THE BABE IN THE MANGER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-25-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are not looking in heaven, though we have the golden harp, the angelic choir, and all of the worshipers praising God; but you are looking next to heaven: the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the archangel bringing the morning message. I—he says, “Amen”; says I am Gabriel—I promised some of my dear sheep who are at home this morning because of illness, I promised them that I would tell them what kind of an audience that we have on this Christmas morning. Now I did not expect anybody here. I thought all of our folks would be gone to see mama, and grandmama, and all those dear family people that we love to be with at Christmas time; I thought all of the folks that came to visit us in Dallas would be at home getting ready to eat dinner or something. So I said, “I am not expecting anybody; so if anybody comes I will be surprised.” Well, I want you to know, I have not had a sweeter or a finer surprise in my life than I have had today: the 8:15 service almost filled this auditorium; and we had five for baptism—I am going to baptize them tonight—and we had the father of a wonderful missionary come by letter. And I wish those television cameras could be up here where they could see this great audience gathered at this hour. Now there is a reason for it, of course: if Mr. Zachary would have a fiftieth wedding anniversary every year, we would about fill this auditorium no matter what kind of a holiday. We are happy for you, my sweet friend. And some of those members of your family I have baptized, and I have married them, and oh how good it is to see them again. Welcome. And the Lord give us all, every one, a marvelous, sweet, precious Christmas.
Now, the sermon this morning is entitled The Babe in the Manger. And it is from a text in the second chapter of the Book of Luke. The text will be found in the twelfth verse; but I shall read all of the story:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled.
(And this enrollment was first made, this census was first, made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, unto Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
But the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be to semeion,
And this is my text:
And this shall be the sign unto you; Ye shall find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, Gloria in excelsis deo, and on earth peace, good will to men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us go now even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us.
And they went with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Now the text: “And this shall be the sign, to semeion, this shall be the sign; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:12]. Semeion, “sign,” that’s one of the most meaningful words in the New Testament and one that is frequently used. “This shall be the sign, semeion.” What is semeion? It can mean “a designation, a sign, a designation.” It can mean “a token of the divine power and presence of God.” It can mean “a miracle.” In the eleventh chapter for example, of the Gospel of Luke, this Gospel out of which I read, Luke says, “And the Jews came to Jesus and demanded of Him a semeion,” a sign, an authentication of miracle, a wonder, a semeion. And the Lord replied, “No semeion shall be given to this generation except the semeion of the prophet Jonah” [Luke 11:29-30]; the marvelous, miraculous authentication that this is the Christ of God, by the resurrection from the dead. As Paul said, “He is declared to be the Son of God by the power of the resurrection from the dead,” a semeion [Romans 1:4]. When you turn the pages of the Bible, in the New Testament, in the Greek of it, you will never find, in the Gospel of John, the word “miracle”; never used, though it is in the King James Version. John never wrote it; without exception, John referred to every miraculous wonder of Jesus as a semeion; and he uses that word universally, without exception in the Gospel of John–a semeion, the miracle of God.
You’ll find Paul using it, for example, in the second chapter of the second Thessalonian letter, when he says, that Antichrist, who embodies the final and all inclusive last assault of Satan against our Lord Christ [Revelation 13:2-10], you will find Paul saying that, “He will come with lying wonders and semeia,” plural, “signs” [2 Thessalonians 2:9]. You’ll find it again, for example, in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, in the first verse, the chapter opens like this: “And there appeared a semeion in heaven, a wonder in heaven, a sign in heaven; and there appeared a semeion in heaven; behold, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown with twelve stars: And being with child, she cried, travailing to be delivered” [Revelation 12:1-2], a semeion, a sign.
And that’s the word used here: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, Christ the Lord. And this shall be to semeion unto you” [Luke 2:11-12]. What is it God has done, this miracle, this wonder, this amazing authentication, this fulfillment of the promises of the ages, what is it? Well, it’s a baby, a baby. So poor, the Child had no clothes to dress it, no little dress to put on the Child, so she took rags and wrapped the Child in swaddling clothes, and laid the infant in a manger [Luke 2:7]. And God says that is “the,” to, “the” semeion, “the sign” [Luke 2:12]. A sign to be wondered at, to be marveled at, to be astonished at, a sign: this Child, this Child is God in the flesh [Matthew 1:23; John 1:14]. This Child is the heir to the everlasting throne of David [Luke 1:32]. This Child is the Savior of the world [Luke 2:10-11], and our coming Lord and King! [Revelation 19:16]. A semeion, a sign to be wondered at, the miracle of what God hath done: a babe in a manger [Luke 2:12].
