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

A PLACE PREPARE - “STRAW”

Second Wednesday in Advent


For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.


Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,


“All people are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of the Lord endures forever.”


And this is the word that was preached to you.

1 Peter 1:18-25


“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?


“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

Matthew 6:25-30


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. Last week we looked at stone. For this second week we’ll be looking at Straw – “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.” Laid in a manger, our newborn Savior was almost certainly surrounded by straw. Like a picture of a stable boy caring for animals in a barn, preparation for Lord’s coming involved straw. Maybe it still does!


The major characteristic of straw in the Bible is that it’s not very permanent, nor is it intended to be. Straw is consumable, expendable, replaceable. It’s a disposable throwaway item. In the story of the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf – “I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down” – the house made out of straw was the very first to go, the least permanent of all. Straw is like that.


Animals may munch on it, and they’ll bed down in it, and eventually the stable boy will take out the old and dirty straw and replace it with fresh. (I wonder how much straw Noah took with him in the Ark. And how often did he pitch the stuff overboard?) In Isaiah 25:10 we read, “The hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain; but Moab will be trampled under Him as straw is trampled down in the manure.” When it comes to animals in barns, arks, or stable-caves, straw is there to serve its purpose – a good and worthwhile purpose, to be sure – but when the purpose has been accomplished, the straw is pitched out.

I found a number of biblical passages where straw or hay is used as a symbol or picture:


· 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 uses straw as a picture of the kinds of things we do, that we consider to be good works, but that God doesn’t think are worth rewarding: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Christ Jesus. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is; because the day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” It sounds like, as Christians, we should do works that God considers to be gold, silver, or costly stones. I think our attitude has a big effect on whether they’re made of gold or straw!


· Psalm 103:15-17 should help us keep this life in proper perspective with God’s gift of eternal life: “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him.” That says a lot about keeping our priorities in proper order.


· In Matthew 3:11-12, we hear John the Baptist telling that the Lord is near, but also that the Lord will one day be the judge: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn, and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Thank God He will look at us as useable grain, and not as consumable, disposable, throw-away stuff!


But how about us, right now? Even as Christmas approaches, are we tempted to hang on to things that should be used instead? Are we tempted to “store up treasures on earth” instead of using them as God intended?


This whole season, for example, it can so easily become an end to itself rather than a means to the end of worshipping God, and accepting God’s gifts. We say, “Oh, I wish the Christmas season would last all year.” But, in its way, the season is like straw, a cradle for the Christ child right now, but only a temporary one. The season doesn’t exist for Christmas; it exists for Christ!


And the possessions we have, and the money that’s ours – are we tempted to treat those things as if they were given to us to hold on to permanently? Aren’t they given to us to use, to spend, to be consumed?


How about the love and care that we have received – especially the immeasurable love of God – are we tempted to hoard that love and care too? Maybe to dole them out grudgingly, or in small doses – and then only to those people whom we consider to be worthy and deserving?


Suppose God had felt that way? He didn’t , of course, and that’s the wonderful message of this season: “God so loved the world that He gave.” And what God gave is cradled, of all places, “asleep on the hay.”


Of all the verses I found regarding straw, hay, and grass, the one that struck me the most was Leviticus 23:9-12. Leviticus speaks of all sorts of sacrifices and feasts to be observed by the Israelites – all of which are types or symbols of the promised Messiah, fulfilled by Jesus Christ. This one prescribes the Feast of First Fruits. The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them, ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath’ Now listen to this! ‘On the day you wave the sheaf, you must sacrifice as a burnt offering to the Lord a lamb… without defect.’”


There’s more of a picture here than we’ve commonly seen! “The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay” was sent into the world to be consumed! “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He came to give his life in order that we might have something much more permanent than a house of straw. He came to be the rock on which our faith and life can be built securely and permanently! “The grass withers and the flowers fall.” (1 Peter 1:24b) That doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. But because they do wither and fall, part of their importance is that they exist to be used – right now, while they’re still fresh and usable.


Fresh straw would be available for the manger tomorrow, when this has been used. The stable boy is the symbol of God’s promise that “the Lord will provide.” Such gifts from God are not given to hoard and to hold, but to spend and use.


And the Lord who came to be consumed is a gift that we mustn’t hoard and keep to ourselves. He’s a gift that we must share, for He is truly the gift that keeps on giving!


Amen

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