Sermon for Christmas Eve
We hear pretty much the same Scripture lessons every year at Christmas time, on Christmas Eve, and we even sing mostly the same hymns, rich in Scriptural texts and truth. That’s because there’s really nothing new to say. Just the same old things to keep repeating: the ancient prophecies about the birth of Christ, the actual, historical events surrounding His birth, and what it means for us poor sinners. We repeat the things we should never forget. We repeat the things that are worth repeating, and the story of Jesus’ birth is right at the top of that list of things, because it’s the story of how our fallen human race, surrounded by suffering and destined for death, was given the gift of a do-over, an alternate destiny, to be won for us by the Child born in Bethlehem.
The human race needed saving. We were all “the people who walked in darkness, who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,” as Isaiah wrote. Because whether it’s the land of Israel, or the Middle East, or Europe, or Africa, or America, every single human being who has ever been born was born ugly—ugly on the inside. Worse than ugly. Depraved. Godless. Wicked. Every time a mother gives birth, she gives birth to a tiny idol-worshiper who is precious and sweet on the outside, but hostile to God on the inside; absolutely innocent according to human law, but already guilty according to God’s holy standards; alive according to biological measurements, but dead in sins and trespasses as God measures things. As God Himself declared about the human race way back in Genesis 8, the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth. That’s because we bear the image, not of God the Father, but of our first father Adam—Adam after he fell into sin.
Tonight we celebrate the only birth in human history where that was not the case. The Child born of Mary bore the earthly image of His father, Adam—a human body and a human soul, just like the rest of us, so that He could be a true Substitute for human beings, a Second Adam who would not turn His back on God and sin against His commandments, as the first one did; but who, by virtue of His virgin birth and His conception by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, bore the spiritual image—of God His Father, so that the One who would one day die on the cross would bring with Him the eternal and infinite value of the Son of God, so that He might taste death for all of us, suffer death for all of us, and give us the right to become children of God. Because we’re not born that way. But Jesus was born that way, in order that we might be reborn that way.
As Paul wrote to Titus, that doesn’t happen by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of rebirth and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Christmas and the birth of Christ is directly connected to Baptism, where God the Holy Spirit offers us rebirth into Christ, the rebirth that joins us to the holy birth of the holy Child born of Mary, to the alternate destiny won for us by the Child born in Bethlehem, the destiny of eternal life that we don’t deserve instead of the eternal death that we do.
Glory to God in the highest, the angels sang. Why? Why do the angels give glory to God in the highest heavens at the birth of Christ? Because it’s to the praise of God’s glorious grace that He gave His Son to save sinful mankind. The God of the angels demonstrated just how good He, how praiseworthy He is as He stooped down to take on the flesh of the very creatures who had been rebelling against Him since the Garden of Eden. That’s how great He is. This is the God whom the angels gladly serve. And He had just shown, there in Bethlehem, how merciful He is, how kind and good He is, how devoted to mankind’s salvation He is. The Creator had joined Himself to the human race in order to save the human race. Glory to God in the highest!
And on earth peace, goodwill to men. The angels weren’t singing about peace among nations or about the goodwill of people doing good deeds for one another in their communities. They were telling us about the gift that God was giving to us in the Person of His Son: peace. As Micah prophesied, this One shall be peace. Because where Jesus is, there we have a reconciled God, a God who is not angry, a God who is not coming to destroy, but a God who is gracious and kind to sinners, for the sake of Christ, who would one day die for our sins on the cross. Where Jesus is, there is God’s goodwill to men.
Where is that peace and goodwill now? It’s still wrapped up in Christ Jesus, who dwelt among men for about 33 years, and now reigns at God’s right hand. What connection has He left us to Himself? He has promised to be with us always, to the very end of the age, not just anywhere, but in the preaching of His Gospel and in the holy Sacraments. So hear the Gospel again tonight: A Savior has been born to you. He is Christ, the Lord. Believe that, believe in Him, and you have Him as your Savior, as your Substitute, as your Redeemer from sin, from death, and from the devil.
That’s the story we hear over and over again at Christmas, and really, throughout the year. And we’ll keep hearing it and keep repeating it, because the way to peace, the way to joy, the way to heaven, the way to God begins and ends with the Babe who was once wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. Amen.