The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Tonight we pull out all the stops and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. For those of you who don’t know, the last few weeks we, as a congregation, have spent our Wednesday evenings together focusing on how this birth of God’s Gospel promise in the flesh was brought about through some very unexpected ways and some very dysfunctionally flawed and sinful people, beginning in the Garden of Eden until finally coming to fruition in the manger in Bethlehem. It is amazing to think how God works. If you look at Jesus’ family tree, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden, we find a pedigree chocked full of murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, liars, thieves, and all other kinds of sinners. Jesus had a lot of skeletons in His closet. These are the people God used to bring that Gospel promise—a promise which He first made in the Garden of Eden—into the flesh, bone, and blood that is Jesus Christ.
And even as we examine all the events and circumstances surrounding Christ’s nativity, we still find so many flaws. It’s not the beautiful, perfect Hallmark version that everyone tends to imagine and gravitate towards. Jesus is born to a lowly teenage virgin girl. Her fiancé, a hard-working carpenter, finds out his bride-to-be is pregnant (and he’s not the daddy), and he resigns himself to the fact that he needs to divorce her. Can you blame him? God intervenes and prevents this, but Jesus is born into this dysfunction and mistrust. This is how God works the plan.
We could also talk about how Jesus was born in a meager livestock stall, complete with the livestock. He wasn’t born in a fancy hospital. He wasn’t even born in His own home. The Savior of the world is essentially born homeless! The King of kings is born as a lowly subject under Roman rule in the Promised Land, which at that time, was occupied and overrun by the pagan Romans. This Prince of Peace is born under the heavy-hand and bloody sword of a pagan empire that excelled in bloodshed and warfare. He’s born when Caesar is levying taxes against everyone under his rule. Think about that. God used government taxation in order to get the lowly dysfunctional expecting couple to leave their meager surroundings in Nazareth and travel south to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of Joseph. Nobody with a sane mind has ever enjoyed being taxed, and yet Jesus’ birth, as we still hear tonight, is forever associated with Caesar’s taxation. In terms of association, it’s like being born on September 11th. This was God’s good plan.
We could talk about Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, which was by no means a bustling metropolis. Bethlehem made Mansfield look like New York or Los Angeles in comparison. Not a whole lot going on in Bethlehem. God’s plan didn’t include a noble birth in a noble place like Rome or Athens or Cairo or any of the other epicenters of culture and education and commerce. The first visitors to the Christ child? His first visitors are not the top-tier world leaders and celebrities, all coming to welcome the King of kings and Lord of lords into the world. Nope. His visitors aren’t even close family or friends, but a couple of nomadic shepherds—gypsies—and they didn’t even count in terms of the taxation census being taken by Caesar Augustus. Let me say that again. They weren’t even counted when it came to taxation! How much lower can you get?! The government didn’t even bother with trying to squeeze taxes out of them! They didn’t count. And yet…God fills the skies with angelic hosts to let these nameless nobodies know that they counted with Him. God so loved even them that He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to fulfill His promise to deliver them from sin, death, and the grave. Of all the people in the world to hear of the promise being kept, God tells the lowest of the low first, and He does so in grand, angelic fashion. This was all part of God’s plan.
And here’s the thing: We could talk about all these things, and we could still wind up missing the point of this evening’s celebration. Why did God command that Mary’s baby be named “Jesus”? Why did God send Jesus to be born of a woman? Answer: To save us from our sins. God sent His only-begotten Son in the flesh in order to save all of us who wear Adam’s flesh. The name “Jesus” tells the whole story of why He came to this earth. “He will be named ‘Jesus’ because He will save His people from their sin.”
Talk about missing the point? “Jesus is the reason for the season” is the popular mantra this time of year, but so many who champion this mantra fail to draw the connection to the whole reason Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus came to make full payment for each every sin for all time, paying that redemption price in full with His own flesh, bone, and blood; an all-redeeming sacrifice that He made of Himself on the altar that was His cross. This [the crucifix] is why the Father gave His only-begotten Son.
