Luke 2:8-17 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Day)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 25, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text is from the Christmas Gospel recorded in Luke 2:
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.
The region surrounding Bethlehem was ideal for raising sheep. Not only was there good grazing land, but the hillsides contained numerous caves which could be used by shepherds for shelter. Furthermore, there was an excellent market in nearby Jerusalem for these sheep. Many of Bethlehem’s sheep were likely raised for sacrifice at the Temple. During the special festival days in Israel’s religious calendar, thousands of Jews would come to their holy city from all over the Roman Empire to offer sacrifices. Rather than transport their sacrificial lambs from distant homes, they would buy them in Jerusalem. By law, the sheep slated for sacrifice had to be without blemish or defect. Thus the shepherds in the region of Bethlehem kept close watch over their special sheep.
Imagine with me the joy of a Bethlehem shepherd at the birth of a perfect male lamb. We know how adorable baby sheep are. This one is perfect in every way. The soft bleating pleases our ears. The shepherd rejoices to add this lamb to his flock. It will receive his love and care and protection. He will lead it to green pastures and let it drink by still waters. He will laugh as it romps and plays with the other lambs. All the while, he knows that the day is coming when this little lamb will be sacrificed at the Temple for the sins of the people. This lamb, without spot or blemish, when it is a year old, will be a Passover Lamb.
What might it have been like to be a shepherd, raising lambs for sacrifice to God? While shepherding was considered a menial task, would it not have been an honor to serve God and God’s people by caring for the sheep that would one day be offered as a sacrifice of atonement to cleanse the sins of the people? Under God’s first covenant, this sacrifice was completely necessary to cover over the breach between God and His people caused by sin. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22 ESV). Yet, there must have been a sense of sadness to know that you were raising lambs whose purpose in life was to die on behalf of people, shedding its blood so that they might receive forgiveness from God.
On a crowded night in the village of Bethlehem, the City of David, 2000 years ago, THE Lamb of God was born. No, this Lamb was not to be found out with the flocks and the shepherds. This Lamb was found, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger because there was no room for Him in the inn. This Lamb was the firstborn son of Mary, a virgin from Nazareth, who had conceived the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. This Lamb’s name was Jesus, true God who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). His purpose in life was ultimately to die on behalf of all people, to suffer the punishment for their sins, and to win forgiveness and eternal life for the world by the shedding His blood.
What must it have been like for Mary and Joseph when the Bethlehem shepherds arrived and shared their message with them? “The angel of the Lord appeared to us and told us good news of great joy that is for people everywhere. We have come to see the Savior, Christ the Lord! And here He is, lying in a manger, just as the angel told us!” Luke tells us that Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
What thoughts would have gone through Joseph and Mary’s minds as, on the eighth day, they named their child Jesus, the name given to them by God through the angel? “He will save His people from their sins.” As they raised Jesus, the one John the Baptist would call the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” did they consider the words of Isaiah 53? “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. . . . he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.”
What would it have been like for Mary and Joseph to raise Jesus, the Savior of the world, who would give up His life as a sacrificial lamb for them and for all people? Did they feel the honor of serving God and God’s people by caring for the Son-of-God-Incarnate who would one day be offered on the altar of the cross for the sins of the people? Would they have experienced some of the feelings that the Bethlehem shepherds did as they watched a newborn lamb take its first steps, as the little lamb romped and played, as the lamb grew up, all the while looking to the lamb’s purpose, knowing what was to take place and that it was to die for sinful people?
The message of Christmas is that God loves you and me dearly, sinful people though we are. We are flawed, lacking the perfection that God demands. We are flawed in our relationship with God which is broken by our sinfulness. Satan has turned us against God. He has planted selfishness, envy, self-righteousness, pride, lust, and arrogance in us. So many people, including you and me at times, trudge off, sad and lonely, trying to keep cheerful by numbing our minds with meaningless things because we think we can solve our own problems and cover up our sins and failures to do good.
But He sent forth Jesus to be the once-for-all sacrificial Lamb for your sins and mine. Jesus Christ was born for us. As God’s perfect Lamb, Jesus took on Himself all our imperfections, all our blemishes, and all our flaws. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter for us. As Jesus hung on the cross and bore the sins of the world, yours and mine included, God turned His face from His only Son. He turned in horror from His beloved one. He abandoned His Son on the cross because He was bearing the unholiness of all people.
In this way, Jesus suffered the full punishment of hell for your sins and died in your place on the cross because God loves you dearly. “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed,” Paul says (1Cor. 5:7). The Child of Mary once laid in a wooden manger suffered death on the wood of the cross, shedding His blood to make you clean from all sin and unrighteousness. “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). By the blood of Jesus, you are forgiven. You are set free from sin, death, and Satan’s power. Covered in Christ’s blood and righteousness, there is nothing about you that God doesn’t like, nothing that is less than perfect in His eyes. Christ has been your Lamb, your substitute, taking your imperfections on Himself, and through faith, giving you His perfection and His holiness that makes you true children of God.
What joy filled the hearts of the shepherds that first Christmas as they heard the Good News and saw God’s promised Savior, the Lamb of God, lying in a manger! What joy filled the hearts of Mary and Joseph at this wondrous, miraculous birth! What joy the birth of Jesus gives to you and me! Celebrate, then, with the joy of the angels—“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!” Celebrate with the joy of the angelic hosts and the Church in heaven—“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). And celebrate with your brothers and sisters in Christ, with your families and friends, for to you is born a Savior, the true Lamb of God, who is Christ the Lord! Amen