If you have ever thought that
God gives no thought to the affairs of this world, you need look no
further than the account of Christís birth in St. Lukeís Gospel to
see otherwise. Not only is
God aware of what is going on among us, he is in charge of everything.
Caesar Augustus cared nothing about the true God.
He blasphemously laid claim to deity for himself.
But, as is the case with Caesars, kings, governors, and other
rulers, the man wanted more money in the hands of the government.
So it was his idea to take a census of the entire Roman world,
including even the Jews living in Palestine.
In this way he could gain more money in taxes.
This is what sent Joseph and Mary to their ancestral home in
Bethlehem and this is why the inn had no vacancies.
The holy family had to sleep in a stable.
All of this was in Godís eternal plan.
The Son of David promised for so long was to be born in Davidís
town, and God directed the affairs of state to see to it that it
happened, just as the prophets had foretold.
You see a young girl, probably no more than sixteen years old, with
nowhere else to lay her infant child than in a manger.
You see weary travelers subjected to inhospitable circumstances.
You donít see the hand of God when you look at the history of
that first Christmas. But
away from the stable, away in the fields where shepherds were watching
their sheep, you hear God speak through his angel.
There is no glory revealed in the manger.
Yet on the hay lay the eternal God.
The glory is reflected in the face of an angel.
In heaven is God in all of Godís glory.
Just the dim reflection of that glory is enough nearly to scare
the shepherds to death. But
God has descended from his glory in heaven and now lies in a manger, in
a stable, because there was no room for Him in the inn.
Note this fact. You see
fear in the shepherds when they are confronted with an angel of the
Lord. But there is no fear
in the stable where the Lord Himself lies on the hay where the cattle
lately fed. The messenger
of God reflects Godís glory. God
Himself hides his glory. This
is why the angel can say, ďDo not be afraid!Ē
This is why the angel can talk of good news that brings great
joy. Donít be afraid because God has clothed his glory in the
humble dress of an infant. Donít
be afraid because God has joined you where you live.
He has come to you in such a wonderful way that you donít need
to run from him. He is born
a baby. He is born for you.
He has come to be your Savior.
He has come to save the world from its sin.
He is wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.
Glory belongs to the God who is in the highest heavens.
Why? Because this
same God has joined his people here below.
He has brought peace and goodwill to the whole world.
He has done so by becoming flesh and blood.
The God who directed the census and the taxation and the travels of Mary
and Joseph is the God who became a baby in the Virginís womb.
The God who directs the orbit of the world and the falling of the
snow is the God who cried out for his motherís milk while lying on
hay, the food of animals. All
the glory of man retreats in the face of Godís glory!
Yet, he hides it. He chooses to come to us almost in a disguise.
In fact, had the shepherds not been given the signs of swaddling
cloths and the manger they would have looked in vain and never found the
Child. Looking for God by
seeking out Godís glory is to find yourself lost in the looking.
The only way to find God is to look to where he has covered his
glory and that is in the Person of His Son who assumed our flesh and
blood and became our brother.
The theological term is the incarnation.
This simply means that God became flesh.
He became a human being. This
mystery goes beyond anyoneís ability to fathom.
How can it be? Who
can understand? As Luther
put it, ďHe whom the worlds cannot enclose doth in Maryís lap
hymnists have penned quite a few memorable lines expressing the wonder
of God becoming a baby boy. Here
are just a few of them.
The Word becomes incarnate and yet remains on high.
And cherubim sing
anthems to shepherds from the sky.
God is man, man
His dear Son now
is one with our blood forever.
Ah, Lord, who
hast created all,
weak art Thou, how poor and small.
Veiled in flesh
the Godhead see,
O see the miracle
God Himself, from heaven above,
Come down to be
Now we call the incarnation of the Son of God
a mystery, but it isnít a ďwhodunitĒ type of mystery, as if we are
kept in the dark by hearing of it and then we need to figure it out.
In fact, it is precisely the opposite.
God reveals to us this holy mystery and in so doing he enlightens
us. We can now see and
understand everything even though we cannot understand the mystery
itself. Who can figure out
how the infinite God can become a seven-pound baby boy?
And how could it be that the almighty God could now be dependent
upon a maiden to care for him, to feed him, to be his mother?
What mind can explain how it is that the eternal and immutable
God can and did become a baby boy who grows into manhood like every
other baby boy? No, this
mystery is far beyond our mindsí ability to explain.
Yet we believe it. We
rely upon it. We trust in
it. And when we do, everything that was dark for us is now pure
Before we knew God as the baby lying on the hay we tried to find him by
speculating on his nature, by examining his universe, by trying to
follow his law and so find our way to his heart. And all of this was futile and got us nowhere but mired in
confusion and ignorance. We
couldnít find God. We
could only run from him as from the source of glory that frightens
sinners to death. If we do
not know God as God lies helpless in the manger we cannot know him at
all. Because in order for
you and me to know God we must first know that he has peace and goodwill
in his heart toward us and we cannot know that until we see God lying in
No, I cannot understand how he who created all could come to be so
small. I cannot understand
how the Lord of the nations can be the infant nursing at his motherís
breast. But I do not need
to understand this. I need
to believe it. And that
faith, that simple trust as of a child, is the personal miracle of
Christmas for us Christians.
It was all for you. ďUnto
you,Ē the angel said to the shepherds. That angel was Godís messenger also to you.
What do you feel inside of yourself this morning?
Do you feel Godís goodwill?
Do you feel peace? Or
do you feel your own sin? Do
you remember how you showed anger and judgment against your neighbor?
Does your heart feel the failure for which you are personally
responsible because you havenít shown Christís love, you havenít
lived at peace, you havenít treated others as you have thought they
should treat you? Do you
look inside your heart and life today and see the exact opposite of
goodwill? Do you see a
judgmental spirit? A
willingness to condemn? Do
you remember acts and words that cause hurt and that make for
bitterness? Do you harbor
resentment toward those who have wronged you?
Are you feeling guilt for your doubts about Godís love and his
desire to care for you? Do
you remember your wrongs of thought, word and deed, committed against
the divine majesty of your God? Are
you afraid of what God could do and would do to you should he give you
what you deserve?
Look at your God! See him
for who he is! He is lying
in humility to be your Savior. There
is Godís goodwill toward you. There
is Godís peaceful intention for you. Look at the Christ Child and see your God!
Donít look at your own efforts to please God, but look instead
at Christís life of perfect obedience rendered for you.
Donít look at your own failures to stand up to evil, but see
this innocent Child defeat evil for you.
Donít look inside your heart to find the assurance that God
really and truly loves you as you are and receives you as his dear
child. Look instead inside
Godís heart. It is
revealed to you in his incarnate Son.
The God become flesh who once laid in a manger is given to us.
The same body that Mary held in her arms and the same blood that
flowed through his veins and was shed on the cross are given to us in
the sacramental bread and wine of the Lordís Supper. The God who once humbled himself still comes to us in humble
means that wonít frighten us away.
How else could we receive him?
How else could we trust in him?
How else could we love and serve him?
He means us no harm. And
so we run to him and embrace him in faith.
Next to the incarnation itself, the faith that God has gently
planted in our hearts is the greatest miracle of Christmas!
Rolf D. Preus
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