Sermon for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018

Luke 2:19 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Eve)

“We’ve Heard This Before”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 24, 2018

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

Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

          Last Tuesday I once again had the pleasure of leading the worship service at Parkway Pavilion nursing care facility. Naturally, the service theme was “Christmas.” We sang several of the beloved hymns of Christmas just like we are doing here today/tonight. We heard the Christmas Gospel from Luke 2, “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 cloths 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 great 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 cloths 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!’ 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’” (Lk. 2:6-15 ESV).

          Then it was it time for the sermon. I told the worshipers gathered that Christmas was only one week away and, for a preacher, that’s not good. It is not good because, at Christmas, we hear the same Biblical text year after year after year. Whether we are reading it from our Bibles, Christmas storybooks, or watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, we know the account of the birth of Jesus. There’s no surprise to it. There’s no plot twist. Just the same “we’ve all heard this before” Christmas story. And for the preacher, that’s not good. How do you proclaim the message of Christmas again, one more time, in a way that the people find engaging? How do you preach the Christmas story in a way that your hearers find it relevant without the silent groans in their head, “we’ve heard this before”? For us, then, who know the Biblical account of Christmas and the birth of Jesus which we hear every year, how do we get away from the mentality of “we’ve heard this before, ho-hum, hum-ho”?

          Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt.” I wonder if a version of this happens with us regarding the texts of Scripture that we have come to know so well. I don’t believe that we have “contempt” for God’s Word in the form of hatred for it, but rather “contempt” in the sense that it simply is no longer important. If I asked you to say the Lord’s Prayer as quickly as possible, you could do it. You wouldn’t even have to think about the words since they would just roll off your tongue. But does that happen when we actually pray the Lord’s Prayer? Do we fail to take those God-given words to heart and to pray them from the heart rather than from our heads via rote memory? Is this perhaps how we might receive the God-given account of the birth of His One-of-a-Kind Son in human flesh? (Read quickly without emotion:) “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” (Lk. 2:1-6 ESV). Ho-hum, hum-ho. Been there, done that.

          The words can just roll off our tongues whether they are the words of Luke 2, Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed. We fail always to think about the texts that we are so familiar with that we end up, in a very real way, disregarding them as significant or important for our lives in the here-and-now. What can move us, then, away from the attitude that we’ve heard all this before? Why, the very text of God’s Word itself!

          Now then, there is Mary, at the end of a very long nine-months—from the message of Gabriel announcing to her that the Son of God would be made flesh in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit until the time the shepherds had departed from them to share the Good News of the birth of the Savior of the world. And look what the Lord reveals in His Word that she does. She “treasured up all these things” and “pondered them in her heart.” One commentator suggests that what Mary treasured in her heart was that the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, was the God-given sign of the Christ, whose birth signals glory in heaven and peace on earth. Mary carefully kept in mind and preserved in her memory the Word of God through the angel Gabriel, the Word of God shared with her by the shepherds who received it from an angel of the Lord and the whole heavenly army. This is the work of God the Holy Spirit in her. He brought God’s Word of promise to her that first Christmas even as by His overshadowing power the Spirit had placed the Word-made-flesh within her womb so that Jesus would be born as our Lord and Savior.

          Christmas Eve, then, can be a time for us also to stop what we are doing for a moment. It’s a time to pause from all of our Advent preparations, a time to set aside the gifts and the giving, the decorations and lights, the cookies and the goodies. Today/tonight is a time to carefully keep in mind God’s Word of promise in Jesus, pondering with heartfelt thought about “all these things.”

          What are “these things” for us? They are the incarnation, that God the Son became fully human by the power of the Spirit in Mary’s womb. He was born in Bethlehem, His first bed a manger. The Son of God “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of people” (Phil. 2:7). I’ve used the illustration before, but it bears repeating. Author C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, Mere Christianity, “Did you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life? Well, suppose you could really have brought them to life. Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man. It would involve turning the tin into flesh. And suppose the tin soldier did not like it. He is not interested in flesh; all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt. . . . He will not be made into a man if he can help it. What you would have done about that tin soldier I do not know. But what God did about us was this. The Second Person [of the Trinity,] God the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular color, speaking a particular language, weighing so many [pounds]. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.”

          We treasure and ponder that it was “for us” that the Son of God humbled Himself and became flesh and blood. His love compelled Him to take our place as a man under God’s Law which we have all failed to keep. In our place, Jesus kept all of God’s commandments perfectly. What He accomplished in His perfect life He gives you and me the credit for, just as if we had done so ourselves. Then in a great exchange, having given to us His righteousness, holiness, and perfection, Jesus took our sins and failures to fear, love, and trust in God, all our failings to love our neighbors, as if they were His sins. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8-9).

          Claiming our sinfulness and rebellion against God as His own, Jesus took them all the way to the cross. Nailed upon the cross, Jesus bled and suffered our hell and the punishment of God’s wrath in our place so that we might not ever experience it. Jesus died for us so that we might live forever with our sins completely forgiven. “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7 ESV). And you know what that means. By God’s grace through saving faith in Jesus, you are made holy. You are right with God. He is not angry with you. Nothing can separate you from Him and His love for you in Jesus. Eternal life is yours. The proof is in your Baptism where you were first marked with the sign of the holy cross upon your forehead and upon your heart. The water and the Word washed away your sins and gifted to you eternal life in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That gift of faith is regularly nurtured through the hearing of the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And the very Savior who took on human flesh and blood, who was born of the Virgin Mary, who died on the cross, rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven comes to you in His incarnate body and blood with the bread and wine. In Holy Communion, Christ, the God-Man, comes to you, truly present with His body and blood, and gives you the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of your Baptismal faith.

          All this we know and believe because of the Words and Promises of God in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. God the Holy Spirit brings us these Words and Promises so that we might hear them over and over again, and in hearing them, we treasure them and ponder them as the gifts of God to us that they truly are. Yes, we’ve heard all this before! And thanks be to God that we will hear it again and again! They are His Words of life and salvation to you, His people, through which He delivers to you saving faith in Jesus, daily granting you the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation!

          I don’t know how I’m going to proclaim the message of Christmas again, one more time, in a way that the people find engaging. They’ve all heard it before. Perhaps this year they can pause together, hear the Word of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior, and along with Mary, treasure up all these things, pondering them in their hearts. Then, as they go on their way with sins forgiven and the new life of faith in Christ, they might rejoice and praise God for all the things they have heard this day/night. Amen.

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