Our Christmas Gospel begins with taxes. Gee, the government wanted more taxes. Not much has changed. Perhaps Caesar Augustus wanted to raise the debt ceiling, and the Senate wanted to vote themselves a raise.
This seems like such an ordinary, boring way to start a story. After years of waiting, the dramatic story planned long before is revealed, and it begins with . . . taxes. Why would God begin this most wondrous, heaven-shattering story this way?
First of all, He does so to show that His Christ was born in ordinary history. This is no mythical god born in never-never land, once upon a time, long long ago in a galaxy far, far away. No, this is the real God invading and inserting Himself into what we thought was our history. Humans thought that the way it works is that God stays in heaven while we live our lives on earth, and He leaves us alone to go about our business. But that is not the God of the Bible. History is His, under His control, accomplishing His purposes. The purpose was hidden, but on Christmas we see the secret purpose revealed: God came into human flesh to be born as one of us, our Brother.
God used the registration for taxes as a way to bring Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Bethlehem. So God, secondly, can even make taxes into a good thing. That strains our ability to believe. Taxes, good? How could God transform something that we see as so twisted and corrupt into something noble? I could tell you what you probably know, that taxes are not evil in themselves, but there is an even bigger point here. God came to change the twisted and corrupt into something good and noble. He came to change us. Since Adam’s fall, we have all become evil, full of sin and guilt. Yet God came to be a new Adam, and create a new image into which we are reborn. He came into the world, innocent and incorruptible, so that we could have a second birth like His.
But let us move on to something more heavenly, more Christmassy, so to speak. We may not be thrilled with the report of taxes, but we love the news that the angels bring. They tell us, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.” We love these words, because they are straight from God, announcing the new age dawning with the birth of the Christ Child. Here pure light and life are announced, that shall never fade for us in an eternal kingdom of blessedness.
What exactly the angels said is hard to translate into English. Part of it could be rendered, “... on earth peace, goodwill towards men,” or it could go, “on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased,” or “those on whom His favor rests.”
Which one is right? Is it that God on Christmas was bringing peace and goodwill to all people? Or was He saying through the angels that His peace would rest on those whom He favored?
There is truth in both. Christ came as Man for all men. He took human flesh in such a way that He is the perfect representative of all people – whether male or female, young or old, of whatever race imaginable.
By becoming Man, Christ showed that He does not find being human a repulsive thing. He did not say, “Ewww, do I have to be a human being?” No, He counted it great joy to be one of us. This is the purpose of the ages that He embraced out of love for us. He was “Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.”
For all men, He became incarnate. To pay the price to atone for all sins, He took flesh that could be pierced, and blood that could be shed. So every man of every place can say, “Jesus, the Son of God, became my Brother.”
This is the reassurance of the Gospel, that no one has to wonder, “Was He born for me? Did He die for me?” The answer is always yes. For all, He came. For all, He died.
Although He came for all people, not all will receive Him. The gift He purchased by becoming Man will be rejected by many, although it was purchased for them. God’s love and sacrifice in Christ will be trampled by all who refuse to believe.
On some, God’s chosen elect, He will create faith through His Word. These will receive the gracious gift. They will enjoy eternity, not because of anything they have done, but because God’s favor rests upon them.
We, the chosen ones, have God’s peace. This is a peace beyond understanding, an objective fact that is not always felt in our easily troubled hearts. The peace is always with you. It is the peace that Christ purchased for you, the peace of knowing that your Brother is God’s own Son, and therefore all will be well with you. Christ takes care of His family, so He will take care of you. He has already purchased forgiveness and eternal life for you. He will not forget about you or let you slip through the cracks. You are His own.
The Father is pleased with you, as He is pleased with His Son, because He looks upon you exactly the same as He looks at Jesus. In ordinary, earthly families, you might hear a parent say, “Why aren’t you more like your brother?” But God the Father says, “You couldn’t be any more like your Brother Jesus. You look exactly the same to Me.” This is the mind-boggling love of the Father for us, that He counts every good thing in Christ in our favor. He sees none of our sinful shortcomings, which are vast and innumerable. Instead, He sees only purity and innocence, as of the purest Baby ever born.
So Christ came for all, yet only His select favored ones have His eternal peace.
At this point, you may be tempted to hear a little voice in the back of your mind say, “Am I really one of those on whom God’s favor rests?” Brothers and sisters, ignore that annoying voice. That is entirely the wrong question to ask.
The way to not be one of the favored ones is to reject His Word, reject His promise of the Baby, and reject the forgiveness. But that is crazy talk. Why would you reject the best presents ever given to anyone, anywhere? He has most sincerely offered them to you, and paid the ultimate price to make sure that all your sins are paid for. He even took your human flesh to be your Brother. Why would you reject this Son of God who considers you worthy to be family with Him?
So there is no lack of love in God. Our love falters. His has no limits. You cannot make yourself pleasing or favored in God’s eyes. But you don’t have to do anything. He has done it all. It is accomplished and perfected by His work on your behalf.
But simply listen to the angel. He did not only speak to the shepherds. His words have been recorded by Saint Luke to be passed down through thousands of years. As the angel said, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy that shall be to ALL people.” That’s you, and every single one of us. To US, the angel says, “Christ the Lord, the Savior, has been born. The glory of God is that He has become a human being, born of the Virgin, to offer His life for mankind. Peace is yours. The favor of God is yours, because in Christ He is pleased with you.”
In His Name, the God who is Man, the Shepherd of us sheep, and the Lamb who has been slain for us. Amen.
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