Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Eve (Luke 2:1-20)

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Grace, mercy, and peace among those with whom God is pleased, through our Savior, Christ the Lord, Amen. The text for our sermon in the dark and quiet of this Christmas Eve comes from the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, on that first Christmas Eve, two thousand years ago, a child was born. That is the fundamental, basic fact of this night. A child was born. This child was born under authority; His parents traveled to Bethlehem in obedience to the powers of this world, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Worldwide events sent this couple to the city of David, events far beyond what young Mary or Joseph could even comprehend. And this child was born in humility; the quaint nativity scenes outside our churches and on our mantles may or may not accurately portray the events of that night, but what they do convey is humility. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” 

A child was born that night; born in humiliating conditions, born in squalor, born under the authority of the rulers of this world, but those things hardly make Him unique. This child wasn’t the only baby born outdoors under the rule of the Caesars. No, something else made Him unique, His birth worth celebrating two thousand years later. A child was born that first Christmas night; God’s reaction to that birth would make all the difference. He responded with forgiveness, for this child is no ordinary child; His birth no ordinary birth, as the angels declared: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This child is God in the flesh, God come down to save, He is Christ the Lord. With the birth of this child, the world is shaken, everything is changed. The angels sing of a new relationship between earth and heaven: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” This child brings peace, for through Him God is pleased once again with man. Whatever else this child will do or say, He has come to bring forgiveness, to reconcile man with God.

 A child was born that night; He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. A time is coming when the wood of that manger will be fashioned into a cross, for Jesus to hang upon and die for the sin of the world. A time is coming when those swaddling cloths will be used as burial cloths, for Jesus to be wrapped in and laid in a tomb. A child was born that night; He was born to die in your place, bearing your guilt, your shame, your sin. A child was born that night; He was born to lay in a tomb in your place, experiencing death itself for you. A child was born that night; He was born to rise again on the third day, announcing that death itself had been conquered. This child was born to win forgiveness for you, and where sins are forgiven, death has no more power. God’s reaction to the birth of this child is the announcement of forgiveness, for this child who was born would walk the way of the cross to win forgiveness for all people. 

Forgiveness is the only reason the angels celebrate this child’s birth; reconciliation between God and man is coming, and the world needs to be told. God’s first chosen messengers are the lowest of the low, the poor shepherds who are watching their flocks by night. Humble messengers of a humble birth. But they cannot pass on what they haven’t first received. They must be taught, given knowledge of the events of that night and the child born into this world. And so the reaction of the angels to the birth of this child is catechesis: teaching, imparting knowledge of God and His ways, creating faith. “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.’” There is no more need to fear! This child will take away all fear, fear of sin and death forever through His death and resurrection. Peace is coming, and God will be well-pleased with you by the birth of this child!

A child was born that night; the shepherds have been told, but their eyes do not yet see. Still, they believe. They believe and then they go to see. They have been catechized, taught about this birth and its significance by heavenly teachers, and this Word from the Lord creates faith. Now they go to see, and when they see, they rejoice. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” The shepherds react to the birth of this child in the same way that the angels did: with catechesis. They go forth to teach others, to impart the knowledge of this child that was passed onto them from heaven itself to the entire world. Their message hasn’t been silenced to this day. It continues to be passed on, from one generation to the next, from one place to the next, from one person to the next. These words aren’t simply facts, not just a history lesson, but divine knowledge which creates and strengthens faith in the child through whom God gives forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Even Mary, who had spoken with angels, who had carried God in the flesh within her womb, was catechized by the shepherds, although she has a different reaction: “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Mary heard the testimony of the shepherds that night, and she saw with her own eyes the child, Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. She heard and saw the great deeds of God, and she treasured them up in her heart. She kept them foremost in her mind, guarding and keeping them as the sure and certain deposit of God’s wondrous working in this world. Christmas Eve was to be the lens by which she viewed all else, for the wonders associated with this child had just begun.

A child was born that night; her child. Mary treasures up all these words and events in order to ponder them in her heart. She considers them all carefully, seeking to understand the works of God more clearly. She converses within herself and with God, reflecting on what God has done in her, what God has done for her. Mary is a young woman of prayer; we saw this when she responded to the news of Christ’s conception with words of obedience and a beautiful song of praise. She speaks to God, humbling relying on Him through the challenges that she will face as she raises the incarnate Son of God, as she hears His teaching, as she watches the soldiers nail Him to the cross. Prayer is her constant companion, as she seeks to understand these cosmic events that began within her womb. She is not alone; through the redemption of her Son, she has a direct connection to the Father’s throne in prayer, prayer that sustains her in all that she will face.

A child was born that night; God reacted with forgiveness, the shepherds by receiving and then giving catechesis, and Mary by careful ponderings and prayer. Tonight, we follow Mary’s example. We treasure up the events of Christmas, the wondrous events that we have heard of and seen with the eyes of faith. This child, this Jesus, is constantly on our minds and on our hearts. And we ponder, we ponder the gifts that flow from the manger. We ponder how this child, Jesus Christ our Lord, will leave that manger and walk the way of the cross to win forgiveness of all our sins and even defeat death itself. We ponder how the divine knowledge of salvation, first proclaimed by the angels, is passed down as a gift and treasure to us, to create and sustain faith. And we ponder how prayer, the gift of communication with our God, is possible only because this child was born to remove the dividing wall of hostility between God and us. We ponder all this in prayerful meditation, because nothing in this world is more important than this child and what He brings; His birth changes not just our world, but eternity. In Him is peace, peace among those with whom God is now well pleased. Glory to God in the highest! In the Name of this child, our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

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