As we hear about the angel of the Lord preaching to the shepherds, we may complain that we do not have angelic preachers. There is no glory of the Lord in this pulpit. This is no sinless messenger direct from the presence of the Most High.
But the shepherds do not receive the message with faith because it was an angel. They did not even regard it as the angel's message at all. They said, "Let us see this thing that the Lord has made known to us." The angel gets no mention.
The angel would never complain. The angel would say, if you ask him, that it is right for the shepherds to pay no attention to him. The messenger is nothing. The message and the God who sends it are everything.
Doctor Martin Luther preached concerning this text with these words: "Whoever does not receive the Word for its own sake will never receive it for the sake of the preacher, even if all the angels preached it to him. And he who receives it because of the preacher does not believe in the Word, neither in God through the Word, but he believes the preacher and in the preacher. Hence the faith of such persons does not last long. But whoever believes the Word does not care who the person is that speaks the Word, and neither will he honor the Word for the sake of the person; but on the contrary, he honors the person because of the Word. ... Godly faith ... cleaves to the Word, which is God Himself."
So Christmas has come, and the message of the incarnation has gone out to your ears. Will you hear, and will you receive it in faith? In other words, will you regard it as the word of a mere man, and judge that word based on your opinion of me? Or will you regard it as the Word from God Himself, and place your trust in this Word alone?
You see, the greatest temptation in this area is to be impressed by a preacher and his qualities. If he is kind, then you want to hear him. If he is generous and warm, then you like to attend his church. If he fits your ideas of what a preacher should be, then you listen to his message. This is a most dangerous temptation that draws many people away from God. They were never listening to God in the first place. They were only listening to a man, even if he happened to be preaching God's Word.
May God teach us to listen to Him, and not to men, no matter how good the men seem. Even if an angel from heaven should preach to us, may we judge the message by whether it is the Word of God, and by nothing else.
This is what faith is. Faith does not judge by works. It only judges by Christ. The angel preached Christ in a manger, and the shepherds eagerly heard and believed. When we hear Christ and Him crucified being pictured by words before us, may we eagerly hear and believe. For that is the true faith that triumphs in life and death, in hell and heaven, and nothing is able to overthrow it; because it rests upon nothing but the Word.
For the Word gives us Christ. He comes wrapped up in its pages as He once was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Christ is spoken to us. He comes in His Word to give us grace and peace and goodwill. He does not give these things in visions and miracles and the warmth of the human heart. No, He comes in a most unlikely place, in words spoken by a sinner.
The foolishness of preaching grates against our sinful flesh. Yet we are not here to please the flesh, but to put it to death and to be raised as a new Man in the image of Christ. This is what the Word does for us. It drowns the old Adam through repentance and faith, and puts the new man upon us through the Gospel of Jesus.
But if you are like me, your sinful flesh needs a lot of drowning. That nasty flesh keep coming up to the surface, still trying to lead me into sin and unbelief. What wretched creatures we are apart from Christ! For none at all would be saved unless He put this precious Word in our midst. If He did not speak to us constantly, then we would surely fall into darkness and death and the claws of the ancient dragon.
So the Spirit leads us to the Word and keeps us in it. Like Mary, "the Christian Church retains now all the words of God in her heart and ponders them." For when we study and ponder this mighty Word, we are holding Christ to us, as Mary held the holy Child close to her breast. Surely we all want this, to be close to Jesus and cling to Him tightly. But Christ has promised to be found where His Word is taught and preached, and where the Sacraments are administered. Therefore, he who would find Christ must first find the Church, where the Word and Sacraments are given to sinners.
Shall we stay away from Christ? Shall we prefer to stay in the cold fields and never visit the manger where Christ is? The shepherds might have said that God is everywhere, so they could stay in nature and enjoy His presence. But that is not a presence to save. God told them where He is to be found for grace and forgiveness, as He has also told you.
So if you want to know anything of Christ, you must not sit off in a corner, far from preaching and teaching, and trust your own heart to know what is true. Nor should you build a bridge to heaven by your own thoughts and emotions. No, you must go to the Church, attend to her and ask her what the truth is. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.
So the Church shows us her Lord. She shows us the Cross, and the Empty Tomb, and the Lord who ascends to the right hand of glory. She shows us His washing of new birth. She shows us His holy meal. Here is Christ. Here is knowledge of Him and faith and forgiveness in His Name.
When we are well-taught by Mother Church, then we are well-equipped to be fellow confessors of the faith. For one of the fruits of this faith that we see in the shepherds is that they freely confessed and spoke the Word that was spoken to them concerning the Child. This is the highest work of the Christian life. In this we are to risk our body and life, our wealth and honor.
We can only make such extravagant risks when we have received everything, and when we are perfectly safe. Only Christ can do such things. Only He can give life that none can take away, even though they lay our bodies in the dust. Only Christ can promise a perfect life in glory, where the Lord shall shine upon us. Only He could make us secure, since He has done all things for us, beginning at His incarnation and birth, and leading to Calvary. Only Christ could take human flesh in order to die. Only He could redeem us from sin and death. He has done this and finished it all.
So rest in safety with Him. Confess boldly the God who is Man. Speak out the Word that you received, not because you had a good human teacher, but because God is your Teacher whenever He speaks His Word.
In His Name alone, with the Father and the Spirit, one God. Amen.
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