The vast, historic plan of the Almighty God plays itself out in the earthly drama of an unwed pregnancy.
In those days, what we call engagement was seen as a binding contract. Solemn promises were made, and Joseph and Mary were considered husband and wife. Yet they did not come together yet or share a home until the wedding night.
After the solemn vows, but before the wedding day, Mary is found to be pregnant. This circumstance usually causes shouts of scandal and shame. Mary, who had been known as a young woman of pure virtue, now seems to be a loose woman.
Joseph, at first, did not know that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and that her Child was the Son of God. Joseph did not want to continue with the marriage. Given the facts as he knew them, he was correct. Yet the facts were not as he knew them.
So Joseph was going to proceed to divorce Mary, breaking the betrothal. Yet Joseph is compassionate, and decides to do it quietly, so as to spare Mary as much scandal as he can.
But the Lord steps in. He sends His angel to give the message to Joseph. Now Joseph knows as well. The Savior from sin resides in the Virginís womb. Already as a Child in His mother, He is Immanuel, God with us.
Here is our salvation taking place. The Blessed Virgin conceives and bears a son. He is conceived by no man, but by the Holy Spirit, as we confess in the Creed. He is truly Godís Son, yet also truly the Virginís Son.
He is one of us, living our life, experiencing the same things as we do. He is fully human, so that He can bear our load of sin and be our Savior. For only one of the sons of Adam can atone for all the sins of Adamís line. Only Jesus, Son of Mary, can be our representative before the Father. He was conceived in Mary in order to begin to fulfill the whole law of God in our place. He was born so that we could be born again.
So the eternal, immortal God lay in the manger on this night. The Creator slumbered in the midst of beasts that He had created. He who had no beginning began His human life in Bethlehem, so that we could have new life.
We may ask: What was wrong with the old life? Many people in the world would think there is nothing actually wrong with humanity. Many say: We are just fine, and any God who would condemn us is too judgmental for our taste.
But there is something very wrong with our human lives. We were created in the beginning in the image of God. We should be born in holiness and righteousness, in a perfect relationship with God and everyone around us. But it does not take much observation to realize that we are not in harmony with everyone around us. We may think that we are in a good relationship with God, but usually that is said when people decide for themselves what they feel a relationship with God is. God does not agree with such sentiments, as His Word clearly declares.
No, we are not born in holiness and righteousness. As the Psalmist King David sang, ďBehold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.Ē These words are true of all men. We were conceived in the most scandalous and shameful fashion. We were born in the corruption and decay of sin. We were conceived in the image of fallen mankind. We were born spiritually dead.
Our births, the most scandalous of all, are about as opposite as you can get from the birth of Christ. Although people who did not understand surely whispered about Mary that her pregnancy was shameful, instead it was the most pure and glorious birth in history. By God the Holy Spirit He was conceived. He did not inherit a sinful flesh from His Father, since God was His Father. Nor was His humanity corrupted by His mother. Although she was surely as sinful as all of us, yet God overshadowed her. By His holiness He took humanity into the Godhead, without sin. By His grace, He conceived His Son to be perfect Man, pure and inviolate, overflowing with goodness and love.
We, imperfectly conceived and born in sin, overflow with impurity and transgression.
We often lack compassion. Saint Joseph, our example in the text, shows us a sympathetic heart that did not want to crush poor Mary. But we sinners do not always so love. Often, we kick people when they are down. Often, we whisper behind their back. Often, we take joy in our hearts when others fall.
Sometimes, we perform shameful and scandalous acts. They are sometimes secret acts that no one sees, although we cannot always hide our sins from others.
For we do not want to admit before others what sinners we are. We do not even want to admit to ourselves what sinners we are. Our shamefulness runs deep, to the very core of our being. Because we are conceived and born in sin, our human nature is corrupted. The image of God in us is shattered beyond any human repair.
Yet God our Lord has the power to repair the image. For this reason He sent His Son into our human flesh. He, by His absolute holiness, acted out righteousness by His every thought, word, and deed. Then He offered up His entire life as a sacrifice without any blemish or spot. As He was born in the midst of animals and laid in the manger they ate from, so He was born to be a sacrifice as the animals of the Old Covenant. As He was visited by shepherds who kept watch over their flocks by night, so He was born to be the Lamb of God, whose Blood was shed for our redemption.
So Christmas is the Day when the Lord of all stepped forth from His pure and kingly hall, as the hymn writer wrote. He came to begin His mighty work, to achieve the salvation of wretched sinners. This is His compassion, His sympathy with the shame of our lowly state.
Yet what if we decide that we do not need a Savior? What if we think that we are not that bad? Perhaps flawed, perhaps prone to mistakes, but surely, we may think, we are not wretched and lowly.
If that is our attitude, then Christ and Christmas will mean little. The lights and the presents will be only external trappings intended to create a feeling inside us. Goodwill toward men will be only what we can muster for ourselves, or what some watered-down deity from our imagination feels towards us.
But the true Deity, the God who became Man, is here today. Let us be humble and repentant before Him. We truly rejoice with great joy at His presence, for He has come among us again, the true Immanuel. God is with us to give us His redeeming Word. He comes among us with His true Body and Blood to eat and to drink. The Savior born in Bethlehem has completed His course and achieved His victory for us. He pours out today His gifts in this house, better than any Santa Claus distributing gifts from a sack. The gifts of this house are eternal, because they give salvation and life that does not end.
For all who repent and believe on this Son from heaven, His life is yours. He gives Himself freely to you. New birth is yours, pure and immaculate, in His Blood. He has exalted your human state by His redemption, so that now you are the sons of God, in the image of the pure Son, the Child of the Virgin.
And His Spirit, who has given you new birth, keep you in this faith and repentance. Amen.
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