Christmas Eve + Luke 2:1-20 + December 24, 2016

Order of Vespers - Pg. 41
Hymn # 90 Come Your Hearts and Voices Raising
Hymn # 106 The People That in Darkness Sat
Hymn #103 To Shepherds as They Watched by Night
Hymn # 646 Silent Night
Hymn #136 Angels from the Realms of Glory

THE LORD || has said to | Me, | - *
            “You are My Son, today I have | be- | got- | ten | You.” (Psalm 2:7b)
|| The Lord reigns, He is clothed with | ma-jes- | ty; *
            The Lord is clothed; He has girded | Him- | self | with |strength.
|| Surely the world is es- | ta- | blished, *
            So that it | can- | not | be | moved.
|| Your throne is established from of | old; | - *
            You are from | ev- | er- | last- | ing.
|| The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their | voice; | - *
            The floods | lift | up | their | waves.
|| The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many | wa- | ters, *
            Than the mighty | waves | of | the | sea.
|| Your testimonies are very | sure; | - *
            Holiness adorns Your house, O | Lord, | for- | ev- | er. (Psalm 93:1–5)
|| The Lord has said to | Me, | - *
            “You are My Son, today I have | be- | got- | ten | You.” (Psalm 2:7b)
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. 

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Sermon on the Holy Gospel 

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Luke’s account of Christ’s birth is rather straightforward. He presents the facts of what happened. There is no commentary, no annotations, and no explanations as to why any of it is happening. He just tells the story of what happens. And what happens is, for the most part, fairly normal. Caesar issues a decree that the entire Roman should be taxed. The Christmas story begins with a secular ruler doing what secular rulers do: issuing edicts and collecting taxes. It is not angel, vision, or dream that leads Joseph to travel to Bethlehem. It’s the taxman that causes the Christ to be born in Bethlehem. So Joseph goes to Bethlehem, the city where David was born, because he was of the house and lineage of David and that’s how this census worked. He travels with his betrothed, Mary, who is nine months pregnant, the perfect time to travel sixty-nine miles on foot.

2)         While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby to be born. Again, the narrative is just plain old normal. “So it was, that while there were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Mary gives birth like other women give birth. She swaddles the child like all children are swaddled. She lays the child in a manger because all this happened in a stable. The inn was full and no one was willing to give up their guest room so that a pregnant woman could give birth in it. That’s the Christmas story, as it happened, plain and simple. Luke offers no interpretations as St. Matthew does in his gospel. Luke offers no theological discourses as St. John does. Luke just tells the simple story and lets someone else interpret these rather ordinary events.

3)         But it not just anyone who gets to interpret these humble events. It is God Himself. An angel of the Lord appears to shepherds who are watching their flocks that night. Again, Luke simply records what happened. “Behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.” Angels always cause fear and dread in mankind because men know that angels are God’s messengers. You can’t bargain with an angel. Nor can you get out the situation. You simply have to listen. But the angel speaks comforting words. “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign unto you: You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” The angel of the Lord, the messenger of God from heaven, interprets these plain events for the shepherds. The point of the birth of Christ, the way to interpret the humble birth and ordinary circumstances, is to see the child for what the angel of the Lord says of Him. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior.” What just moments ago looked ordinary now becomes extraordinary. What to the eyes of flesh seem plain and mundane, the eyes of faith now see as glorious and marvelous. It was not the taxman that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. It was the Lord working through a regular occurrence. It was not an ordinary birth which happened in the stable, it was the birth of Christ the Lord, the Savior.

4)         And although this was spoken to the shepherds specifically, the Savior born in the city of David is not for the shepherds only, for the angel says, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” This Savior born in David’s city is the Savior of all mankind, not just a portion of mankind, and not just mankind that was living at that moment in time, but all mankind. So this child is the Savior of all because He will die for the sins of the entire world. That is what why all men need a Savior, for all men are sinners. This is what an angel, perhaps the same one as appeared to the shepherds, told Joseph in a dream in Matthew 1:21, Mary “will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” St. John says of Christ that “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). It is as St. Paul wrote in tonight’s Epistle lesson, Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). This is why the angel’s message is “good tidings of great joy.” The baby that is born of ordinary, if not humble, circumstances, is the Savior who will save all men from their sin, the guilt of their sin, and the just wrath of God that hangs over every human being on account of their sins. The birth of this child can only be interpreted one way: God’s way. And the Lord tells us that He is our Savior.

5)         Frankly, that is news that most do not want to hear. No one wants to hear that they are a sinner. No one wants to hear that all their righteous deeds are worthless before God. No one wants to hear that their moral striving for self-betterment is, spiritually speaking, an exercise in futility. No one wants to hear that apart from Christ they are a lost and condemned creature. But that is what we all are without Christ. Men can flat out reject the verdict, and many do, preferring to reinterpret the Christmas story a children’s tale or a pretense for Santa and reindeer. Others, in their unwillingness to have a Savior from sin, try to massage the Christmas story and the plain events of Christ’s birth in the flesh into a politicized call for action so that they can ignore the Angel’s explanation of these blessed events. Just last week someone sent me an artist’s rendering of the Christmas story. The drawing was a stable, a manger, a few animals and trees. It was called, “A nativity scene without Jews, Arabs, Africans, or refugees.” The artist could not stand for having the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes be the Savior for sinners, so he turned the nativity in a propaganda piece to guilt good-intentioned Christians into supporting political causes unthinkingly, stripping the nativity of all comfort while turning it into a club.

6)         That is just one contemporary example of how sinful men cannot accept the angel’s words and must reinterpret and reshape the Christmas story to fit their own agendas and imaginations. You can very easily find many more examples. But any gospel or nativity for that matter which does not put forward Christ as the Savior from our sins is no gospel at all, no matter how pretty the picture is or how alluring the message is. Unbelievers in every generation cannot tolerate the simple word of God. But may it not be so among us. For whenever anyone tries to cram and stuff a foreign meaning into Christ’s nativity, to make it something that’s it not, even if they do so with the most pious intentions, they are displacing Christ from the manger and making the simple story of Christ’s birth just another story that can be manipulated and massaged to fit our their own thinking. We cannot, and must not, do violence to the Words of Scripture, inspired by the Holy Ghost, penned by St. Luke, which record those blessed words of the angel, the words which show us the meaning of this seemingly plain and ordinary birth.

7)         This babe wrapped in swaddling cloths is not a propaganda piece, nor is He a pretense for a commercialized holiday celebrating family and togetherness. This child is not a myth and fairytale concocted to comfort the weak-minded. Those are all someone else’s interpretations of this birth in Bethlehem, someone who does not have in mind the things of God but the things of man. In a world which glories in all sorts of false meanings for the nativity, tonight we set our gaze into the sky over Bethlehem’s fields and hear the words of the angel of the Lord, send by the Lord with the Lord’s message. This child is the Lord’s answer for human sin, for this child is the long promised Messiah, the Christ. This child is the Lord’s answer to sin, who will be swallowed up in death to destroy death by rising to life on the third day. This Son of Mary is the Lord God Himself, wrapped in human flesh to atone for our sins by His death on the cross, so that who believe in Him might not perish but having everlasting life. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David nothing more, and nothing less than, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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