Thursday, January 26, 2012

Christmas Eve (Luke 2:1-20)

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this blessed Christmas Eve comes from the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, when all was still, when it was midnight, the Almighty Word descended from His holy throne. He came not in majesty and glory, but in humility, born in a stable, wrapped in rags, laid in a manger. Yes, there were angels, but they didn’t appear to the rich and powerful. The first to hear of the birth of the Son of God were shepherds, “keeping watch over their flock by night.” This child wasn’t born for the elite, He was born for all. He was born to raise up the downtrodden and exalt the humble. He was born as the Son of David, who tended sheep hundreds of years earlier on those same hills. He was born as the Good Shepherd, and so shepherds would be given the privilege to announce His coming. The angels appeared that night with a glorious message. This child was Christ the Lord, the Savior. And then the heavenly host breaks into song, the most beautiful music ever heard on this earth, a foretaste of heaven. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

 Peace on earth. This song has rung out every Christmas since. This is the song that defines Christmas, that has been the very lifeblood of the Church for two thousand years. Peace on earth. But there is no peace on earth, for hate is strong and mocks the song of the angels. There is no peace in our lives, no peace in our families, no peace in our communities, no peace in our world. We struggle against sin, we struggle against illness, we struggle against death. In this past year, we have lost loved ones, we have fought disease, we have been afflicted with problems too numerous to count. Some of you have been overwhelmed as the struggles of this life pile upon you. Peace on earth? Our lives in this world mock the song of the angels. There is crime in our communities, even in our small towns. There are conflicts between parents and children, between siblings, between those who are members together in the body of Christ. Peace on earth? Where is peace when our soldiers come back in flag-draped caskets? Where is peace when we live under the threat of terrorism, a faceless fear reaching out to strike us where we live and work? Where is peace as Christians continue to die for their faith all around the world?

 Peace on earth? Where was peace for the child sleeping in a manger that first Christmas Eve? When Herod found out about His birth, the king would in a rage send his soldiers to the City of David. The children of Bethlehem would be the first ones to die for the sake of Jesus, and He would barely escape with His own life, spending time in Egyptian exile. Jesus would be opposed from the manger, pursued by the religious and secular leaders, those threatened by Him. Peace on earth? The song of the angels seemed far away as Jesus was scourged by the soldiers, as He carried the cross to Golgotha. In Psalm 2 we read, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His anointed.” The world raged against that child, putting Him to death for the crime of claiming to be God. The soldiers spit in His face, the crowds mocked Him, even the thief next to Him hurled insults. Peace on earth? Nothing was further from the truth as the limp body of Jesus was laid into a tomb.

 But the angels refuse to stop their song; if anything, they sing even louder. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among those with whom He is pleased.” God is not dead, nor does He sleep. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angels asked the women on Sunday morning. Christ was not defeated on the cross: He has risen in victory! God is not dead, nor does He sleep! He is living, walking this earth again, bearing the same flesh and blood that came into this world on Christmas Eve. His resurrection proves that His bloody suffering and death was not simply the greatest injustice that the world has ever known. His death was how Jesus would fulfill the message of the angels. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” 

 Everything this child would do was ‘unto you.’ He was born unto you, He lived a perfect life unto you, and He died unto you. He kept the Law where you couldn’t; He died the death you deserved. He did all of this for you, because He loved you from the very foundation of the world. He is truly a Savior, but not the kind of Savior that we would expect. He was a Savior who would operate in humility. The shepherds were not told to look for a glowing baby, piles of gold, or a glorious throne; they were sent to look for a child born in a barn and placed in a manger. This Savior, born in humility, would deliver His people by offering Himself as the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of the world. The angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” He was born for you; He died for you. God is pleased with you for the sake of Jesus.

 The angels sing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” The song of the angels rings out in your life, in the midst of all that is not peaceful. God is not dead, nor does He sleep! He lives, triumphant over sin and death, and so He is not absent as you struggle in a world filled with sin, a world that seems completely devoid of peace. You have the promise that because Christ Himself stands by your side the wrong will fail and the right prevail on the Last Day. God is pleased with you because Jesus died with you. God is pleased with you because Christ’s victory on Easter morning is your victory. You cannot commit a sin that Christ cannot forgive. Those who belong to Christ have peace on earth, the peace which surpasses all understanding, the peace that often seems hidden in this world. You have peace with your God, for Jesus Christ was born to remove the penalty you owed for your sin, He was born to defeat death for you. You have peace that will last forever, the peace that characterizes eternity. This is the peace of the resurrection; when Jesus came to the disciples on Easter evening, He declared the same message as the angels thirty years earlier: “Peace be with you!” Jesus came to win peace, not the absence of conflict in this life, but eternal peace with your God, peace which sustains you as you face the sin of this world.
That is the message the Church is privileged to proclaim this day and every day. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” Our God is not dead, nor does He sleep! He is living and active, bringing peace to troubled hearts, forgiving sins and defeating death. To the world, the Church is an object of scorn. They mock the message of the angels, they are disgusted with the humility of the manger and the cross. But God choose the weak to shame the strong. He who proclaimed Christ’s birth to poor shepherds will proclaim peace through the weakness of the Church. He exalts the humble to His right hand in the throne room of heaven; in His great reversal the last will be first. Despite all appearances to the contrary, despite the opinion of the world, the Church proclaims peace on earth. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Christ’s birth brought glory to heaven, for He was born in accordance with God’s plan for our salvation. Christ’s birth brought peace to earth, for He was born to win peace between God and man. Jesus was born so that God would be pleased with you, not because of anything you have done, but solely for the sake of Christ’s death and resurrection. That is the message we preach to the world and against the world. Despite all that we see in this world of sin, the angels declare to us this night that peace has come, for our Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord. “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people!” God is not dead, nor does He sleep! Amen.

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