Christmas Day Sermon| December 25, 2017| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. Luke 2:10-11
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
If the good tidings of great joy are to all people then the Savior is born to you. He is your Savior. He is your Savior because the gospel – the good tidings or good news – is good news to all the people everywhere. Christmas is for everyone.
This doesn’t mean that everyone knows what Christmas is. It doesn’t mean that every opinion about Christmas and its celebration is valid. Christmas is not just a Christian holiday, after all. It is a social and cultural institution that features all sorts of customs that have nothing to do with the birth of the Savior. The custom of gift giving at Christmas is what drives the commercialization of this holiday. Retailers all around the country depend on huge sales during this season that begins around Thanksgiving and lasts for about a month. God only knows how many of those who participate in the buying and selling and giving of gifts are even aware of the Gift that God gave on that first Christmas so long ago. But we are gathered as Christ’s Church in this place to consider this wonderful mystery and to celebrate it together.
As we celebrate Christmas together, let us, on the basis of the words from God set before us, answer three questions about this wonderful event. First, who is Christmas for? Second, what is Christmas? Third, what does Christmas do?
Who is it for? The first words of the angel to the shepherds were, “Do not be afraid.” They were terrified but they had no reason to be. They were afraid because the angel came from God and God made them afraid. God makes everyone afraid. As the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31) God’s holiness is intimidating to sinners. The angel reflected it. That’s why the shepherds were afraid. The living God strikes fear in human hearts precisely because he judges and punishes sinners. That’s what his holiness requires. That is why men make idols to worship. They pretend that their harmless and nonjudgmental idols are God. That way they can persist in their sins of choice without repentance.
Christmas is for sinners. It is for those who are under God’s judgment. But when sin is defined away so that the only sin is to accuse people of sin, then Christmas is for nobody and nothing. Those who want to live in sin without repentance cannot tolerate the God of the Bible. That’s why they mock Christians as Bible-thumping fundamentalists. They cannot tolerate the God who judges sin and punishes sinners.
For these people, Christmas has no purpose or meaning. Their celebration of this holiday is of no benefit to anyone. We will let the economists sort out whether the buying and spending spurs the economy into growth or burdens it with greater debt. In either case the frenzy of commercial activity has nothing to do with Christmas. Christmas is the angelic declaration from God himself: “Do not be afraid.” It is the gospel voice sounded to sinful hearts burdened by guilt and yearning for God’s forgiveness.
The context of Christmas is sinners seeking a gracious God. The spiritually smug and self-satisfied have no use for Christmas because they have no use for a Savior. They do not fear God. They deny him. They ignore his word. They treat his name as an expletive. They refuse to acknowledge his authority over their lives. They stand in defiance of their Creator. St. Paul wrote of them in Romans 3:18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Christmas for them is but a lot of sentimental mush that really must get tiresome come December 25.
Those who are afraid of God’s holiness are prepared for the good tidings of great joy. Christmas is for sinners who bemoan their sin and want forgiveness. It is for those who want to know God but are afraid to approach him because they know they have done what he forbids and they are afraid of his judgment.
Who is Christmas for? It is for sinners who know that they are sinners and are afraid of God on account of their sin. The angel speaks to the shepherds. He speaks to the shepherds not because of their status. They have no status. It’s not like you must become like a shepherd if you want to hear the Christmas message rightly. It is rather that the good news of great joy that is for all the people was spoken to shepherds and if it was intended for them it must be intended for you. Christmas is for all sinners everywhere because all sinners everywhere need a Savior.
What is Christmas? It is the birth of the Savior. Who is the Savior? He is Christ the Lord. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” He is the Lord. He is God. Yet he is born of a woman. Listen to how C. F. W. Walther describes God’s birth in the flesh in a sermon on this text. He writes:
The eternal united with a mortal. The all-powerful united with powerless dust. Eternal love wedded with that which hates her. The Most Holy united with the sinner. The Creator joined with a creature, with His most needy creature, and becomes like its lowliest creature. The Lord of lords before whom all angels and archangels must bow in worshipful adoration shackles Himself to the servants of sin and Satan. He who carried all in His hands and has sown the myriads of stars as seed on the field of the firmament, becomes weak with the weak, helpless with the helpless, and permits Himself to be lifted and carried by sinful hands.
