Sermon for Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-7 + Micah 5:2-5 + Jeremiah 23:5-6 + Titus 3:4-7 + Matthew 1:18-25 + Luke 2:1-20
We’ve come together tonight to celebrate the birth of Christ, to marvel at God’s Nativity. I’m sure you’ve seen the Nativity scenes that are scattered around Las Cruces, or pictures of Nativity scenes from around the world. Some of you have little Nativities in your homes or outside your homes. Maybe some year we’ll have one here at our church. The Scripture lessons you heard this evening paint the Nativity Scene in vivid colors for us. From Isaiah to Micah, to Jeremiah to St. Paul, to St. Matthew to St. Luke—all the prophets and apostles set up the pieces of God’s Nativity, and, more importantly, they tell us what it means.
The truth is, this Nativity scene was prepared and designed by God Himself from all eternity. Every piece, every detail carved as if by a master craftsman. It begins with a virgin mother named Mary, carrying a child who was conceived by the Holy Spirit of God. Then there’s the godly husband named Joseph, of the house and line of David. Mary and Joseph’s ancestry, their family history, where they lived in Nazareth, their meeting, their betrothal prior to Christ’s conception—all of it was arranged by God in preparation for His Nativity.
The place of God’s Nativity—the little town of Bethlehem—is certainly no accident. It’s where the Christ had to be born, according to Micah’s prophecy. And what brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem from Nazareth? In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Think about that—all the historical events that had to take place from the beginning of the world to put the nation of Israel where it was on the map, to preserve Israel as a nation through many wars and insurrections and exile, to place the Romans in command of the Empire, to get the Roman Emperor Augustus to issue that decree that would place Mary and Joseph at just the right place, at just the right time for the Child to be born, for the Nativity to be set in place.
It was no tragedy that Mary and Joseph found no room in Bethlehem’s crowded inn when they arrived. God the Father provided just the right place for Mary to give birth, in a humble setting where there was a manger. God’s Nativity included a manger, a feeding-trough for animals. It wasn’t a bed fit even for an earthly king, much less for the King of kings, and yet it foreshadowed beautifully the earthly life of humiliation that God chose for His Son, the intentional hiding of Christ’s glory and divinity, so that He might truly dwell among us as one of us, so that He might fulfill all righteousness for us and truly be THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
So Mary gave birth to the Baby—who still didn’t have a name, by the way, even though His name was planned from eternity and foretold to Mary and Joseph. Like all Jewish baby boys, He would receive His name a week later, on the day of His circumcision. For now, Mary wrapped her beloved, nameless Son, the Son of God, in swaddling cloths and placed Him in the manger. And the basic Nativity scene was in place.
But a good Nativity also includes a few shepherds, and at least one angel, because it was the angel who really spelled out the meaning and the importance of that Baby’s birth for the first time. He appeared on that dark night to the shepherds and drove out the darkness with the brilliant light of the glory of the Lord, because the true Light which gives light to every man, as St. John says, had finally come into the world.
Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This is the meaning of God’s Nativity, and you don’t dare miss it. The Nativity—Christmas Eve—is not about cute displays or pageants or parties. It’s not about traditions or nostalgia. It’s not even about family. It’s about that family, the one God placed in Bethlehem on that night over 2,000 years ago. It’s about that family and how the Child born to that family was born to be a blessing to you and your family. Because the good news of the birth of Mary’s Child wasn’t just for the shepherds. It was for “all people,” as the angel said. And the news of His birth is meant to bring great joy to all people, because of who He is and what He came to do, which is all summed up in the angel’s words: He is a Savior. He is the Christ. He is the Lord.
His birth is the gift of a good and gracious God to a world made up of sinners only, the gift of God With Us, Emmanuel, which is why the whole heavenly host of angels also came down from heaven and sang, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill to men. But the true nature of that Gift is even more astonishing than the birth of God, because the tender Nativity scene would eventually give way to another more gruesome scene of that same Savior, Christ the Lord, hanging on a cross. God sent His Son into the world as a baby, as one of us, to grow up here, to live here, to die here upon a cross, and by His death to make full atonement for the sins of man.
And now, through the words of the angels and the prophets and apostles, as they are preached to you tonight and to people everywhere who hear this Gospel, through the preaching of God’s Nativity, He calls out to you and to men everywhere, Do not be afraid. Let there be peace between God and men. Repent of your sins, and believe the good news, that God gave His Son into this world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved, that you all might be saved, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, through Holy Baptism, the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
There’s no room for any kind of superficial Christianity here. If you celebrate the birth of Christ with a nice Nativity scene in your home, if you come to church on Christmas Eve but then go right back to your sin to live in it, if you go right back to *not* hearing the Word of Christ or ignoring the Word of Christ, then you don’t really celebrate Christmas at all, not like the angels did, not like the shepherds did, not like Mary and Joseph did, with awe and thanksgiving and faith. Then for you the Nativity has become nothing more than a worthless tradition, and by such unbelief, you will lose out on the gift of salvation that Christ came to bring.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. God has sent word to you again this night of His grace and mercy, and His desire for all men to be saved by faith in His Son. God has set up His Nativity again for you tonight in the preaching of the Gospel, so that you may rejoice in His gift to the world, so that you may benefit from it and be saved by it and pass it on to your children and to your children’s children; and so that, as Christians, you may have the peace that surpasses all understanding, so that you may have joy in your homes all year round, not because you have a Christmas tree or because you’re surrounded by family and friends, but because you have the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. He has been given to you as a gift, as the Gift. And having the gift of Christ, you will also be given the strength to face the darkness of this world, whether it’s the darkness of persecution, or of loneliness, or even the darkness of death. Because just as God arranged all of history to set His Nativity in place, so God has arranged all the pieces of history so that you should hear of His Nativity, and He will continue to arrange the rest of this world’s future so that you may be kept safe, through faith, from sin, death, and the power of the devil. For to us a Child is born. To us a Son is given. Merry Christmas! Amen.