Sermon for Christmas Eve, AD 2020

Luke 2:1-20; Isaiah 9:2-7

Fear not!” Cries the angel appearing before the shepherds. Why does the angel cry this? What is there to fear with angels? Aren’t they pretty feminine creatures in robes? Or cute chubby babies? Aren’t they just the spirits of our lost loved ones?

No! The angels are not pretty ladies or chubby babies or our deceased relatives. They are creations of God who work as his messengers and soldiers. An angel of the Lord who appears to the shepherds is a soldier and messenger, a king’s herald. He has been sent from his mighty Lord to announce a great thing has happened. And he is terrifying, surrounded by the glory of the Lord – the very manifestation of God’s holiness.

God’s holiness is terrifying because it is totally separate, totally pure and free of sin. The angels, these servants of God, are also free from sin and eternally at peace with God. They have no fear of holiness and bask in the light God’s holy presence night and day, singing hymns to the almighty continually before His throne. Yet we are wretched beings who love the darkness. In our sin, we have set ourselves up in opposition to God through our own passions. Instead of love, we lust for what we should not have. Instead of thankfulness, we turn to greed. Instead of selflessness, we embrace fear and pride. We have made ourselves enemies of God.

Too often we do not recognize this and think we are good, or at least good enough. We justify ourselves with made-up sayings. “It’s just innocent.” “My body, my choice.” “First come, first served.” “Not to gossip, but…” “I’ve always been a good person.” “God knows my heart.” Afraid of the light of God’s holiness, we stumble around in the dark room of our self-made holiness, declaring that we can see just fine, thank you very much!

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Since God does not accept our excuses and rationalizations as we stumble around in darkness, He sends His heralds, the angels, to lay out the terms. In the glorious light of His holiness, our darkness is revealed, our sin is exposed. All we can do is fear. We are nothing in comparison to God and his multitudes of heavenly armies. There is no negotiation of terms.

The terms are this, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Our sin exposed, our enmity with God shown, the herald angel proclaims that Christ has abolished this opposition. God has made peace with us. God has not overlooked our sin. By sending his Son He declares that he is taking away the cause of enmity. He sends His Son to take away our sin.

Here is the pledge, the sign, the promise that God wants to save us: “you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” The shepherds heard the words of the angel, the good news of the birth of the Savior, and then are given a sign as confirmation. While the words were spoken in beautiful and terrifying heavenly glory, the sign, the actual coming of Christ the Lord is not so outwardly glorious or terrifying. He is a swaddled infant, lying in an animal’s feed trough. The announcement by the angels is glorious, but the birth is humble and lowly. This is the very sign and meaning of Christmas.

The sign of the baby in the manger shows exactly how God intends to save us. He sends His Son into a humble estate. His mother Mary is just a humble, believing girl. His adoptive father Joseph is a man descended from kings who has no kingly title of his own. Yet through their trust in God’s Word, they were chosen to be the human parents of Jesus. God shows through the baby in the manger that worldly gain and wealth means nothing to Him. Jesus Christ is born poor, raised, lived, and died poor. He never had a place to lay His head. As our brother, as God become man, he can relate to disappointment, suffering, poverty, and temptation.

Not only does Christ relate, but he conquered such things for us. Not through might, but humbly, as a man. He let every trial and temptation come to Him, and He never gave in. He followed the Father’s will. He did not sin or make excuses. Most of all, the conquered sin and death through death, His death on the cross. He is Holiness incarnate, but a holiness that can be among sinful men.

For Christmas is never alone. It is not just a season of generic hope and joy. It is not just a couple days off. Christmas is the feast which all other feasts flow from. God became man to live a perfect life for us. God became man to die for us. God became man to rise again from the dead for us. We look at the nativity scene – baby Jesus in the manger. Jesus is no longer a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Jesus is no longer in a manger. Yet Jesus is man, and we remember through the image of Jesus in the manger that He humbled Himself for us to make peace with God. In the same way, we look at the crucifix. Jesus is no longer dying on the cross, no longer has nails through his hands and feet. Yet Jesus suffered for us, he still bears the scars of his suffering , and we remember though the crucifix that His death took the punishment for our sins.

Things did not end with death for this baby in a manger. At his birth he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. At his death, he was wrapped in burial clothes and laid in a borrowed tomb. He did not stay there long. Three days later He burst out of those burial clothes, no longer dead and swaddled, but resurrected and alive! The sign of the baby in the manger on Christmas was completed on Easter morning.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  Christ’s resurrection shows that God is pleased with us. Our Savior, Christ the Lord, has made peace between God and all the earth, for all the punishment for our guilt was put on Jesus and died with Him on the the cross. The warfare is over, the treaty has been signed. Christ is Lord of heaven and earth and calls all of us into His kingdom.
As the shepherds were the first to announce the good news of Jesus’ birth, so now God sends shepherds, pastors, to preach this good news of His kingdom so you can believe. For His kingdom comes when you hear His word and trust in Him work. And like the shepherds, He does not just give His word, but gives you a sign. You cannot go back in time to see the baby laid in the feeding trough in Bethlehem, but Jesus Christ comes in His body and blood to feed us at the altar. There and in His Word he strengthens us and continues to make us holy. Jesus was only the first born. In baptism, we are born again by water and the Word, another real affectual sign where we receive the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins. Born like him, through humble means of Word and water, we will also die and rise with Him. God sent His Son, incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, for our salvation – so we can become like Him.
There is therefore no more condemnation, no more enmity, no more excuses needed. Christ has made peace with God. We do not need to stumble around in the darkness. We do not need to fear the light. Holiness incarnate is Jesus, our Brother, and we can draw near to God without fear. Let us draw near regularly to where Christ offers His kingdom – in the preached Word, water, bread and wine. His kingdom is one of peace, and “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” For the kingdom is established on the work of Jesus, God and man. He was born for you. He died for you. He rose for you. While other kingdoms may fail, the one which is built on the blood of Jesus, His humble suffering and death, will never fail. Therefore, we can abandon our excuses and rationalizations, repent, and confess them to Jesus. He offers grace and peace to renounce all ungodliness and live self, controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. And when He returns in glory with the army of heavenly angels, we shall not fear, but glorify and praise God in great joy. Merry Christmas! Amen.

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