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Sermon for Christmas Eve
+ Luke 2:1-14 +
God has a message for you all tonight—a message to the whole world of men, but specifically to you, who are here on Christmas Eve, regardless of your motives or your intentions or your reason for coming. It’s a message that may well be familiar to you, and yet it has been sent out from heaven again, because it’s more than a bit of information to learn. It’s God reaching down from heaven to speak to you, to convict, to convince, to enlighten, and to comfort. His message is scattered throughout all the seven lessons you heard in our service, but we’ll focus on the Christmas Gospel from Luke 2.
God’s message first given through Luke the Evangelist takes us back in time some 2,017 years—or perhaps a few more—to the days of Caesar Augustus, the first real emperor of the Roman Empire, the very emperor for whom the Roman poet Virgil wrote the famous Aeneid some 20 years earlier. Caesar Augustus was the one who issued that decree that forced Joseph and Mary to leave Galilee and to journey south to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of Joseph’s family going all the way back to Ruth and Boaz, and their son Obed, and his son Jesse, and his son David, the great king of Israel. We know why they had to get to Bethlehem. Micah told us that in the lesson you heard tonight: because the Christ was to be born there. But no one had told Caesar Augustus that, nor did Mary or Joseph seem to have it mind. No, this was God working in history, behind the scenes, invisibly, turning the events of the world to get His Son born in just the right place, at just the right time—a message to the world that God is in control of everything.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born—the baby who had been miraculously conceived in the virgin Mary’s womb nine months earlier by the working of the Holy Spirit. He was born, so it seems, in a stable where animals were kept, and placed in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Let’s not blame the innkeeper. We are told of no malice on his part. If the hotel is full, the hotel is full. So the little town was making room for these travelers who were compelled by Roman law to return to their ancestral homes, and it happened to be a stable. Well, not “happened” to be. God saw to it that the circumstances of His Son’s birth were special. “Special” as in, humble, unattractive, uncomfortable, but also safe and sheltered. And memorable! Who can forget the manger which served as the royal cradle of God’s Son? A message to all that God did not send His Son into the world to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many, that the Father’s will was always to humiliate His beloved Son for our sake, that we, through Him, may be lifted up, not to earthly wealth, but to the heavenly riches of God’s favor and eternal life.
God then saw to it that shepherds would the first ones to know of this birth—shepherds, who were considered to be least in Jewish society. And that has a message in it, too. A message that God shows no favoritism, that God sent His Son into the world for the lowliest of men, even for you. A message which Jesus repeated many times in His ministry, the last shall be first and the first shall be last, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Or as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.
All those messages of God to the world are subtle and require the rest of God’s Word to make the messages clear. But the message of the angel, the word of God spoken by the angel to the shepherds and echoed down to us through the ages, couldn’t be clearer.
Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. The birth of Jesus is a message intended to drive out fear. It’s a good message, good tidings, of great joy, intended for all people.
Still, for as clear as the message is, the world has trouble hearing it, because, even though every single person desperately needs a Savior from sin, they don’t recognize it. People today have one of two messages pounded into them from the time they’re little children: either that nothing is their fault, and they deserve to have everything they want; or that everything is their fault, and no one cares for them at all. But both of those messages are false.
God made man in His own image, good and upright and just. But that was a long time ago, and early on, mankind turned away from God to make our own rules, to do what we wanted, and look where it has gotten us. Sin has infected everything. It’s real. It has consequences. And it’s not just something ugly to see in other people. Oh, no, not something to see in other people. It’s something to recognize and to despise in yourself, whoever you are. Everyone bears the blame for failing to acknowledge our Creator, for failing to worship Him as He deserves to be worshiped, and for failing to love our fellow man as He commands in His Word. That is our fault, and so we don’t deserve to have everything we want. What we deserve—all any of us deserves—is God’s wrath and punishment.
On the other hand, the demonic notion that no one cares for guilty sinners, least of all God? That idea couldn’t be dispelled any better than with the angel’s words to the shepherds. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Born to you. To a world made up entirely of guilty sinners, God came. God the Son, sent by God the Father, through God the Holy Spirit. He came as promised. He came as Savior. As Jesus would one day say, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” And so the angel attaches this name to the infant, Savior, Jesus. This is the one—the only One—to whom the name Savior has been attached. Nothing else in the world bears such a title. Nothing else and no one else is the Savior. Only the one who was born of Mary, who is Christ the Lord, who didn’t show up out of nowhere, but has a long history already behind Him the moment He’s born, a lineage going back to David, back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, back to Shem and Noah and Seth and Adam. But even further than that. For He is Christ, the Lord, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting, finally born so that He could grow up and die and so destroy death and purchase heaven for all men by His blood.
After announcing the birth of this Child, the heavenly host of angels couldn’t help but sing, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill to men. Not the peace and goodwill of “you’re going to have a wonderful life in this world,” but the peace and goodwill of “you have a God who cares for you this much, that He would enter your fallen race to suffer, not just with you, but for you, that you may become children of God.”
Let the praise of the angels be the praise of all God’s people on this Christmas Eve. And let it become the praise of those who have not been God’s people, but who have heard the message God has directed to you this night through a much humbler angel. The Savior, Christ the Lord, has been born. That makes today the day of salvation to all who hear and believe God’s message. Amen.