Christmas Eve Sermon, 2003| Rev. Rolf Preus| Matthew 1:18-25
“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Should God give me a long life, these are the days I will remember when I am old. To gather together with my wife and children for a Christmas celebration as a family is a precious thing. You can’t buy it, package it, or even prolong it, except in your heart. Christmas becomes filled with things that we treasure in our hearts.
I cannot be a boy again, but I can remember. I remember that Christmastime in St. Louis when for several days before Christmas Eve I kept looking under the tree for my presents and found hardly any and I was so disappointed. As the family was opening the presents on Christmas Eve I sat, just a little dejected, off to the side of the room. Then my father said, “Rolf, I have a present for you that wouldn’t fit under the tree.” He went out of the room and returned with a bike. It was a twenty-four-inch Schwinn Racer, black, with white stripes. I didn’t realize until years later that my father enjoyed that moment as much as I did.
Giving gifts to and receiving gifts from the ones we love is a wonderful tradition. The joy of giving and receiving is something we ponder in our hearts and it brings us joy years later. I still remember how I felt that night. But whatever happened to that bike? It’s long gone. And my father is gone. He once told me that after his father died a day never went by that he didn’t think of him. Since my dad died, not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of him.
All of us cherish our memories, but as we gather together this evening as Christ’s church in this place, we find our comfort in something much more precious than memories. We are here to take to heart what Mary took to heart when she gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem so long ago. The birth of Jesus is an event that, while it happened in time and space and cannot be repeated, nevertheless lives on and on and is inextricably woven into the very fabric of our lives. Why is that? Because He was born to save His people from their sins.
The need for a Savior from sin is not self-evident. We do not by nature understand sin. We do have a conscience. But even our consciences are corrupted by sin. It is easy for us to justify ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. It isn’t hard to find sin out there in the world or in the people who cause us grief. It is hard to see the sin within our own hearts. While the conscience can feel guilt, we learn from an early age to salve our conscience with all sorts of excuses, rationalizations, explanations, and outright lies. We are members of the no-fault generation in which nobody is guilty but everybody is a victim of some kind of systemic discrimination. The sense of sin has been so thoroughly attacked and undermined that the conscience of our nation is callused and insensitive.
This influences Christians. When the popular culture defines away sin, even God’s people are effected by it. One of the names of the Savior given by God through Isaiah is Counselor. But nowadays Christians spend their time and money on counselors who don’t even believe in sin or the need for a Savior from it. What kind of counsel can come from people who don’t know the fundamental teaching of God’s word and the fundamental needs of all people?
You need a Savior from sin! It doesn’t matter what you think your personal problems are or what you think may be the solution to whatever ails you. It doesn’t matter what you and I think about our troubles, their cause, and their termination. It matters what God thinks and what God says. God says we are sinners who have, by our sin, brought upon ourselves every kind of misery, unhappiness, conflict, and trouble of body and soul. God says that what ails us is not out there persecuting us, but inside our own hearts setting ourselves above others, above God’s law, above God Himself.
We are our own worst enemies because we do precisely those things that do not bring joy, happiness, contentment, and security, but that cause sorrow, insecurity, and a deep dissatisfaction. We cannot find peace within because within each of us is the source of all conflict in the world. The violence, terror, deceit, dishonesty, and strife that haunts people all over the world is all due to the same sin that infests the hearts, the minds, and the souls of every single human being born into this world.
Except for the heart, the mind, and the soul of the Virgin born Son of God, Jesus Christ the Savior. His name is Jesus because He is the Lord God who has come to save His people.
For Jesus to save us from our sins required Jesus to save us from that which permeates our very being. He had to become one of us. He, the eternal Son of the Father, had to become a man.
If we had no need for a Savior, we would have no need for Christ’s birth. The purpose of His birth was to save His people from their sins. To save means to rescue or deliver. Our sins keep us away from the enjoyment of God’s love. Our sins cut us off from life. Our sins drag us down to hell. When the angel said that Jesus would save His people from their sins, he was saying that sinners need to be saved from their sins. Note the preposition here. Jesus saves His people from their sins. He doesn’t save their sins. He doesn’t save them in their sins. He doesn’t save them for their sins. He saves them from their sins. That is to say, He takes their sins from them.
How does He do it? This is the most important question we could ask. We need to know the answer. How does Jesus save His people from their sins? He takes those sins upon Himself. When our many sins of thought, word, and deed are reckoned to us, we stand condemned and powerless to do anything about it. But the almighty God is not powerless, though He appeared in weakness and humility. He covered up His almighty power by coming into this world in a humble fashion. But His coming was for war. His birth was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.
The innocent Child grows to be a Man. No sin ever touches His soul. He is pure and holy. He never has any need to repent of any sin. This holy life of Jesus then goes to battle against all the evil in the world. In order to rescue us from damnation in eternal hell – which was the due penalty of our sins – Jesus confronted all of our sins. He set His innocence against our guilt. He, whose heart, mind, and soul were free from any taint of sin, took upon Himself, into His heart, His mind, and His soul, all of our sin. Every act of evil, every desire to do evil, all the guilt of all the sin of all the people of the world was imputed to Him, reckoned to Him, assigned to Him.
His innocence destroyed our sin. Jesus does not save us from our sins by what He does in us. Jesus saved us from our sins by what He did in Himself. The conflict between good and evil and the triumph of good over evil took place when the innocent, virgin born Son of God confronted in Himself all of the evil of all mankind that was reckoned to Him. He has already saved His people from their sins.
And here are His people. Here we are: sinners all. Underneath the joy of the season are the depressing and familiar effects of sin. We remember arguments in which we spoke unkindly. We remember promises that we broke. We remember when we failed in our duty and we cannot set aside what we remember except perhaps for a while. Then we hope that our good memories will somehow outweigh our bad memories as we try to make ourselves happy. How can it be that Jesus has saved us from our sins when we keep on sinning and our sins keep on bringing us the same old troubles and sorrows?
We need to stop and consider God’s word to us and to assign to God’s word more trustworthiness than our feelings. What could anyone have discerned in looking at the Christ Child lying in a manger? Who could have seen his salvation in that little baby? Simeon did. But he saw in the Christ Child his salvation because he went by God’s word. This is what we need to learn how to do. We need to learn how to tell our hearts, our consciences, and our feelings that the truth on which we depend is not dependent upon us. The truth that saves us from our sins is Jesus Christ Himself. He did all of the doing that needs to be done. He did all of the fighting that needs to be fought. He did all the saving necessary for our salvation. This evening we lay claim to it and we embrace it as God’s own truth.
We look to the Child in the manger and see His innocence shining forth as a pure ray of uncreated light. Then we witness the confrontation by which we were delivered from all misery. We see the innocence of the God-man confront and destroy all the sin we have done. The devil’s head was crushed when Jesus’ innocence bore our sins. No more can the father of lies and murderer of souls accuse God’s people. Jesus has saved them from their sins. That’s the end of all accusation, death, hell, and sorrow.
There is always a touch of bitterness with the sweet when we reminisce about Christmases past. The love of that lost loved one remains so precious in our hearts, but there inside those same hearts is the unresolved guilt and sorrow we feel for what we have done wrong. So this evening we set aside for a moment all of the memories of past Christmases and take to heart this simple truth: Jesus has saved us from our sins.
Hither come, ye poor and wretched;
Know His will is to fill every hand outstretched.
Here are riches without measure;
Here forget all regret, fill your hearts with treasure. (ELH #115, stanza 11)