Sermon for Christmas Eve 2011

Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-14 (Christmas Eve—Series B)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

December 24, 2011

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We hear a lot this time of year about “the miracle of Christmas.”  We joked during Christmas Program rehearsals that no matter what happened during practice, the day of the Sunday School Christmas Program always goes well.  It’s the miracle of Christmas!  The kids, as they did again last Sunday, always do a wonderful job sharing the message of Jesus’ birth with us.  But is pulling off another Christmas program the miracle of Christmas?  Probably not.

There were three men at a hospital around Christmas time.  They were anxiously waiting for their wives to have babies.  A nurse came in and said to the first man, “Congratulations!  You are the father of twins!”  He exclaimed, “How appropriate!  I’m the short-stop for the Minnesota Twins!”  A few minutes later, the nurse said to the second man, “Congratulations!  You are a father of triplets!”  He exclaimed, “How appropriate!  I work for the 3M Company.”  At that the third man jumped up and ran out of the waiting room.  “Why are you leaving?” called the nurse.  He exclaimed, “I don’t like the way things are going.  I work for Seven Up!”  That would be a miracle at Christmas, wouldn’t it?  But it’s not the miracle of Christmas.

So what is the miracle of Christmas?  The miracle of Christmas is that you and I are saved from our sins!  The miracle of Christmas is that you and I are saved from eternal death!  The miracle of Christmas is that you and I are saved from the power of the devil!

But to understand the miracle, we need to understand the circumstances.  The Christmas hymn “God Loves Me Dearly” says it most simply, “I was in slav’ry, Sin, death, and darkness.”  This thought does some damage to our self-image.  We like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, free and independent, masters of our own destinies.  We are like the Jews in John 8, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?’”

(John 8:31-33)  We live under the illusion that we are truly independent.  The reality is that we are insufficient, bound, and dependent.  We are mastered by forces beyond our control: sin, death, and Satan.  We are not in charge, but we imagine we are.  We think we are free when really we are in bondage.  We think we are masters when in real life we are the slaves.  Some of you are held in the cage of addictive behavior like unpredictable anger or biting sarcasm.  Some know the dark world of Internet pornography.  Others are chained to a grudge that won’t leave until there is revenge.  Still others are fighting an inner battle with a skeleton in your closet rattling louder and louder with the thunderous sound of guilt.  Whatever your particular sin, it has left you in slavery, in chains of despair and darkness.

It doesn’t make for a very merry Christmas thinking about being chained up in our sins and trespasses before God.  It makes it hard to sing “Joy to the World” when we have no freedom to better ourselves in God’s eyes, no chance to move Him to favor us by our behavior.  You and I are held tight in the chains of our sin, tied up in our slavery to our evil inclinations and lusts and selfishness.  We are all under the curse of God’s Law, which means we stand condemned under God’s wrath and punishment.

No matter what we think, we can’t buy our way out of this slavery with money, right thinking, or good behavior.  We only fool ourselves into thinking we are really in control, that we are really our own masters who can do whatever we want.  Before God, we stand enslaved by Satan, held captive by our sinfulness, and condemned to everlasting death as our rightful punishment.

And now we are ready for the miracle of Christmas.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and 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, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:1-14)

“So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.  So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross.  It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’”(John 19:16-19)

“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:45-46)

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:28-30)

The Christmas miracle is your salvation, your freedom, from sin, death, and the devil.  The Christmas miracle is the complete forgiveness of all your sins, your rescue from everlasting death, your safety from the power of Satan.  Our God gave His Divine Son Jesus to be our Savior.  He who created the universe became a human baby.  He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent on the nourishment of his mother.  He came not as a flash of light, or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as One whose first cries were heard in a cattle stall along with cows and sheep.  The Babe of Bethlehem is the Suffering Savior, Christ the Lord.

Jesus’ feet felt the cold sea water of Galilee and His feet writhed at the invasion of the nail.  His heart was torn by people’s accusations and it was crushed under the weight of our sin.  Jesus’ eyes saw our shame.  They saw our selfishness.  They saw our pain because we are so full of hurt.  Jesus’ hands touched lepers, held little children, broke bread, clawed the ground at Gethsemane, and were stretched out on a Roman cross.  Jesus came into our slavery and took our chains upon Himself.  His arms felt the burn of the whiplash as He was beaten for our sins.  He felt the flaming fire of the nails piercing His flesh.  He felt the weight of His body as He hung on the old rugged cross.  Christ felt the warmth of His own blood as it ran from His open wounds.

The holy blood of Jesus poured out for us on the cross cleanses us from our sins.  Jesus’ death saved us from everlasting death.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross rescued us from our slavery and set us free to be children of God!  And that is what we are!  So we read in John chapter 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5, 9-14)

This is the Christmas miracle!  God gave us His only Son Jesus to be our Savior.  Jesus entered our slavery, took our punishment for our sins, and won our forgiveness and everlasting life.  Now we are no longer slaves to sin, death, and the devil.  We are children of God!  We are free indeed because Jesus the Son has set us free!  Let your salvation in Jesus Christ be the source of your joy this Christmas!  Amen.

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