Christmas Eve - Luke 2:1-20 - December 24, 2015

Order of Vespers - Pg. 41
Hymn #90 Come, Your Hearts and Voices Raising
Hymn #103 To The Shepherds As They Watched By Night
Hymn #646 Silent Night, Holy Night
Hymn #136 Angels From the Realms of Glory

Collect for Christmas Eve
O God, Who hast made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light, grant, we beseech Thee, that, as we have known on Earth the mysteries of that Light, we may also come to the fullness of its joys in Heaven; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

1)         The Christ enters the world in rather humble circumstances. His mother Mary and her betrothed, Joseph, must travel from tiny Nazareth in Galilee to even smaller Bethlehem in Judea, not because they want to but so a foreign government can register them so they can be taxed. Inconvenienced in the final month of her pregnancy, Mary and her betrothed likely make the journey on foot to Bethlehem. I cannot imagine a woman nine months pregnant being comfortable riding through the Judean Hill Country on a donkey. While they were in Bethlehem St. Luke tells us that the time came for the baby to be born. All the preparations that were made in Nazareth were a bust as Mary experiences her contractions as they arrive at the outskirts of Bethlehem. Though they both belong to the great and honorable house of David, there is no house for him in David’s city, no home that is open to the couple, and not a single vacancy in town. They hunker down in a cattle shed. Mary gives birth surrounded by cattle and oxen. The Lord of Lords is welcomed into the world with the sounds braying and neighing. The baby is swaddled in strips of cloth and laid to rest not in a bassinet or a new cradle made by Joseph the carpenter, but a manger, a feeding trough for domesticated animals. The Lord who says every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), is now born among cattle and beasts of burden. The birth of Christ into the world has been so sentimentalized through carols and crèche that we sometimes forget just how humble the setting of Christ’s birth truly was. Even faithful Christians throughout the age added apocryphal stories to the account of Christ’s birth to make it seem less ordinary and humble. The Messiah is born in humility, destitution, poverty, and squalor.

2)         The child’s birth was humble but so would His entire life. Later in His life, Jesus would tell a would-be disciple, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). As He travelled the same countryside that His mother and Joseph had traveled before His birth, Jesus would have no land to farm so that He could provide for Himself. During His ministry He and His disciples went through the grainfields on the Sabbath and His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat (Matthew 12:1). Jesus and His men were taking advantage of a provision of Mosaic Law which commanded farmers to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so that the poor could glean them as they needed. On the Monday of Holy Week, Jesus would reenter the holy city because he was hungry (Matthew 21:18). But the child laid in a humble feeding trough in a cattle shed would face His greatest humiliation in His trial, suffering, and death. His trial was conducted at night contrary to Law, both Mosaic and Natural Law. He would endure false witnesses with their contradictory testimonies and bald faced lies about Him. Herod humiliated Him by mocking him and having Him beaten. Pilate persecuted Him by having Him lashed nearly to death. He would die upon a cross, one of the cruelest of humanity’s instruments of death. Nailed upon the cross naked to suffer in agony of body and spirit as He is mocked by the masses. From His conception to His shameful death, Jesus lives in abject poverty, enduring destitution willingly.

3)         St. Paul ponders this great irony in Philippians 2:6-8 when he writes that Jesus, 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. Though He is the second person of the Holy Trinity, begotten of His father before all worlds, God of God and Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, He empties Himself. He doesn’t empty Himself of His power, majesty, and identity as the second person of the Holy Trinity. He empties Himself of all the prerogative and honor that comes with being God. He doesn’t stop being God. He assumes human flesh, a human body, a human soul, the whole packed except human sin. He keeps being God, fully God in fact, as St. Paul writes in Colossians 2:9 that in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. This is the great mystery of the ages, that God would become fully man and yet remain fully God, uniting the divine nature with the human nature for all eternity. Not only does God become man but He humbles Himself, He empties Himself of all divine prerogative, He makes Himself of no reputation. He takes on the form of a servant, which is really too nice a translation for the Greek word dou/loj. He takes on the form of a slave. He who has everything, created everything that is, makes Himself nothing, possess nothing, and embraces humility and poverty.

4)         Why would the eternal Son of God do such a thing? For you. St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:9, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. In His incarnation, in His impoverished circumstances, in the way He lives His entire life, and in  His bitter, innocent sufferings and death, Jesus makes Himself poor so that He can make you rich. Some call it the Great Exchange, Christ relinquishes His honor and reputation and glory so that He may enrich poor sinners which have no honor, reputation, and glory before the judgment seat of God the Father almighty. All you possess in and of yourself is sin, God’s wrath, and the threat of eternal destruction. Humanity is a lost cause, unable to pull itself up out its wretchedness by its own bootstraps. Mankind is nothing but lost and condemned creatures because we are sinners, all of us. No matter how “good” we try to be, no matter how righteous we appear to be, no matter how “okay” we convince ourselves we are, none of that is true. To imagine that we are “good people” and that God will grade on a curve is to take refuge in a great lie. Solomon says, There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20). It is the saddest thing to witness when someone hides behind their own imagined righteousness and perceived goodness when they are flesh and blood, thinking they are rich when in reality they are among the spiritually poor and bankrupt like everyone else on the planet. From such arrogance and spiritual pride deliver us, good Lord.

5)         We are spiritually poor. We have nothing to offer God the Father in exchange for our many sins and transgressions. We have nothing to offer which would offset our unbelief and turn away God’s wrath upon sinners. That is why the Son of God does what He does. That is reason He enters the world as a man living in poverty and need. Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. As a man He lives your life. He walks your path. Except where every man and woman ever since Adam and Eve has failed miserably, the Son of God succeeds marvelously. Whereas you have nothing but unrighteousness works, Christ lives every day of His life in true faith toward God His heavenly Father and in true, selfless love for His neighbor, loving them as He loves Himself. Everything God demanded through Moses, Christ does perfectly with the hand and in His heart, for the Law is chiefly a matter of motivation and love. All our sins, the sin of the entire world, He takes upon Himself. The Father made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ earns a perfect righteousness. Christ sacrifices Himself upon the altar of the cross to atone for your sins of thought, word, and those things you have done as well as those you have left undone, so that whoever believes this and is baptized into this atoning death of His shall be saved.

6)         The Christ child is most definitely hidden under humility. He is concealed under the cross. Even His birth is just plain ordinary, not the birth fitting the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the Son of God begotten from all eternity. But it’s all on purpose, for you. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). He is born to earn heavenly riches for you. He is born to be your savior from your sin by atoning for all of it on the cross. He is born to be your savior from death by entering into death upon the cross and rising to life on the third day. He is born to be your savior from all the power of the devil by defeating the devil in His life, death, and resurrection. For unto you is born the one who impoverishes Himself to make you rich in heavenly blessings, innocence, righteousness, and eternal blessedness. That is why God becomes man: for you. Amen.

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