We call it the incarnation. God became flesh. The entire universe cannot contain him. He lives in unapproachable light. He is the transcendent God who dwells in that holy place where no man can go. He chooses of his own free will to come to where we are, and not only to come to where we are, but to come in a way that we can receive him. He does not come into this world to condemn sinners, but to save them.
Don’t be afraid. He intends you no harm. Look at how he comes! If he wanted to judge you, would he become your brother? Think about it. Why would God become one of us if not to bring us back to him? It is true that the incarnation is impossible to figure out because, after all, the finite is not capable of the infinite and thus the incarnation is utterly impossible according to the standards of human reason. But when we submit our reason to the revelation of God then we can put it to good use! Let’s be reasonable about this mystery that transcends reason. Would God become a human being if he did not love all of humanity? Would God become your brother if he wanted to do you harm? Of course not! Listen to the words of Paul Gerhardt from one of his Christmas hymns:
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?
Of course not! God would not join us in our misery unless he intended to rid us of it. Christmas is more than God becoming a man. It is God humbling himself in his humanity, choosing to be born outside of the inn and choosing for his infant bed a manger filled with food for the animals.
The Creator of us all chooses such a humble birth because he loves us. First God assumes our flesh and blood and becomes our brother. Then he lives the life of love he had always required of us but that we had never lived. Then he offers up his holy life, his life of love, his sinless life of perfect innocence to the demands of divine justice and bears the sin and the punishment and the guilt of all sinners. He takes our place under the law. He thus meets the requirements of the law and suffers the penalty the law imposed. This is where the peace on earth, goodwill toward men comes from. It is not just an angelic wish. It is what God as man accomplishes for all mankind. Jesus has established peace on earth and goodwill to all men, women, and children everywhere. Christmas and crucifixion go together, as he who first reveals his grace in the manger wins forgiveness for all sinners on the cross where he takes away the sin of the world.
Christmas is bridging heaven and earth. It is Jacob’s ladder come true as God and man are joined together in one Person and in that personal union heaven and earth are reconciled. The Lord at the top of the ladder and the man at the bottom of the ladder are reconciled because the Lord at the top of the ladder has come down the ladder and become a man.
Joy oh joy beyond all gladness,
Christ has done away with sadness!
Hence all sorrow and repining,
For the Sun of Grace is shining!
No one – no, no one – is excluded. He assumed the nature of all humanity. If you are a human being it was your nature that God assumed in the womb of the Virgin Mary and it was your sin that this God-man bore in his holy body on the cross where he died. Christmas is for everyone, yes, including those presently impenitent sinners who rail against Christ and his kingdom and persecute Christians who speak their mind. Christmas is for those who are presently hostile to Christ and don’t want the forgiveness he gives. It is for unregenerate unbelievers who despise Christ’s claims. The God who assumed the flesh of humanity wants to save all men. Christmas is for lukewarm Christians on the edge of falling from grace. It is for discouraged Christians who want the comfort of God’s grace but see only the misery their sins bring them. Christmas is for all.
What does it do? Christmas changes lives! Yes, it does! Christmas is God being born of Mary that he may also be born in us. Just as Mary is the God-bearer from whom our Lord Jesus received his human nature, just so every Christian is a God-bearer. God chooses to take up residence in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus lives in our hearts through faith and he changes us.
He melts our selfish hearts and teaches us to give. He humbles us and conforms us to himself. He comforts us with the comfort with which we comfort one another. Giving himself to us who were unworthy of his love – forgiving us all our sins by bearing them in his body – he changes us on the inside. He turns bitterness into forgiveness. He turns hatred into love. He turns vengeance into mercy. By assuming our nature he forgives us and he transforms us. Wherever sin remains he remains with us to forgive and forgive and forgive until the day we die and we put off this sinful body and await our resurrection in glorified bodies like that of our risen and ascended Lord Jesus.
Christmas is for sinners. It’s how God makes them into saints. Merry Christmas!