IN NOMINE JESU
"When all was still, and it was midnight, Your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne." These words are found in the apocryphal book of the Wisdom of Solomon and are the words to the antiphon for the Introit at a Christmas Eve midnight service. In a few moments we will pray these words as well. These words sum up what happened on that holiest of nights some 2,000 years ago. This almighty Word descended from the royal throne and came to His people as one of us, "and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14), the Word who was with God, who was God, who is God, and who forever shall be God. This is the same God who sent His angels out into the fields, where the shepherds were keeping watch over their flock by night. This is a mystery far too great for us to comprehend, but it is one so great that it deserves celebration. The shepherds thought so, too. They heard the message the herald angels sang, "There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger" (vv. 11-12). Then the heavens opened up, and a multitude of the heavenly host appeared—thousands of angels—and they sang the Gloria in Excelsis: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (v. 14). The heavenly choir announced the Word of the Lord, the Word Incarnate, has come to His people. Tonight we are gathered here to hear of the Incarnate Word who was prophesied about and then announced in His spoken Word. We do this one night a year, and tonight is that night. This night is different from all other nights.
This was the main question asked in the Jewish meal of the Passover Seder: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" This was no ordinary meal, for they ate different foods than their usual foods, reminding them of their slavery in Egypt and their subsequent freedom. So also Christmas Eve is a time for us to remember our slavery to sin and our freedom from its curse, won by this One who once lay in a manger. This night is different from all other nights because it is the one night we look at our Lord as the Babe that He was in Bethlehem on that silent and holy night. This night is different from all other nights, for this is the one night we celebrate our God in diapers. There He was, helpless as every baby is, not very God-like but very baby like. We were born with such helplessness as well. This means that Christ came into this world as one of us. He took on human flesh. Christ, the Word-become-flesh, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, descended from His royal throne and made the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary sacred space. An expectant virgin mother, giving birth in a stable for there was no room in the inn—this night most definitely is different from all other nights.
This night is different from all other nights, for to us a Savior is born, and His Name is JESUS, meaning "YHWH saves," for He has come to save us from our sins. He has come for you. He has come to save you from your sins, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. He has come to set you free from the slavery of sin. He has come from that little town of Bethlehem in His flesh to this little congregation called Zion in His Word to announce to you that He has come to take your sins away and to remove the curse of sin from you, which He has done by His death and resurrection. The One who once lay in a manger and cooed would hang from a cross and die…for you! This night is different from all other nights, for tonight marks a new chapter in the story that began in Genesis, continued through the Four Gospels—from His birth to His crucifixion, death and resurrection—through this holy night and to the end of time.
In the Passover Seder, the Jews recalled their slavery in Egypt. In a few days the Church will, in her remembrance of the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, recall the flight of Mary, Joseph, and the toddler Jesus into Egypt, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, 'Out of Egypt I called My Son'" (Mt. 2:15b). Our heavenly Father called His Son out of Egypt to redeem the lost sheep of Israel…and to redeem us. God called His Son to set us free from sin's curse, that we would have eternal life with Him. The Jews ate bitter herbs in the Seder to remember the slavery of their ancestors. In the Lord's Supper we eat His body and drink His blood, in remembrance of our Lord's holy, bitter, innocent sufferings and death for the forgiveness of our sins and which set us free from the curse of condemnation, for "there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1a).
On that holy night, the manger was sacred space, for God the Son was there. The stable was filled with His presence, for where the Lord is present, there He brings His holiness into it. Christ's holiness filled the womb of His mother. It filled the stable. It filled Calvary's holy mountain, for there the Lamb of God was sacrificed on the altar of the cross. Christ's holiness now fills the heavenly courts. It fills this His house. It fills your body, a temple of the Holy Spirit. It fills you by virtue of your Baptism, whether you became baptized as a babe in stature or as a babe in the faith, to mark you as His, for, when He descends from His royal throne again on the Last Day, He will come and gather you and all the faithful to Himself. But tonight—and every night—we get to give thanks for the gifts He came into this world that night to bring: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation, for this night is different from all other nights, thanks be to God! In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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