Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Day (Isaiah 9:6)

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 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 Christmas Day is the Antiphon for this festival of joy, Isaiah nine verse six. Dear friends in Christ: a child is always a gift, and certainly every child is a gift in some sense to us all. But every child isn’t born to us or given to us; as much as we may rejoice with them, that gift was given to his or her parents, and we do not call that child our own. The only children I can call ‘mine’ in any real sense of the term are those who have been given to me, biologically through procreation or legally through adoption.

The one exception is the Christ child. He is Mary’s son, carried in her womb, but yet He is not given only to her. Isaiah declares “to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” This child is born to us, He is given to us! This child is your child, and mine, He is God’s gift to us; just as surely as God gives children to specific people when and where He pleases, so He has given this child to all people. He was born not just to Mary, not even just to the people of Israel, He is born to all people, of every tribe and nation and language. Isn’t this what we heard the angels say? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” He is born to us, He is given to us, even though we are poor, miserable sinners, even though we deserve no such gift, even though our hearts are turned inward, even though we rebel against God at every turn. God has given this child to us, to this whole rotten mess of humanity; in fact He has given this child to us because we are a rotten mess.

This child is given as a gift to sinners; He comes to be the gracious King of those who deserve nothing but anger and wrath. He comes to release us from the burden of our sin and rule over us in grace. We are told through Isaiah, “the government shall be upon His shoulder.” He is a King, the King promised to David, the King that will establish his throne forever and ever, the King that we needed, or else we were doomed to eternal death. And he rules, not as the kings of the nations do, by terror and coercion, but by bearing His people upon His shoulders. He takes sinners upon Himself and He bears them, lifting them and all the burdens they carry. We dare not try to carry Him, no matter how small He appears on this Christmas Day; He comes to carry us, to take our burdens away from us and place them upon Himself. The people do not bear this King; He bears them.

The Christian Church is found nowhere else than the beaten and bloodied shoulder of Jesus. He carries His people, for He carried their burdens, the burdens of sin and death, and He bore them to the cross. That heavy load was borne even unto death. This child was born to poor, miserable sinners to bear our sin; He was given to us to take that burden to the cross and do away with it there. Any who refuse to be carried by Christ, who insist on carrying their own burdens, are not Christians at all. A Christian is one who is carried upon Christ’s shoulders, like a lamb by its shepherd. Those whom He carries are His people, His government, His children; those who are not carried by Him, who want to walk by themselves or desire to help Jesus bear the load are not His kingdom, His church, or His people. There is no greater comfort this day and every day than to know that your sins are not upon your shoulders but upon His, that you yourself are borne upon His shoulders, safe and secure upon this child, your King.

For He is our gracious King; He rules in mercy according to His names, the first of which is “Wonderful Counselor.” He is the unexpected Counselor, the mysterious Counselor, the extraordinary Counselor, who works in ways that we do not expect. To destroy sin, death, and the devil, He allowed Himself to be taken captive by them, even letting them put Him to death. To win victory He submitted to the worst defeat. With the same seeming weakness, against what our eyes tell us is true, He counsels us with His Word, with the sweet message of the Gospel, declaring to us in the midst of our sufferings and trials that the victory has already been won, that He has triumphed over all that assails us. We don’t know which way to turn in this world of sin and suffering; we are aimless and wandering, harassed at every turn. But He speaks words of comfort; He relieves our hearts when sin and guilt surround us with the precious words of absolution, He reassures us at the time of death by declaring to us His victory over the grave. And when Satan tempts us, He points us to the crushed skull of the serpent, lying at the foot of the cross.

Isaiah calls Him “Mighty God;” this child born to us, this son given to us is no mere human, but is God in the flesh, mighty to save. We are so weak and helpless; sins that we think we have conquered keep coming back, the devil continues to tempt, sufferings come at us like the waves of the ocean. We are beaten down and helpless against all that this world throws at us, and looming behind it all is the certain threat of death. But where we are weak, there this child is strong. He is born to conquer in the fight, to take our enemies head on and triumph over them. At His coming the demons tremble, at His coming diseases flee, at His coming death tries to take Him, and finds itself conquered. Nothing that attacks you in this world has the victory; all your enemies will be destroyed, for they have been triumphed over through the cross and empty tomb. The Christ child has won the victory, He will stand on the Last Day as our “Mighty God.”

He stands tall on the Last Day because His kingdom, carried upon His shoulder, will last for eternity. Isaiah calls Him “Everlasting Father” because He makes us God’s children forever. We were estranged from God, divided from our Creator. Our sin had built a wall that we couldn’t scale. We has the status of slaves, even worse than slaves; we were slaves condemned to die, slaves who had no hope of freedom, nothing to look forward to but death and an eternity of wrath. But then a child was born to us, a son was given to us, and He took our sin upon His shoulder and bore it to the cross. A child was born so that we would be children, a son was given so that we would be sons. He came to bring us into God’s family once again, to give us adoption as sons, and as His beloved children we have an inheritance that lasts forever. Our status has been changed, now we are God’s children, no longer estranged, no longer slaves; we can in boldness call God ‘Our Father.’

And if we are children, then we are at peace with our God, then this child can also be called “Prince of Peace.” The angels sang of peace on that first Christmas Eve, and the task of the Christ child was to bring peace by removing all that brought hostility. He was Himself forsaken by God in place of fallen humanity, so that the barrier between God and man would be torn down, and when He emerged from the grave in triumph, He said, “Peace be with you,” echoing the angels on the night of His birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” His government, His kingdom, is then dedicated to one task: bringing that peace to the world, bringing that peace to you and me. He is the Prince of Peace because He makes peace between God and man whenever He baptizes a child into His Name, whenever He speaks through a pastor the words of absolution, whenever the Gospel is proclaimed from a pulpit, whenever He gives the gift of His Body and Blood. He is constantly bringing peace, and when He returns, peace will fill all the new heavens and the new earth, for He is the Prince of Peace.

That is the child that is born to you, the son that is given to you. This child bears you upon His shoulders, who carries you to His Father’s house. This child counsels you with His Word, comforting you in the midst of affliction with the Gospel. This child conquered in the fight, who triumphed over your enemies. This child has made you a child of God by winning peace between you and your God. That is the child that is born to you, the son that is given to you. Take these words, and write them as big as heaven and earth: this child, the Christ child, is given TO ME! He is given to me, He is mine just as much as He is Mary’s, just as much as He is given to each and every person on this planet. Set these words, set this child against all your enemies. Confess freely: I am a poor, miserable sinner, deserving of nothing but God’s wrath; I am unholy, unrighteous, and wicked. But against that truth I set another one: this child, born into the world as God promised through Isaiah, is born to me, He is given to me, and He bears me on His shoulders, He has given me all that is His and He has taken all that was mine: my sin, my death, my judgment. This child is given TO ME and is mine forever, and because of Him, because He walked the way of the cross and emerged victorious on the other side of the grave, I have His righteousness, His holiness, His life, His inheritance. For eternity I will praise Him, calling Him by each one of His beautiful names: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. In the Name of Jesus, the child born to us, the son given to us, Amen.

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