Sermon for Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-7 + Titus 2:11-14 + Luke 2:1-20
God used human angels called Prophets to deliver messages to the Old Testament people of Israel. You heard Isaiah’s words a little while ago announcing 700 years before it happened that “unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given.” Powerful words, but words that were, at that time, pointing to the distant future.
During the season of Advent we listened as the heavenly spirit-creatures called angels delivered God’s message to Zechariah and Mary and Joseph that God’s Son would soon be born. Soon. Soon.
Finally. Finally tonight we hear the Christmas angels their great glad tidings tell. Not, “Christ is coming,” not “help is on the way,” not “Someday God will come to your aid,” but “there is born to you this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
“This day” was a real day, a real date on the calendar of history. The fact that we don’t know the exact date of “this day” doesn’t matter in the least. What matters is that it was a real day, not a mythical day or a fictional day or a spiritual day. There was a day in world history, roughly 2016 years ago, when a real angel appeared to real shepherds in a real place on the other side of the world from us, with a birth announcement of the real baby boy who was really God With Us, Immanuel.
The fact that God made sure to have this birth announcement written down for us and preserved for us and proclaimed to us these 2000+ years later means that God has us, has you in mind with this angelic message, too. The Holy Spirit still speaks through these words to call you to faith, to teach you about your God.
And what does He teach? Listen again to the angel’s words.
The first words out of the mouth of this angel, and of most angels in the Biblical accounts, have to be “Do not be afraid,” because when human beings encounter real angels, it’s a scary thing. Not only that, but the glory of the Lord shone around those shepherds, too, and whenever that glory of the Lord shows up in Scripture, it’s terrifying for people, because the glory of the Lord is so bright that it reveals…everything that’s in a man. And the cold hard truth is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
But the angel says to these shepherds, Do not be afraid. Whatever sins you have committed, whatever doubts and fears and worries fill your heart, whatever hardships and tragedies weigh you down, do not be afraid, because why? For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. Good tidings of great joy…what could it be? What would be the good tidings that would make your heart leap for joy? Good tidings! You’re getting all the presents you wanted for Christmas! No, not that. Good tidings! Your job is secure. Your bank account is overflowing. No, not that. Good tidings! All wickedness and evil and hatred and immorality have been wiped off the face of the earth! No, not that either. Good tidings! Your relationships are all healed. Your family problems are fixed. Your health problems are gone. All the tests came back negative. No, no, not any of that. And if those are the things you rely on for true joy and happiness, well…no wonder so many people have to create this artificial, superficial, empty celebration called “Christmas in America.” They dress up their houses and turn up the music and the drink and make up touching stories in order to forget the real story, the cold hard reality of mankind’s sin, of other people’s sins, and of their own sin and its horrifying consequences in the world.
But for those who are ready to face reality rather than forgetting about it, for Christians, and also for those who would become Christians, the angel brings glad tidings of great joy that will be for all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Born to you. Now, it’s one thing to receive a birth announcement about a friend’s baby or an acquaintance’s baby or a distant relative’s baby. Good for them. And it’s one thing to hear that a baby has been born to the virgin Mary. Good for her. But hear the angel’s words. Born to you. What? Born to the shepherds? Yes, but not just to the shepherds. Born to the Jews? Yes, but not just to the Jews. If you have human flesh and human blood, then this Child was born to you. He is your Brother. Whether you acknowledge Him or not, whether you believe in Him or not, He is your Brother and a Son of the human race, a Son born for the human race, a perfect Child to stand in for imperfect people.
And listen to how the angel describes this Child born to you. Savior. A Savior has been born to you. A real Savior to save you from your real enemies. From sin. From death. From the power of the devil.
Born to save you from sin by living a sinless life in your place and by bearing the sin of mankind and suffering the wrath and displeasure of God so that you might have His righteousness, and God’s favor and forgiveness for free.
Born to save you from death by dying for sins, once for all, and rising from the dead so that all who believe in Him will conquer death, too.
Born to save you from the power of the devil by stepping between you and devil and shielding you with His righteousness. You think the devil has any power over those whom God has chosen? Whom God has united to His Son through faith?
Never again. For a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord. Christ, the Anointed One, Christ, the promised offspring of the woman, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of Judah and of David. Christ, the theme of the Old Testament and of history itself, who is both true man and true God, the Lord Himself, the infinite One, the Creator, He who is and who was and who is to come. The Almighty.
You’ll find Him, the angel told the shepherds, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Really? A God who not only joins Himself to our humanity, but who sees to it that, when His Son is born, His first bed is a dirty, smelly, cruddy feeding trough for animals? But that’s the kind of God we have—the kind who comes to us in meekness and humility, who comes to suffer with us, and to suffer for us. Isn’t that the kind of God you want for Christmas?
No wonder the angels sing for joy in their service to this God. Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men. Rejoice again on this Christmas Eve and sing together with the angels and with the saints and with the multitude of the heavenly host. Glory to God, whose highest glory is in His grace, in His willingness to descend to the lowest place and to show favor to those who don’t deserve His favor. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Peace is in a place. Here is your peace treaty with God, born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. Here is God’s favor and goodwill toward men, wrapped up in this baby.
You have Him, but no longer a baby. You have Him, but no longer in a manger. You have Him, now all grown up, crucified, risen and ascended into heaven and ready to come again to make all things new. But until then, you have your Brother sitting at the right hand of God and ruling over all things for the good of His Church. You have Him, the Savior born to you, in this Gospel that you’re hearing again tonight. You have Him, Christ the Lord born to you, in the Sacrament of the Altar. And so we gather around Him here and now as He makes Himself present with us in His Word. We gather around Him who is our peace—real peace, we sing for joy—real joy, and, as the angels themselves have told us, because this child was born to us, we have nothing to fear. Amen.