Christmas Eve 2020
Pastor James Preus
Every once in a while, someone, usually from the church, will ask me if he can stop to check on something in the parsonage. And I almost always answer, “Yeah, sure.” This annoys my dear wife, not because she has a problem with people stopping by, especially to help, but because I almost never tell her that someone is coming. She likes to have a heads up, so she can tidy up before someone enters our home, in case there’s a mess. It would cause her embarrassment if someone she respected walked into our kitchen and saw oatmeal smeared on the table, milk spilled on the floor, and peanut butter fingerprints on the window and a toddler running around without any pants on. She’s not being weird. This is how we all are. It’s why we clean our homes before honored guests arrive.
Now, you can imagine the shame that befell our world when the Almighty God, the eternal Son of the Father by whom all things in heaven and on earth are made, who is robed in majesty in heaven and who receives the eternal praise of all the angels of heaven, came down to visit our humble earth. And he didn’t come to us unannounced by any means. Not only did prophets proclaim his coming for hundreds of years, even telling us the very town in which he would be born, but God sent angels to announce to Mary and Joseph! And still, with all this warning ahead of time, our world could not prepare a place fit for him. The finest palace with gilded marble and silk cushions would be too mean an accommodation for such an honored guest, yet all Joseph could secure for him was a drafty stable with a manger for a bed.
It makes one blush to think of the state of things when this most noble guest honored us with his presence. And indeed, it is horrifying to think of the behavior of our race as Christ Jesus arrived! No death glare from a mother at her son burping in from of his grandmother at Christmas dinner could suffice for the shameful act with which humanity welcomed the Christ child. Instead of sending precious gifts and welcoming him into his palace, King Herod sent soldiers to murder the baby boys of Bethlehem. And as this perfect child grew up into a man, he saw with eagle eyes our every fault: the weakness of our flesh, our diseases, our stench and mortality. He saw how we treat each other! Each one of us has his own faults, behavior that annoys and even harms our neighbor. Yet, instead of being patient toward the faults of others, we are quick to condemn, complain, and malign those with faults no worse than our own! Jesus didn’t just see our messy kitchens and smell our stinky feet. He watched how the crown of his creation, which he honored by joining in flesh and soul, treat each other with utter hatred, pride, and selfishness.
That’s embarrassing. Shameful. We humans couldn’t get our act together, even for a little while, to welcome the Son of God himself into our home. Of course, it did not surprise Christ Jesus that we were so awful. He didn’t come to earth expecting to find a bunch of righteous saints nor did he come to sleep in a comfy bed. Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins; to shine a light on those dwelling in darkness. He saw our wickedness and misery even from his glorious throne, and still he chose to come to us. Not only to come to us! He came to join us. To become our brother! Jesus Christ, our God is a human being. And he didn’t borrow the body of a man. He assumed human flesh. He acquired a human soul.
Think of the significance of this decision from our God! God cannot change. Yet, by becoming a man, he added something to himself that remains permanent forever! This means that in a billion years from now, yes, in one hundred billion times one hundred billion years from now, our God will still be our brother. He’ll still have ten fingers and ten toes, two eyes and a nose. He’ll be the same human who lied in the manger, who hung on the cross, who lay in the tomb. He will be as human then as he was that Christmas morning over two thousand years ago.
Why? Why did God join his creation? Why has he become a man, just like us? In order to rescue us from our sinful condition. Christ didn’t expect us to clean up this earth in preparation for his coming. Jesus came to rid the world of sin and death for us. While we with faults judged others for their faults, he who has no faults at all, came to rescue the people of the world from their own misery. It is exactly as the Apostle writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Christ Jesus came to earth, became a human permanently, bore the worst suffering this world could place on him, bore our sins, sorrow, and punishment, because he loves us. In the Christmas story, we see how much our God loves us; how far he will go to save us. Again, it is as the hymnist reasons,
“If our blessed Lord and Maker
Hated men, Would He then
Be of flesh partaker?
