Christmas Eve + Luke 2:1-20 + December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve
Luke 2:1-20
December 24, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 “It came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Perhaps that is better translated in our day as “to be assessed.” This registration was for the purpose of taxation. Caesar decrees that everyone throughout the wide expanse of the Roman Empire be registered. In order to be registered you had to go your own city. Joseph, who had been living in Nazareth, which is Galilee, travels to humble Bethlehem in Judea, the city of David whom we know as king. He took Mary with him. She was his betrothed wife which means that she was already legally his wife. So she went along. “So it was, that while they 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.” The Scriptures had prophesied that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. The Lord says in Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” The Lord promised this would be the case and so it was. The Christ was born in Bethlehem, not because His parents lived there, but because they were there temporarily to satisfy the tax man. The Lord used Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man in the known world, to fulfill His Word.

It was not without purpose that Christ was born in Bethlehem on account of Caesar’s taxation. Nothing is without purpose and in the divine plan of salvation every detail is given to teach us about Christ and our salvation. So it is with this. Taxes are a burden, though a necessary burden. St. Paul writes in Romans 13:7, “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” Joseph is simply fulfilling his God-given vocation as citizen by going to Bethlehem to be registered so that he can endure that burden of Caesar. That Christ was born during Caesar’s assessment points us to what kind of ruler and king He will be. Caesar’s government, like all human governments, rest upon the shoulders of their citizens. The citizenry are who pays the government’s bills. But not so with Christ. The prophet Isaiah exclaimed, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6). The child that is born, the Son that is given to us on this day does not come impose heavy burdens upon people. He comes to lift those heavy burdens from their shoulders and shoulder those burdens Himself.

The burden which this child shoulders is not taxes. In the eternal scheme of things, taxes are but a light and momentary burden. This child comes to bear a burden far heavier and far deadlier to humanity. Christ is born to shoulder the great debt of our sin. Sin is a burden of debt that all humanity owes to God. No one is exempt because we are all born from the line of Adam and Eve, who sinned in Paradise. They, being made unclean through their disobedience, pass that sin and guilt onto all their descendants, so that the words of St. Paul are true: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The most righteous looking man that you know is still indebted to God and owes this heavy burden, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). David confesses the burden of sin in Psalm 38:4, “For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.” This is the debt we owe God: our sins against His commandments. He created us to walk in His ways and we do not. He created us to fear Him alone, to trust Him above all things, and to love Him as the highest good and we are unable to do so because we are born from the line of Adam and Eve. For this debt, humanity deserves to be thrown into the eternal debtors prison of Hell, there to experience the full wrath of God for eternity, for St. Paul also says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Yet God did not create us for wrath. So in love God gives His Only-Begotten Son to be born in human flesh, from the womb of the Virgin Mary, to bear our burden and shoulder the full weight of our sins. All men are sinners, burdened with this terrible debt. So God’s Only-Begotten Son is given for all men. The angel proclaim this wonderful news to the shepherds in the fields this night, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will to all people.” God the Father gives His Only-Begotten Son, the Son begotten from eternity, to be born in our human flesh so that He might bear our burden. He lives His entire earthly life under every stern command of the Law and does so perfectly without spot or defect. During His earthly days Hewas in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He assumes our full humanity in order to offer Himself as the satisfaction for our sins. His merits are infinite because He is the Only-Begotten Son of God in human flesh. “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). His death can atone for the entire world’s sins because it is not the death of a mere man, nor is it the death of a man who is perfect. It is the suffering and death of God in human flesh. For that reason is sacrifice is more than adequate to make satisfaction for the insurmountable debt of sin we owe to the Lord God.

In His perfect life and His innocent, bitter sufferings and death, the child born to us today will shoulder our burdens for Himself, so that all who believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life. His call goes out to all who feel the burden of guilt and strain under the weight of their sins. Christ calls to sinners and says: Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). It is not the Lord’s will that you should labor under the heavy burden of your sins. It is His will to give you rest. It is not the Lord’s will that you try to pay your own debt, for it is insurmountable, for we not only sin but we are sinners. He came to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, who takes your sins from you so that you become free from their guilt, free from their burden, and free from their eternal punishment.
This is why Christ was born during Caesar’s tax assessment. He is not a Caesar or worldly leader, laying heavy burdens on his subjects. Quite the opposite. This child is born to take away the burden of your sins by atoning for them on the cross. This Son is given to offer all the benefits He earned at the cross to you in the gospel so that you receive them, not by works and striving and earning, but by faith alone, which trusts the good news that in Christ your sins are forgiven. Be of good cheer! Christ has borne your burden of sin. Give thanks! He offers you His innocence, His righteousness, and His blessedness in the promise of the Gospel. Rejoice! Daily He offers it all freely to you, so that all His benefits are yours by faith alone. Take heart, “for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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