Christmas Day Sermon 2003| Rev. Rolf Preus| Luke 2:1-7
Christmas is celebrated all over the world. It is true that the world remains largely ignorant of the significance of Christ’s birth, but no one can ignore this holiday. Not everyone likes it. Militant secularists fight to take down Nativity scenes on public property. Jehovah’s Witnesses warn us about Christmas being a Pagan holiday (as if people who deny the deity of Christ are going to protect us from paganism). And, of course, there is that fat guy from the North Pole who diverts the attention of children from Christ’s birth to whatever material gain they may obtain from his hands. But apart from a few radical judges and scrooges of political correctness, the militant secularists have limited influence. Nobody wants to listen to Jehovah’s Witnesses. And Santa isn’t really intent on distracting children from the true meaning of Christmas. He’s just a jolly old guy who likes to give children presents.
It is true that Christmas as a holiday is much more than celebrating the birth of Christ and that most people who celebrate this holiday do not know Jesus Christ. But it is also true that the birth of Jesus Christ is much more than this or any other holiday. The birth of Christ of the Virgin Mary in a stable behind an inn in Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus demonstrates to us that our gracious God is in control of the history of nations. There is no detail of our lives that escapes God’s notice and He sees us with the fatherly eyes of gracious goodwill.
God graciously determined everything pertaining to the birth of Christ: the time, the place, the mother, and the manner.
God gave the time of Jesus’ birth through the mouth of His prophet Daniel. God sent a dream to King Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel interpreted it for him. The king had seen an image whose head was gold, whose chest and arms were silver, whose belly and thighs were bronze, whose legs were of iron, and whose feet were of iron and clay. A stone cut without hands struck the image on its feet and the entire image crumbled into the dust. Then the stone became a mountain that filled the whole earth. Daniel explained how each part of the statue represented a kingdom that would be replaced by the kingdom below it until the coming of the eternal kingdom.
A review of history shows us how Daniel’s prophecy came to be true. The head of gold symbolized the reign of the Assyrians. The chest of silver symbolized the reign of the Persians that came after the reign of the Assyrians. The belly of bronze symbolized the reign of the Greeks that came after the reign of the Persians. The legs and feet of iron and clay symbolized the reign of the Romans that came after the reign of the Greeks. It was during the reign of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, that the stone cut without hands was torn from the mountain. It was cut without hands. This means that the birth of Christ came about without any human contribution or participation. It was a virgin birth. The time of Jesus’ birth was at the height of Roman power and the rise of His kingdom corresponded to the fall of the Roman Empire. God governed the history of nations for the purpose of bringing His kingdom into this world. It did not appear to be so. The faithful were persecuted under the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Seldom has the power of God’s people been visible to this world. But here we are, some two thousands years after Christ’s birth, and children know nothing about the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans except what they read about in history classes. But the evidence of Christ’s birth is all around them.
God determined when Jesus would be born. The common Greek language of the people was known throughout the civilized world. It was much like English is today. God chose that particular language as the language to which He would commit His holy word as recorded in the New Testament Scriptures. As the church was scattered throughout the world, often suffering extreme persecution, she took her Holy Scriptures with her. And while the Roman Empire was falling, God was preserving His saving gospel in a language known all over the world. It was no accident that Jesus Christ was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus. God determined the time of Christ’s birth.
God determined the place of Christ’s birth. It was no accident that Caesar sent out a decree that the world should be registered for taxation at precisely the time when the Virgin Mary was due to deliver her baby. God’s word had determined that Jesus would be born during the Roman Empire. God’s word had also determined that Jesus would be born in the city of David. God said through the prophet Micah, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2) David himself records these words of God in Psalm 89:3, “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David: ‘Your seed I will establish forever, and build up your throne to all generations.’” It was according to God’s eternal will that the Christ should be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. He would be the Son of David. Bethlehem means house of bread. Jesus called Himself the bread of life who came down from heaven.
Jesus was born when and where God wanted Him to be born. And His mother was the one God chose. Mary was a virgin. God said through Isaiah the prophet, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) Some would suggest that when the prophet Isaiah first spoke these words he was speaking of a young woman of his own day who would conceive and give birth to a son who would be called Immanuel. These people are somewhat unclear on the facts of life. There was no virgin birth at the time of Isaiah for the simple reason that a virgin birth is quite impossible. Mary herself knew this perfectly well. When the angel told her that she would give birth to the Savior, she replied,
“How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”
There has been only one Virgin birth in the history of the world. It came about because God so willed it. As the church sings, “Not by human flesh and blood, by the Spirit of our God was the Word of God made flesh – woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.” God chose this mother for His Son. He prepared her. No, God did not preserve her from original sin. There is no need to have a sinless Mary in order to have a sinless Jesus. The conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb was immaculate despite the fact that Mary was a sinner. The church rightly honors Mary, not because she was free from sin, but because she so wonderfully exemplifies the simple faith and obedience of the Christian. When she heard the promise of the angel that nothing was impossible with God, she responded by saying, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And so it was.
God determined the time, the place, and the mother of the Savior’s birth. He also determined the manner of His birth. This, too, He foretold through the prophets. Isaiah had written concerning Him,
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:2-3)
He did not appear displaying the divine glory that was His from eternity. He covered His glory in a robe of humility. He was born in a stable. His infant crib was a manger used to feed animals. He did not grow up among the high and mighty. He once said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20) While we sing, “Beautiful Savior” in adoration to Jesus, He hid His beauty under the humble form of a servant. As St. Paul described Him,
Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)
It is not enough to believe in the almighty God who controls history and governs nations and determines by His own irresistible will the time and the place and the mother for the birth of His Son in the flesh. We must see that this God in the flesh, this Virgin born Son of the Father, as He wants us to see Him. We must see Him as He humbles Himself for us. We must look and see Him live a life of unpretentious obedience, gentleness, humility, and pure love. We must look at Him as he bears with the weaknesses and sins of His fellowman. See how He treats victims of disease, tragedy, and especially those who are victims of their own sin. In His deep humility, what do we see? We see God as God invites us to see Him. We see God as our dear Father. Only as we look to the humble obedience of Jesus can we understand the depth, the height, and the width and the length of God’s love. It is a love so deep that in its depths all our sins are drowned forever in the blood of Christ as He in humble obedience bears their awful load. It is a love so high that it takes us up to heaven where there is no sin or any curse that sin brings. It is a love so wide that it covers the entire human race, leaving nobody out, but inviting every sinner of every description to lay down his burden on the One who in humility has already borne it. It is a love so long that it extends on into eternity. There we will praise God, not only for his great wisdom, power, and impeccable planning, but most especially for his love revealed on that first Christmas in Bethlehem.
Thou Christian heart, whoe’er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee.
For God’s own Child, in mercy mild,
Joins thee to Him – how greatly God must love thee! (ELH #161, stanza 4)