And that opens a vista of preaching that could go on forever; the miracle, the wonder, the marvel, the astonishment, the semeion of God: a Babe in a manger! [Luke 2:12]. So in the time allotted to us, let us speak of some of these things. First, let us speak of God’s way, God’s way, God’s way. Oh, the perplexities and the problems that fill this earth. There are national problems, there are international problems, there are personal problems, there is darkness of mind, there is depravity of soul, there is violence and war, there is sin and injustice; and how does God propose to meet, to confront these problems, and frustrations, and wars, and violences that fill the pages of human history? What is God’s answer? And how shall God cope with the insoluble, immeasurable darknesses of the human race, how? A semeion: with a Babe in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger. Oh! Who would ever have thought but God that the answer to all of the ills of society, and all of the heartaches and heartbreaks of the human soul, who would ever have thought that the problems of the earth were to be met by a Babe in a manger? [Luke 2:12]. It is astonishing! It is amazing! No wonder it is called a sign from heaven; a sign of God’s way and God’s method.
Now may I illustrate that? The year 1809, I remember it so very well, 1809, the date of 1809, because it is exactly one hundred years before I was born. That’s no small part of its fame too, it’s a hundred years before I was born, 1809. Do you know what the world was engrossed with in 1809? Well, I’ll tell you: the whole civilized world was amazed and swept up in the storming career of Napoleon Bonaparte. He had the entire civilized world in his hand. And he was sweeping without loss of battle, though sometimes his foes numbered ten to one against him; he was sweeping in conquering conquest one nation after another before him. And the subject and the interest of the whole earth was Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France; in 1809. Do you know what else happened in 1809? Why, no. All the pages of history are covered with the conquests of the first emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte.
But something else was happening. I have in my steel filing cabinet in my study at the parsonage—and I don’t bring it down here, because to me this is one of the most precious things and meaningful that I have in my possession—I have never seen a cartoon, a cartoon that has the meaning that that cartoon has. It’s a picture of the wilderness at Hodgenville, Kentucky, in 1809. It’s in the dead of winter, and the whole horizon is covered in snow. And this side of a split rail fence, there’s an old pioneer, an old codger; and he has a long flint lock rifle over his shoulder. And down there by his side in the snow is a shivering dog with his tailed tucked between his legs. And just to the right of him is another old pioneer with his coonskin cap and his deerskin dressing, and he’s riding a mule. And you can just see the breath turn to frost as that mule breathes there on that cold day. Well, those two old pioneers are a’talkin’ to one another. And this one says, “Any news down to the village, Ezry?” And Ezry up there on his mule, he says, “Well, squire McClain gone to Washington to see Madison swore in as president. And old man Spellman tells me that this feller Napoleon Bonaparte has captured most of Spain. What’s news out here, neighbor?” And the old codger replies, “Nothing at all, nothing at all, except for a new baby born down there at Tom Lincoln’s house. Nothing ever happens here; nope, nothing ever happens around here”—1809, in a little log cabin no bigger than that organ—and I’m not exaggerating; if you’ve ever been to Hodgenville in that beautiful shrine, that cabin’s about the size of that console. And on the inside of that little cabin there was a good old-time Baptist man that lived by the name of Tom Lincoln. And he had a sweet, devout wife, a Baptist girl he married, named Nancy Hanks. And they had a little boy named Abraham Lincoln, born in 1809. And the whole world was swept away with the conquests of Napoleon Bonaparte. But God was giving to the world and to America a little tiny babe, born in a wilderness, born in a log cabin, born in the cold and the dead of the winter. That’s God. That’s God. And if you’ll look at 1809 when Napoleon Bonaparte was storming up and down the continent of Europe, in that year of 1809, Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born in a preacher’s home in England. And in that year, 1809, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Massachusetts. God was doing great things and wonderful things and marvelous things in 1809; but nobody cared, nobody thought, nobody looked, nobody wrote about it, nobody observed, for we were engrossed in the military conquests of Napoleon Bonaparte. God’s way.
