The Little Stranger in the Manger – by Greg Albrecht
Friend and Partner Letter from December 2016
Come down to the manger, see the little stranger Wrapped in swaddling clothes, the prince of peace.
– “Christmas Must be Tonight,” The Band
- The invitation come down to the manger, see the little stranger announces the arrival of the God who cares, the God who comes near and the God who becomes one of us.
- The invitation come down to the manger, see the little stranger proclaims God’s love being born into our story.
- Come down to the manger, see the little stranger bids us to come receive the unconditional love of God who holds us near and dear.
- When we come down to the manger, see the little stranger, we gaze into the mystery and majesty of the staggering dimensions of the love of God, in the person of the baby Jesus, going to such extraordinary lengths, coming out of eternity, revealing himself in dependence, weakness and vulnerability in a little insignificant backwater town named Bethlehem.
How did this most incredible and astounding story about God’s love incarnated for us become an orgy of eating, drinking, getting and grasping? How did God’s love being born into our story become so devalued that many primarily understand its celebration as a time to shop until they drop, spending money they do not have in a vain pursuit of buying love and proving their love to those they hold near and dear?
The invitation come down to the manger, see the little stranger is not an enticement into a never-never land of a sugary Disney fairy tale but rather it is a challenge to gaze with amazement on the flesh and blood incarnation of the love of God.
The invitation come down to the manger, see the little stranger does not suggest we deny the reality of our everyday heartaches and pains in favor of an elusive search for a pot-of-gold-at-theend-of-the-rainbow.
Sadly, Christmas for so many people does not involve a deep, soul-searching, introspective examination of the love of God, but rather a self-absorbed list of places to go and gifts to buy and people to see and things to do. The questions that form so many conversations, leading up to Christmas, rarely ponder God’s love being born into our story – the amazing dimensions of the love of God. Rather, many conversations between families and friends leading up to Christmas go something like this:
“Have you finished decorating your tree?” “What will you do this Christmas?” “Where will you go and who will you see?” “What do you hope to get this Christmas?” “How will you put up with obnoxious family members when you are forced to be around them?”
Sadly, a headlong pursuit of purchasing love for ourselves blurs and obscures the miracle, majesty and mystery of God’s love coming to this earth. Here-today-and-gone-tomorrow gratification overwhelms the eternal significance of the announcement of God’s love being born into our story.
The birth of the little stranger, in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, the Prince of peace announced the greatest
gift of all. It was the Incarnation – the announcement of God’s love being born into our story.
The Prince of peace, the King of the kingdom came into enemy-occupied territory without a passport or a visa – with no permission or approval whatsoever from the governing authorities. The Prince of peace proclaimed a kingdom where men and women would not be accorded status or esteem by the credentials on their wall, the trophies in their trophy case or the size of their home or bank account.
All stand equal before the Prince of peace. All bow before his manger and before his cross. The Prince of peace was and is the greatest Gift of all – coming to inaugurate a kingdom based on the rule of grace, not of law – a kingdom upheld by love and nonviolence rather than by weapons, armies and violence.
When he matured and became an adult, that little stranger in a manger started his ministry, laying a foundation stone of love, by announcing the priorities of his kingdom:
- to preach good news to the poor,
- to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,
- recovery of sight for the blind,
- to release the oppressed and
- to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19).
Christmas is the time when we celebrate the most astounding, unbelievable thing that has ever happened – God came. He really came (and he still does!). God’s love was born into our story!! He came with all of the answers to our deep questions which transcend all the surface ones that overwhelm so many Christmas conversations: “Is there any hope?” “Does God care?” “Does God love me?” “Is God near?” “Will God ever forgive me – how can he?”
Yes-Yes-Yes-Yes-Yes – a thousand times YES to all of the above! Christmas celebrates the reality of God’s love being born into our story. Christmas celebrates a day and time when God refused to remain far away from pain, heartache and suffering – the ongoing drama of what it means to be human. Christmas celebrates God’s once-and-for-all, forever declaration of his love for you and me and his presence with us, now and forever.
Christmas is a grand celebration because that little stranger in the manger is the embodiment of the end of self-seeking, self-absorption and self-justification.
The little stranger in the manger comes with great news – performing religious rituals and obeying laws will never, in a thousand lifetimes, please and appease God because he isn’t interested in our futile attempts to earn or deserve his love. Christmas is not all about our endless attempts to buy and purchase love from others, including God – Christmas is all about God’s love being born into our lives.
We celebrate the little stranger in a manger who brings peace on earth and:
- good news for both the physically and the spiritually impoverished,
- freedom for prisoners in literal jail cells as well as inmates of religious tyranny who are completely
- spiritual and physical healing, recovery of physical and spiritual sight,
- release and relief for physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual oppression and
- the proclamation of God’s unqualified favor, grace and love.
The miracle, majesty and mystery of Christmas is about the peace and presence of God that comes from above, into our lives – rather than a peace that we humans attempt, in vain, to manufacture and produce via our best efforts.
When the shepherds heard “on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14), they were given the invitation come down to the manger, see the little stranger – they went to see the embodiment of God’s love being born into our world.
The kingdom had arrived in the person of the Prince of peace, but those shepherds woke up the next morning and the world was still ruled by violence. Perhaps some of those shepherds were alive three decades later when Jesus was nailed to his cross and crucified, and perhaps, as old men, they thought back to that “holy night” and the message of the angel about peace on earth and wondered what that was all about.
There is no question that our world is still filled with violence, hatred, warfare and evil of every size and shape and description. Like the shepherds, we too wonder how long the sickness, suffering and strife must continue – but we need not wonder about the reality that God’s love has been born into our story. AND STILL MORE GREAT NEWS – the peace and presence of God will, one day soon, whether in our lifetimes or not, arrive with the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior.
My dear friends, my brothers and sisters of the little stranger, the Prince of peace, may you and yours have a wonderful Christmas!
In the name of the little stranger, the Prince of peace, who is the greatest Gift of all,