Luke 2:6-20 (The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 24, 2012
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Christmas Gospel from Luke 2:
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
How do we respond to Christmas? Do we respond by stressing out and shopping ourselves silly to meet our high-priced demands for stuff? Do we respond by thinking, “I have to receive the perfect gift, just what I wanted, or Christmas is ruined”? Is our response to Christmas wrapped up in decorations and lights, trees and gifts? I certainly hope not. Gifts and trees and all the trimmings can be very blessed things that direct us to properly respond to Christmas, but they can also hinder our responses. So tonight let’s step back from whatever preparations for Christmas we have been making. Set aside in your mind all the things you have yet to do and let the Word of God come to you and fill you up with the good news of great joy that is for you and for all the people—a Savior has been born; He is Christ the Lord.
How do we respond to a new-born baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger? I don’t know that we would respond much at all. Babies are born all the time. It is rather unfortunate that Mary and Joseph had to travel so late in her pregnancy. It is unfortunate that, because of the Emperor’s census, there was no space available in the guest room when Mary went into labor. But when the time comes, the time comes. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger. It’s a heartwarming moment portrayed in Nativity scenes all across the globe—Mary looking outstanding for having just given birth; Joseph watching over her and the new child; sheep and cows doing what sheep and cows do in the barn; the precious donkey is there which we all assume Mary rode, even though the Bible never tells us that.
Our response to this? “This is so nice. It’s such a peaceful scene, an escape from the horrible realities of our world. Don’t you wish we could be pulled into the moment and be there in that Bethlehem cattle stall?” And then we tend to walk away from the picture, back into gifts and trees, decorations and lights, without very much impact on us whatsoever. Sometimes our response to Christmas is no more than found memories, as if we were looking through a photo album or a scrapbook. But shouldn’t the birth of this child who was laid in a manger have more of an impact on the reality of my life and yours? Shouldn’t there be some sort of response that makes a difference for me and for those around me?
I believe it should. The Christmas event, the birth of Jesus, calls for a major response because God had just shown up in the world in a way that had never ever happened before! God had taken to himself a real human body and soul. And there He was, lying in a manger. But who would know this so that they could respond?
“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 great fear.” In the darkness of the night the brilliance of the luminous glory of the Lord suddenly shone brightly. This is something that the shepherds would definitely have to respond to. Think about this. God’s glory was normally associated with the temple in Jerusalem. That’s the place where it would make sense for God to make Himself known in His glory. But now God’s glory is manifest on a farm! The social and religious importance of the temple as the culture center of the world of Israel is suddenly put on notice. God doesn’t reveal His glory in the place of holiness and purity. He comes among peasants on the bottom of the scale of power and privilege. And they respond at the appearance of God’s glory with pure terror.
The shepherds are suddenly face to face with their mortality. They are sinners in the presence of the Holy One of Israel. How else can they respond but in fear over the fact that they are sinners and God is holy and just? The glory of the Lord is like a devouring fire, presumably come to consume and destroy them because of their inability to keep the Law, the Torah, perfectly. Fear is the response of sinners when they come face to face with the Holy God because the Law declares that the soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:20) The wages of sin is death. (Rom. 6:23)
That’s not a warm, fuzzy message for Christmas, is it? Nor is it meant to be. We need to experience terror like the shepherds felt. It is the fear and terror we should feel about our sins, knowing that God has every right in the book to punish us with death, to cast us away from His presence forever. No, this isn’t candy canes and Hershey kisses in your stocking kind of stuff. This is putting Christmas in its proper perspective. That baby Jesus lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths is completely linked to the glory of the Lord that shone around those shepherds because He is the Lord. And that baby Jesus is the reason that God’s glory doesn’t annihilate the shepherds or you and me. That baby Jesus is the reason the angel said to the shepherds, “Stop being afraid! I bring you Good News of great joy that is for all the people!” Great fear needs to be traded for great joy because of the good news that God has come in the flesh in order to save all the people, not to destroy them with death and everlasting condemnation. “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
And the shepherds were told to go and check out this event. You want to see the glory of the Lord? Go and find it in Bethlehem, wrapped up in strips of cloth, lying in a manger, the place where cows eat. Because that One lying there is the Holy One of Israel. He is true God and true man. He is the Christ, the Savior promised hundreds of year before. This baby lying in a manger is the very Son of God who would crush the head of Satan, that ancient serpent, but He would do it through His own violent death as He bore the sins of the world in His body on the tree of the cross.
So without Christmas, there is no cross. No Christmas—no atonement for sins, no forgiveness. No Christmas—no resurrection, no life everlasting. No Christmas—Satan rules, sin reigns, death conquers all. But there was Christmas, the birth of Jesus who saved His people from their sins. There was Christmas so that Jesus could take on our human flesh in order to go to the cross and redeem us from sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. There was Christmas so that, having defeated Satan and having won our complete forgiveness, Jesus could rise from the grave in utter triumph over death itself ensuring our own resurrections to life in body and soul on the Last Day.
Now that we also have seen the glory of the Lord in the presence of God Himself in the coming of this child, Jesus, how do we respond to Christmas? Do we respond by stressing out and shopping ourselves silly to meet our high-priced demands for stuff? Do we respond by thinking, “I have to receive the perfect gift, just what I wanted, or Christmas is ruined”? Is our response to Christmas wrapped up in decorations and lights, trees and gifts?
No, our God-given response to Christmas is also the God-given response of the shepherds. “’Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.”
Tonight, we have come again to Bethlehem. God’s Word has taken us there so that by faith we can see the glory of the Lord in that child wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. By faith we can see Jesus, the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world whose death and resurrection Christmas makes possible. Now that we have seen in God’s Word Jesus the Savior born for us, let us make known what we have seen.
Dear friends, there are so many in our world who haven’t been to the manger. And that means they haven’t been to the cross. They haven’t been to the empty tomb. They don’t know the release from fear that Christ brings with His love and mercy. They don’t know the release from guilt and sin and condemnation that Christ’s forgiveness brings. These are people you know. You work with them. You play with them. You go to school with them. They are Jews and Muslims, or Hindus and Buddhists. They are people with absolutely no faith in anything at all. And they haven’t been to the manger, or the cross, or the empty tomb. They haven’t seen the glory of the Lord in the face of Christ. They are lost without faith in Him.
God’s Word challenges each of us tonight to respond to Christmas. That response is first one of thankfulness and joy for the gift of God to you, Jesus the Savior. That thankfulness and joy then takes the form of making known to anyone and everyone who will listen what we have seen and heard at the manger, at the cross, and at the empty tomb. So step back from whatever preparations for Christmas you have been making. Set aside in your mind all the things you have to do and let the Word of God fill you up with the good news of great joy that is for you and for all the people—a Savior has been born; He is Christ the Lord. How will you respond? Amen.