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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

A PLACE PREPARE - “STONE”

First Wednesday in Advent


As you come to him, the living Stone - rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him - you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:


“See, I lay a stone in Zion,

a chosen and precious cornerstone,

and the one who trusts in him

will never be put to shame.”


Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,


“The stone the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone,”


and,


“A stone that causes people to stumble

and a rock that makes them fall.”


They stumble because they disobey the message - which is also what they were destined for.


But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 2:4-9


“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”


When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Matthew 7:24-29


How shall we prepare a place for the Lord? And where? This Advent we’ll look at the simple surroundings into which our Lord first came, hoping to find lessons there for our own preparing. For this first week we’ll be looking at Stone – beginning with the stable-cave in which Jesus was born.


That’s right! The stable-cave in which our Lord was born. I know that most of our Christmas art, pictures the stable where Jesus was born as a free-standing wooden barn. That tradition probably began so that Europeans could relate to the story. But it’s most probable that the stable in which Jesus was born was a cave.


In fact, if you visit Bethlehem and go to what’s called Manger Square, that’s exactly what they’ll show you as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth – a cave. The shepherds’ fields outside of Bethlehem are full of caves that shepherds today, as they did 2000 years ago, use as stables for their flocks. We were in one that was made into a chapel. But the cave in town is the one that’s said to be the one in which Jesus was born. Part of it is below a Roman Catholic church, but the most important part is below a Greek Orthodox church. It’s full of ornaments and drapes and candles, and on its stone floor – notice I said a “stone” floor – there’s a sliver star embedded, with an inscription in Latin which translates into “Here the Word became flesh.”


Born in a cave, surrounded by stone. There isn’t a lot of wood in the Holy Land, but there are rocks everywhere! You think you’ve lived where there’s lots of rocks? Hah! You haven’t seen rocks ‘til you go to Israel! (And I hope you can someday.) A cave for a stable. And the manger? Well, again, in the Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, you’ll see a hollowed-out stone which they say is the manger in which Jesus was laid. Full of straw or hay of course, but still a stone manger in a stone cave!


Now I hope I haven’t spoiled your image of the Christmas event. And don’t change the way you display your manger scene! I’ve been to Bethlehem six times, but I still like my German manger scene with its wooden stable and manger. But for today, let’s picture the place prepared for the birth of Jesus as a stone cave and a stone manger.


Stone can be very cold, of course. Especially when we compare it with the warmth of wood, stone can be cold and hard. As cold and hard as our weather can be at this time of year. As cold as our attitude can become at times, our attitude toward one another – and even toward God! The Bible even talks about having “a heart of stone.” Hardly “a place prepared” to welcome the Lord! Our hearts and our attitudes can be as cold as the stone cave that old Abraham bought as a burial place for his dear wife, Sarah, and was eventually buried in himself. Or as cold as the cave in which Jesus would later be laid to rest – not the one He was born in – that other one, with the large stone rolled in front of it.


By the way, was that at last “a place prepared” for the Lord? Does the story that begins in a cave in Bethlehem, end in a cave in Jerusalem?


Or do Biblical caves have another message to proclaim? The prophet Elijah hid out in a cave once, hiding from Queen Jezebel after he had killed all the priests of Baal. David was forced to hide in caves near En Gedi (an oasis and a nature reserve in Israel, located west of the Dead Sea, near Masada and the Qumran Caves) when he was being pursued by a jealous King Saul. Moses also found shelter in the cleft of a rock. And, of course, Jesus was buried in one – laid to rest at last, in the same kind of place in which He was laid to rest at first, surrounded by stone.


But what made the difference in each of those incidents – in each of those stone caves – what changed everything eventually – was that the Lord was present in those caves. What made the difference in each of those caves – for Elijah and David and Moses, and even the rock-hewn tomb in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea – what made the difference was that the Lord was there. The presence of the Lord brought new warmth to those cold surroundings.


And it’s the presence of the Lord that brings new warmth to our cold attitudes, our hearts of stone. It’s the presence of the Lord that gives us a new look at life, a new attitude toward the people in our live, a new response to the opportunities God gives us, new reactions to the difficulties we face, and even a new perspective on death itself.


Elijah took refuge in the cave, and the Lord was there to strengthen and assure him.


David took refuge in the cave, and the Lord was there to protect and empower him.


Moses took refuge in a cleft in a rock, and the Lord was there to astound and inspire him.


Sarah and Abraham took refuge in their cave-tomb, knowing that even there the Lord would be with them.


And Jesus himself, crucified and buried in a tomb cut out of solid rock, by His presence even made the big stone, rolled in front of the entrance to the tomb, to be His servant and a witness to His divinity! And so Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection provides us with our stepping stone into eternal life with Him.


That’s the message of the stones: a whole new look at life, and death, because the Lord reveals His presence – and His power and His love – in the coldness of a cave. First of all in the stable-cave of Bethlehem, a “place prepared,” whose inscription to this day is carved in stone: “Here the Word became flesh.”


Here the presence of the Lord was shown to the world, as He came out of love for the world. Even where life can seem its coldest and hardest, the presence of the Lord can be revealed.


As we prepare to celebrate His coming, listen for the cry of a newborn child. Then lift up your voice as well, to join the praising multitude. For how did Jesus himself once put it? “If these people were silent, even the stones would shout!”


Amen

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