If He in our woe delighted,
Would He bear All the Care
Of our race benighted?” (P. Gerhardt, All My Heart Sings and Rejoices, stz. 5, ELH 115)
The answer is obvious! Of course, he wouldn’t! In that little baby lying on straw in Bethlehem, we see irrefutable proof that God loves us, that he desires to save us. And in the teachings and deeds of Christ, up to his willing crucifixion, death and burial, resurrection, and great Commission of the Gospel, we see over and over again Christ’s love for us.
Now, by means of this very Gospel, Christ seeks an even more intimate dwelling with us than sharing the same planet. He desires to dwell in our hearts through faith. Yet, our hearts are an even less appropriate place for the Mighty King of Heaven than even the dingy manger in which he once lay. Our hearts are colder, darker, and harder than that stable. Out of the human heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander, indeed, everything that defiles us and makes us ashamed comes from our dark cold hearts (Matthew 15:19-20; Genesis 6:5). The human heart is so bad, that the Prophet Jeremiah declares that its deceitfulness is beyond understanding (Jeremiah 17:9).
So, how can our hearts be an appropriate dwelling place for Jesus Christ? In the same way that our world became home for our dear Lord Jesus. Jesus came into this world to save it from sin, and so he comes to dwell in your heart in order to save you. He shines a light into your heart to expose every crevice, so that he can cleanse it from sin. He gives you a new birth of the Spirit that takes away your heart of stone and gives you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Jesus enters your heart with forgiveness and peace from God himself.
It was God who made our sinful earth his home, preparing everything, even raising up Caesar Augustus to declare a census, so that Joseph would take Mary to the town of Bethlehem in order to fulfill the prophecy of Micah (5:2). And, so it is God who prepares your sinful heart to be a dwelling place for the King of Heaven. He does this through the miraculous power of Baptism, which empowers plain water with the voice of God. He does this by exposing your sins to create remorse for the wrong you’ve done. He does this by declaring forgiveness for all your wrong. God does not demand that you make your heart clean in order for him to enter into it anymore than did he wait until we had cleansed the earth of sin before he was born in it. Rather, God enters your heart with forgiveness so that he might cleanse you from your sin.
God made the earth his home, because he loves us. Jesus makes your heart his home, because he loves you. This is the message of Christmas. This is the glad tidings the angel declared when he said, “unto you is born a Savior.” This is why this message is a message of great joy to all people. Jesus comes to save us.
And so, this Christmas season should be a season of peace. God has made peace with sinners. It is we who have sinned against God, not he who has sinned against us. We confess to God in Psalm 51, “Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Yet, it is God who comes to us to make peace! It is our heavenly Father who sends his Son to die for us while we are still sinning against him. Rarely in a conflict is either side not at fault. Yet, it is God, the faultless one who makes peace with the guilty. This is the apotheosis of magnanimity. Yet, even at the time of Christmas, we who have our own faults find faults in others. We who have a need for peace refuse to make peace. We who need forgiveness refuse to forgive. We who are unworthy of God’s grace find others unworthy of our patience and good will. Such behavior is rooted in unbelief! It reveals a heart that has refused to let Christ dwell in it.
The only way for love to pour forth from our hearts is for our hearts to first receive Christ. Only when God makes peace with us through faith in Christ can we make peace with one another. Yet, when we refuse to make peace with one another, we show that we are not at peace with God in our hearts.
Every Advent we sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” In the final verse we sing,
“O come, Desire of nations, bind,
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of peace.”
And our dear Lord Emmanuel answers this prayer. He answers this prayer with his Gospel of forgiveness. When his forgiveness dwells in your heart, Christ Jesus dwells in your heart. And from your heart flows peace. Make peace with those who have sinned against you through the peace that God gives you through Jesus, the Prince of Peace. He has made peace with our sinful world. And he has made peace with each of us.
This is also why we pray after receiving the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, that through the Sacrament, God would “strengthen us through the same in faith toward [God] and in fervent love toward one another.” Indeed, how can this Jesus dwell in our hearts through faith and not have his peace pour out from us?
Dear Friends in Christ, God has made peace with us through Jesus Christ. May his peace spread from us to one another. Let us pray.
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled,
A quiet chamber set apart
For You to dwell within my heart.