Do you ever think of things like this? The dawn of the morning will be so unannounced, so unheralded, so quiet that the sunlight, a beam will stream through a windowpane and play on the cheek of a little baby, and the little child will never awaken. And yet, were it not for the quietness, and the glory, and the beauty, and the meaning, and the warmth, and the light of that dawning, of that sunrise, were there no sunrise this planet would turn to solid ice, the oceans would freeze to the bottom of their depths, cold and frigid winds would sweep over this earth, and death and darkness would grasp this planet in a fist of night that would last forever! That’s God: the blessing of the sunrise, the softness of the dawn, the quietness of a sunbeam—the birth of a baby. “This shall be the semeion unto you: a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:12].
Another thought: not only is this God’s way, the answer to the fulfillment of all of the promises and hopes of the human race, this is God’s way—not only that, to semeion, the sign, it is also God’s poor. How poor? “You will find a Babe in a beautiful dress”? Didn’t have any dress. Little shoes? Didn’t have any shoes. Little headpiece? Didn’t have any headpiece. Cute little embroidered clothing? Didn’t have any embroidered clothing. “Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes” [Luke 2:12]; just some rags they had been able to pick up, wrapped around the little fellow’s legs, and wrapped around His body. “You will find the Babe wrapped in rags.” Lying in a king’s palace? “Lying in a manger”; semeion, God’s poor; He, the King of glory [Luke 2:12]. Do you ever think about that? Ever wonder at that? And the answer is very obvious, very plain, very sweet, very precious: had He been born in the palace of Herod the king, had He been born in the imperial palace of Augustus Caesar, there might have been some of us who would have been hesitant to come to the door of the great imperial Caesar and ask, “We’ve come to seek Him who is born King of the whole earth.” We might have been hesitant—isn’t it true?—we might have been hesitant had He been born in a king’s palace. But who would be hesitant to come to a grotto, as it is in the East, to a stable, as we would say in the West? And who would feel that maybe I’m not dressed right, or maybe I’m not learned in the amenities of life, maybe I’m not trained to stand in the presence of kings and lords of the earth? But anybody would feel that he could enter a stable.
And here, and here is the Lord of glory, and His companions? A rooster, a donkey, a goat, a sheep, a semeion from God: a Babe so poor they wrapped Him in rags, and laid Him in a manger [Luke 2:7]. Oh, what an amazing, astonishing semeion to be wondered at: God in the flesh, laid in a manger; with cows, and sheep, and oxen, and chickens for companions [Luke 2:11-16].
Isn’t that an amazing thing? And I would suppose that God is greatly unimpressed with all of the criteria of greatness in the earth; the strutting tyrants, and the kings with their crowns, and all of the so-called great of the earth. I would think God is unimpressed. But I also would think that you might find the love and the presence and the mercy of God among the poor, and the outcast, and the downtrodden, and the broken of the earth; a semeion, the presence of God among the poor and the lowly.
And once in a while, we kind of, sort of, somewhat get a vision of that love and mercy of God for the poor of the earth; and mostly, it’s at Christmas time. It’s this time of the year; just get a little glimpse of the heart of God. And the Christmas spirit—if we have it at all—and the Christmas spirit is like that: remembering somebody who needs us, ministering to somebody who maybe cannot minister to themselves, giving to others; a little glimpse of God, the semeion, the poor Babe in a manger [Luke 2:16]. Isn’t that the Christmas spirit?
I wonder if I could illustrate that. Outside of a busy store, one of these tremendous department stores was a man in his car, waiting for his wife to come out. And while he was sitting there in the car, an old man, ragged, poor, an old man was walking down the street. It began to snow; and the old man reached in his saggy, ragged, old overcoat pockets, and pulled out a pair of worn gloves. And as he was feebly trying to put them on, why, a passerby knocked them out of his hands, and a gust of wind blew them under the car where the man was seated. He quickly got out of the car, reached under there and found those old gloves, and slyly slipped into one of them a ten dollar bill. He gave them back to the old man, who thanked him graciously for them and walked on down the street. And when he put the gloves on his old hands, he found that ten dollar bill; looked at it, stopped, turned around, and walked back toward the man who’d been in the car, as though he would say something. And just at that time, his wife came out of the department store, and said, “Husband, how long are you going to stay here? Come into the department store, and you’ll find the Christmas spirit.” The old man, seeing his wife talking to her husband, never stepped any further; he just looked at him with tears in his eyes, and then turned away, and walked down the street. And the wife said, “Come on, husband, I tell you, you will not get the Christmas spirit until you come into the store and see all these things.” And he, after a pause, quietly replied, “My, my dear, maybe so, maybe so.” Isn’t that like what we call the true Christmas spirit? Not, not that array of merchandise that we buy and buy and buy for one another; but isn’t it more like this, an old man with tears in his eyes because of an unsolicited remembrance, a gift for Jesus’ sake? “This shall be the semeion; you will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:12]; God’s poor.
