Thursday, January 1, 2009

Christmas Eve Sermon -- Luke 2:1-20 (LSB Christmas Midinight Propers)

December 24, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

The angel said to [the shepherds]: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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.”

Some events just need fanfare and accolades. Our nation’s president hears “Ruffles and Flourishes” and “Hail to the Chief” as personal honors when he makes public appearances. College football players are given the honor of the full sound of marching bands prior to kickoff, some even participating in parades beforehand. Music may not be present at the entrance to the Academy Awards, but the flash of cameras and the shouted questions from the paparazzi along the red carpet provide their own kind of overture. And when babies are born in rural villages, they are greeted by an angel choir singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

Or maybe not . . . no one would expect that. In many little towns and boroughs around the globe, there are millions of infants born, some even being born on this night. But none of them receive musical fanfare, let alone a song from a choir of heavenly beings. Their births are not the cause for people to worship God and speak about His peace extending to the ends of the earth. Certainly, their parents are thankful and glad, but only the most megalomaniacal would say that the occasion of their child’s birth is “good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.”

But that is the accolade the Babe of Bethlehem is given, as “[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger.” Born in a stable, “because there was no place for them in the inn,” Mary’s Son is the unlikeliest Child to receive such announcement. The family lodging in a barn has no one to share their joy with: a stranger in a strange town is not often welcomed under normal circumstances, let alone when the village is overrun by crowds because of governmental orders. But the identity of this Child will cause the heavens to ring with song and people to come running to His bedside to see Him.

That identity is what the angel makes known to the shepherds in the fields. It is the cause for the announcement to be made: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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.” It is the cause of your celebration on this night. For the Babe of Bethlehem’s identity is being the Christ, the Promised One whom prophets throughout the centuries had foretold. Born this night is a Savior, One who would redeem the world and deliver it from slavery to sin, death, and Satan. Such a cosmic figure will receive a majestic fanfare at His birth.

It is customary to welcome the arrival of earthly conquerors with cries of joy and singing. Throughout our nation’s history, we have welcomed victors of the battlefield and ballfield with tickertape parades. Even relatively trivial accomplishments are celebrated by mayors declaring a special day on the municipal calendar. But what of this Child, who is Christ the lord? He is no earthly conqueror, but an eternal victor. And the conquest that He achieves would not be a cause of joy solely for a hometown or fans and alumni of one college or even an entire country. Instead, it is “good news of a great joy for all the people.”

You who carry the name Christian and rightly have a claim to it understand the full extent of Jesus’ work. You understand the reason for this gathering of the congregation, as well as the Christian Church around the world. There is joy present here, even amidst the sorrows and troubles of this past year, “for the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” Salvation is present because of the accomplishments of Him who came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made Man.

You have experienced the results of Jesus’ work, the One “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” The Bethlehem sky shone with the glory of the angels because the One who brings the light of God truth and salvation lay in the manger. It is the light which shines in your lives, even in the midst of the darkness of this world.

The events of Bethlehem only make sense when the identity of the Child born in a stable is known. In fact, the events of this day in Mechanicsburg only make sense when that Child’s identity is known. Otherwise, the carols you sing, the ornaments and decorations you see, the prayers you offer, the Sacrament you receive, let alone your presence on a December night in a building watching ceremonies conducted by people in 6th Century attire makes no sense at all. But they are the natural response to the word of salvation that the angel brings: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

What you do on this night corresponds to what the Bethlehem shepherds did after hearing the angel’s message and heavenly host’s song: “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another: ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger.” Your worship this day is the way you witness what happened in Bethlehem: for in this place you hear again what transpired for your benefit; you have the “good news of a great joy” placed again in you hearts and minds, so that you may share in the salvation Jesus has acquired for you.

Though lacking a home at His birth, the Christ has earned an eternal home for you. Though a stranger in the world He created, the Christ has made you a child of God and an heir of eternal life. Though wrapped by Mary in swaddling cloths so His limbs could not move, the Christ has freed you from the chains of sin, death, and Satan. This Babe of Bethlehem fulfills the ancient prophecies and promises about your redemption: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation; You have increased its joy; they rejoice before You as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, You have broken as on the day of Midian.”

What you and all Christians celebrate on this night is the anniversary of the Eternal Victor’s appearing. And that deserves the fanfare and welcome greater than any you give to the rulers, champions, and celebrities of this world. Because of the identity of Bethlehem’s Babe—“a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”—you have been given a new identity—“the people for His own possession.” All who share in that identity, being joined to Christ’s righteousness, have been delivered by Him. It matters not what race or nation, for the “good news of a great joy is for all people.” The angelic choir’s song sums up the joy of this night: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

“The grace of God has appeared” for you, so that you may be part of those people with whom the Lord God is pleased. That is what the Babe of Bethlehem has accomplished for you, as “[He] gave Himself for [you] to redeem [you] from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” There is newness of life again for you on this night, as you have heard about the birth of God Incarnate into life here on earth.

Celebrate that this Christmastide, for it is “good news of a great joy” which cannot be matched. For what you have heard is the announcement of your salvation which comes from Christ the Lord. Receive the news “the Lord has made known” to you now, as He makes this holy night shine with the brightness of the true Light. As you have known the mysteries of that Light on earth, may you also come to the fullness of His joys in heaven, where you will be joined with all who have believed the same “good news of a great joy” about Christ the Lord.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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