressors; of the Messenger of the covenant in whom we delight; of the Child born with the government upon His shoulder, whose name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace; the Rod from the stem of Jesse; the Shiloh from the house of Judah; the Star out of Jacob; the Scepter from the house of Israel; the Seed of the woman who would bruise the serpent’s headin each case the Child of the manger was predicted. In these prophecies (and every other like them) was cradled the Christ.
In Heaven’s Decree
But Christ would not have been cradled in a manger, and He could not have been cradled in the word of prophecy, had He not been cradled first in the deliberate counsel and foreknowledge of God. The old carol is true in having us sing:
That night the Virgin Mary mild
Was safe delivered of a Child,
According unto Heaven’s decree.
The great miracle could occur only as decreed by God. The prophecy could reflect what His eternal counsel had fixed upon. St. Peter states: “Christ . . . verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” St. Paul calls the things he writes of Christ “the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world.” The eternal counsel of God for man’s redemption was the first cradling of the Christ.
In the Gospel
Cradled so before the worlds were created and in consequence enfolded in the prophecies, enshrined in the miracle, and laid in the manger of fulfillment, the Christ can henceforth be cradled in the “tidings of great joy,” as the messenger of heaven labels his message. “I bring you,” he says, “tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day . . . Christ the Lord.”
It is in this message, therefore, that the shepherds first found Him. Do they not say, “Let us now go . . . and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us”? Because they had already seen Him cradled in the “glad tidings,” the shepherds went to see Him in the manger.
And did not the shepherds expect others also to see Him cradled so, cradled in the Gospel? We read of them: “When they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child.”
Well might we, just at Christmas, recall the words in which Dr. Martin Luther extols “the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things”: “Here you will find the swaddling clothes and the manger in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds. Simple and little are the swaddling clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, that lies in them.” The words of the Gospel ever cradle the Christ.
In Endless Adoration
Need we marvel, then, to find the Christ cradled in the praises of angels? What else shall we call it when told: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men'”? As the carol has it:
They burst forth like fires,
They struck their gold lyres
And mingled their sound with the flame.
They soared to the sky,
Beyond mortal eye,
But left us the words of their song
So that men, like them, might also cradle the Christ in adoration and song. This the church in worship has done ever since. The shepherds “returned glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.”
Simeon, in the temple, “took Him up in his arms and blessed God.” Anna, the prophetess, “coming in that instant, gave thanks likewise unto the Lord.” The Wise Men, star-led from the east country, “came into the house . . . and fell down and worshiped Him.”
St. Paul exults: “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.” St. John, granted visions of the church in glory, pictures her again and again as giving “glory and honor and power” to the Christ. Christmas, too, cradles the Christ in song.
In Living Hearts
Such songs of praise please the Child, for the Christ desires to be cradled in a living heart of faith and love. Here is the truest cradling of the Christ.
Mary held Him closer when she kept all that was revealed about Him and pondered it in her heart than when she nursed Him at her breast.
The shepherds saw Him more truly when they trusted the message of His birth than when they knelt at the manger.
Simeon held Him more surely in his stirring “now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation” than in his lifting the Babe fromMary’s arms.
In My Breast
Blessed Savior, Christ most holy,
In a manger Thou didst rest;
Canst Thou stoop again, yet lower,
And abide within my breast?
So we ask with the poet. And the answer comes in the outstretched arms of the Babe and in His own words: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him.”
He comes with a gift for everyone
And seeks a place of rest;
But the humble, needy, loving heart
Is the place He loves the best.
First cradled in the Father’s love, the Christ Child seeks to be cradled now and ever in your heart and mine. So may we be among the throng who raise the trustful song:
O blessed Christ, bless even me,
And let my heart Thy cradle be.
Fulfill my Christmas joy.
Reprinted from the Dec. 13, 1960, Lutheran Witness, copyright 1960 The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. LCMS congregations may reprint for parish use. All other rights reserved.