I had to quit this morning at the 8:15 hour when I got to this place. And I said in my heart, but at the 10:50 hour, I’m going to say something about the third and the most glorious part of this semeion, this sign to be wondered at. The first wonder: that God did it that way, a Baby, answering the perplexities and perturbations and problems of the human race; God’s answer, a Baby, a semeion to be wondered at [Luke 2:11-12]. The second avowal: the semeion that God should care for the poor, the outcast, the flotsam and jetsam of humanity [Luke 2:7, 12, 16]. Now the third semeion to be wondered at, the miracle of God. This is God’s evangel, evangel, the glad tidings, the good news for the redemption of the world:
For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be the semeion unto you
A Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger
The evangel of God, this Child: “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall rest upon His shoulder” [Isaiah 9:6]. Think of it. Think of it. Think of it. This Child is our Savior [Luke 2:10-11]. This Child is our Redeemer [Galatians 4:4-5; 1 Peter 1:18-19]. This Child is our Lord [Luke 2:11]. This Child is our King [Numbers 24:17; Matthew 2:2]. The semeion of God to be wondered at, to be amazed at, to be astonished at: God made flesh [Matthew 1:23; John 1:14], coming into this world for me, for me, for me [Hebrews 10:5-14]. Think of it. Think of it.
I want to thank you—oh, I could not thank you enough—I want to thank you for the sweet Christmas cards that you send us and the precious words that you write. One of the Christmas cards was from a missionary. He works among a tribe of Indians. And his card folded; on one side of the card was a picture of one of his converts; he was an old, old Indian, an old, old, wrinkled, bent over Indian. And on the other side of that folded card was a poem that he’d written about that old, bent, aged Indian. And this is the poem:
For me? You say it was for me,
The Son of God came down to earth
Born just as any Indian babe,
Then bundled up, was laid upon the hay?
How could it be? How could it be?
Where is He now? Does He live far away?
Show me the trail, tell me more of Him.
How I should like to see Him;
Yet I’m old, I cannot walk the trail as once I did.
And mountain paths are steep
So if I went, I’d have to travel slow.
Would you go with me, if I were to go?
You say, “Come unto Me.”
Those words included me?
He calls for me? You’re sure He calls for me?
Would He receive me, if I came to Him?
He cares for me? You say He cares for me?
Then, then I’ll come; my heart cries out for Him.
Oh, that I might have known Him long ago,
When I was wee. To think I almost missed Him,
And He came for me. He came for me.
Oh, this semeion from heaven, this sign from God, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be the semeion unto you; You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:10-12]. He came for me, for me, for me [Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10]. Oh, don’t you wish you could sing the song that would express it, or write the poem that would say it, or preach a sermon that would encompass it? Lord, Lord, that we had the eloquence and the power to avow it. The semeion, the sign of God: a Babe lying in a manger [Luke 2:12].
Now our time is gone. While we sing our invitation hymn, somebody you, somebody you, give himself to Jesus. You come and stand by me, right down here at the front. “Pastor, before men and angels, before men and angels, I confess my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and here I come. I open my heart to Him.” A couple of you to come, a man and his wife, or your family, “Pastor this is my wife, and these are our children; all of us are coming today.” A child you, or one somebody, a youth, however God shall say the word, shall press the appeal, shall open the door, come. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming, “Here I am, pastor, I make it now. I make it this morning.” Do it, do it, do it now. This is the sweetest day you could ever make, in which you could ever make a decision for Jesus. Come, come, while we stand and while we sing.
IN THE MANGER
– “sign, a designation; a token of the divine presence and power of God; a
miracle (Luke 11:16, 29, 21:7, 11, Romans 1:4)
never uses the word “miracle”, but uses semeion universally
throughout New Testament(2 Thessalonians 2:9,
So the sign to be wondered and marveled at is the Babe, God in the flesh, heir
to the throne of David, Savior of the world
II. God’s way
answer to the insoluble immeasurable darkness of humanity – a Babe in swaddling
clothes, in a manger
year 1809 the world engrossed in war
But something else was going on – Lincoln, Tennyson, and other greats were being
blessing of a sunrise
III. God’s poor
A. Anybody welcome at a
IV. God’s evangel
good tidings of the redemption of the world in Christ Jesus (Luke 2:11-12, Isaiah 9:6)