As I write this, it is only three more sleeps until Christmas. It’s only three more sleeps until all the things we’ve planned and hoped for have come to pass; or will they?
For Mary it wasn’t quite three sleeps. For her, as for many at that time, it was a case of wondering how many sleeps there were to be. They knew that in the book of Daniel it speaks of 490 years of sleeps before the promised King came; but the problem was, was that they didn’t know from when to start counting down.
In Matthew’s Gospel this countdown is described by the list of 42 names. These 42 names are listed in three sets of fourteen, with the emphasis being that the 43rd person on this list, ie Jesus, is the one for whom all these sleeps had been preparing. He is the one for whom the story of Israel had been building up for, he is the one through whom God would fulfil all of his purposes and plans of love.
An old carol says ‘Love came down at Christmas’ and that ‘star and angels gave the sign’. The sign the star and angel were pointing to was the crib in which the baby was lying. This ordinary crib cries out that he is no ordinary baby and this is reinforced by the names he is given. We’re told firstly, that his name is Jesus because through him God will save us from our sin, delivering us from the bleak captivity of sin by this manger lying King. We’re told secondly, that he will also be called Immanuel because he is not only the sign that God is with us, but that astonishingly in Jesus God is truly with us; the long years of God’s apparent absence and abandonment of Israel and his world are now over as his love is now among us in physical form.
The sign rejoices that God’s love has come down to this world so that this world may become more the place its creator made it to be. If we’re honest, we struggle with this manger sign as Jesus seems to have made precious little difference. But the manger reminds us that God’s purposes and plans of love come quietly and gently as they cannot be compelled by force since this is not the way of love.
In our homes, our towns, our cities and our churches we see the baby lying in a manger as the sign that God saves us from sin and that he is with us. When the sleeps have passed, may we again know that what the angels said is true and may we in our lives live out God’s purposes and plans of love that others may know it’s true too.