Advent 3 – Deuteronomy 14:3-21
Look in the stable; what do you see? A tall brown camel stands close by, to where the newborn baby Jesus now lies.
You do not see a lot of camels in the Bible; to begin with, the region of Palestine is not necessarily camel country. Camels are certainly not unheard of; they do not take the position of the dodo bird, or of dragons; ancient creatures that we have only heard of; nor do they fall into the category of penguins, who are completely alien to the region. It is just that in the grand scheme of things, camels just are not that popular in Israel.
But note how that last sentenced was clarified: camels are just not that popular in Israel. Camels are VERY popular in Egypt, in Babylon, and in parts further to the east. Camels after all are good for long distance traveling in hot and dry climates. If you are an urban people living in cities, or a rural people, living on farms, than you are not really going to need camels; but if you are traveling the hot and dusty roads that connect the ancient world, than a camel is going to be very helpful.
And so if you are in Judea, in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in any town or city in the land of Israel, and you see a camel; that can only mean one thing: it belongs to a Gentile.
Gentiles, those none Jewish people, they are the camel users; they are the ones traveling long distances in hot and dry climates. If you are in Israel, you probably have a donkey for traveling, and if you have any other animals, it is going to be some sheep or goats. The temple would have had some cattle around to use for sacrifices. No camels needed.
But there is another reason that you do not see a lot of camels in Israel; camels are not clean animals. While camels do chew the cud, they do not have the required cloven hoofs. To own a camel, no matter how helpful it might be in travel or work, is forbidden by God.
Only a Gentile would have a camel.
And Gentiles are not God’s people.
Such is the long held teaching and belief in Israel. God called Abraham, and promised to Abraham and to his descendants many blessings. There is not an explicit promise made to those who were not Abraham’s descendants. Therefore, everyone who cannot trace their blood lines back to Abraham, must not be a part of God’s holy people.
For to be a part of God’s holy people meant living differently than those around you, especially when it came to what you ate. God’s people ate very differently than those around them. The people of Israel prided themselves on not eating anything that was unclean; only a Gentile would do that.
Therefore when God sent a Savior into the world, it was most certainly not for those unclean Gentiles, but rather for the chosen people of Israel.
We look at this today, and assume it to be silly; well do we know that Christ Jesus came into the world for both the Jew and the Gentile.
Well, we mostly know that.
We know that Christ Jesus came into the world for you and I; but there are others, those modern day Gentiles, those who are outside the church, outside our sphere of comfort, that we are not so sure about.
After all, what about those who commit those sins that cause our blood to boil? What about those who make us mad? What about those who do not do as much as we do?
Is there really salvation for them? Did Christ Jesus really come into the world to redeem them from their sins? After all, look at their words and their actions. Are not we, who live differently from those around us, better than they?
Yet, look in the stable, who is that lying there in the camel’s manger box? It is the newborn baby Jesus; associating Himself with a people who the rest of Israel, perhaps the rest of the modern day church have long determined are not really a part of God’s people.
The camels bring the wise men, gentiles, astrologers, people from far beyond the borders of Israel, to worship this newborn Savior.
Why do they come?
They come for this is their Savior to. This one who now lies in the camel’s manger box is the Savior even of those who live in Egypt, in Babylon, in Rome, and in parts far beyond. This is the Savior who has come to preach a message of hope and good news not just for those who live in Israel, not just for those who keep a strict set of dietary laws, but for those who make the confession that Jesus is Lord.
Look at the camel in you nativity scenes, what do you see?
You see an animal despised in Israel who has come to worship Jesus, to acknowledge that this is the Lord of all; not just those who have kept the laws, not just those who have met the requirements, not just those who we have given our approval of; but the Lord of all people, the one who will take the sins of all people with Him upon the cross.
That is most certainly good news.
For if Christ Jesus came into the world to save the imperfect Gentiles who did ate unclean foods; than He most certainly came to save the imperfect Jews who had unclean hearts.
For if Christ Jesus came into the world to save the imperfect people around us who commit sins that cause our blood to boil; than He most certainly came into the world to save you and I, whose own sins cause the blood of others to boil.
For if Christ Jesus came into the world to redeem all the rest, than He most certainly came to redeem even you.