Don’t get me wrong. We can and certainly should point to the Nativity of Jesus and joyfully profess, “Here is God’s Promise in the flesh! Here is God keeping His Gospel promise!” But…this is only half the story. Where does God’s Gospel promise of redemption and salvation find fulfillment: in the Nativity or on Calvary; in the manger or on the cross? Folks: The Nativity isn’t the end of the story. It’s certainly part of our salvation story, but it’s not the whole story, nor is it a separate story, as if the cute little baby and the crucified man have nothing in common other than sharing the same name and the same mom. No! The Nativity of Jesus is the first step in a long and purposeful journey to Calvary…for us and our redemption. The peace that the angelic host sang about on that first Christmas finally finds its fulfillment and is only finally recognized in the wounds of Jesus, which He Himself held out to His disciples on the first Easter Sunday, showing them His wounds and declaring, “Peace.”
I’m convinced that this is why Jesus and His ministry was and still is rejected by so many people, even some who dare to call themselves “Christian.” It doesn’t fit the mold. It’s not what we’re expecting. It’s not what we’re looking for. No one would ever draw the plan up this way, and it doesn’t matter if we start back in the Garden of Eden with our sinful first parents or if we focus in specifically on the birth, life, and death of Jesus. No one would ever draw the plan up this way…and yet this is how God works. This is our celebration tonight.
Take a moment and close your eyes and let your faith see. Look into that manger. Look at the manger itself. Here is your peace—true peace that surpasses all understanding—in the flesh. God has kept His Word and promise. Hosanna! Joy to the World! Look into that manger. Behold how the wood of the manger holding the precious Christ child actually prefigures and foreshadows the wood of the cross that will hold the Savior of the Nations. Look and behold the swaddling clothes this infant Savior is wrapped in; linens which prefigure and foreshadow the fair linen that will one day enshroud His body as He’s taken down from His cross and laid to Sabbath rest in His tomb…for you.
Look with wonder as Gentile wise men come from afar bearing gifts for their infant Lord of lords and King of kings—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They bring the timeless and precious treasure of gold for their King, but they also bring frankincense and myrrh; very precious commodities that carry a premium price; very precious commodities that were often used as burial spices for royalty. Think about that. These foreign men (probably Babylonian) leave everything and travel from afar because they know what the Scriptures say about the birth of the King of the Jews. “Where is He who is born…?” They know what this birth means for them and for all people. They come to worship, not a baby, but their Savior—God’s promise in the flesh. They come to anoint Him and prepare Him for burial; for the whole purpose He came to this earth—to die for the sins of all mankind. This is God’s promise and plan in action.
Dear children of God: Look to that manger scene, but don’t just look to that manger scene, for Jesus Christ doesn’t just exist in the past. Tonight isn’t a mere remembrance or anniversary of an ancient, past-tense historical event. This isn’t a mere “birthday party for Jesus,” which really does miss the point of it all. No!
Tonight is about giving thanks and rejoicing over the fact that “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Christ Jesus comes to us in these days too, continuing to fulfill His promise to ever abide with us, nourish us, protect us, and deliver us. Look to Him and hear Him in His Word. Look to the life-giving water that He pours out on you in Holy Baptism, where He washes away all the guilt of your sin and makes you His own, putting His victorious name upon your head and your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the Lord. Look to the rail as He Himself nourishes you as He holds out to you His own victorious, life-giving body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sin. “This is My Body. This is My Blood.” Here is—present tense—Christ Jesus, very God of very God, given for you. Here is your gift of peace from God Himself; the gift of peace that IS God Himself.
When you begin to recognize all this for what it really is; for what God says it really is, you can’t help but rejoice with the shepherds and all the heavenly host: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” We do have peace on earth, right here and right now. In the midst of all the brokenness and pain and suffering; in the midst of all the darkness and death and despair that is this fallen and sinful world, here is Immanuel—God with us.
May this joy and peace of Christ Jesus, which does surpass all human understanding, be and remain with you these Christmas days and all your remaining days until that blessed day when God’s good plan for you is brought to completion in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting in heaven with Him.
A very blessed and merry Christmas.
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