Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord + Luke 2:1-10 + December 24, 2018
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The birth of Christ the Lord is preached first not to princes or priests but to lowly shepherds. It matches the lowliness and humility of Christ’s birth. No room in the inn among civilized folk, only room among the animals. No crib for a bed, only the animals feeding trough. It makes sense that this good news would be preached first to shepherds who were generally poor and held a rather low station in life. But in spite of their lowliness they get quite a preacher. “Behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.” Of course they were afraid. You would have been, too. When an angel of the Lord appears, shining in heavenly glory, fear is the only proper response. In the Old Testament when Balaam sees the angel of the Lord standing before him, “he bowed his head and fell flat on his face” (Numbers 22:31). When Samson’s parents realize they’ve been speaking to the incognito angel, “Manoah said to his wife, ‘We shall surely die, because we have seen God!’” (Judges 13:22). In the New Testament, St. Luke records how when Zacharias the priest saw the angel standing beside in incense altar in the Temple, “he was troubled, and fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12). Even when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary with a greeting filled with good news, “she was troubled at his saying” (Luke 1:29). When the Lord’s angel appears, fear is the sinner’s only proper response, since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
To Zacharias, to Mary, and now to these poor, disheveled shepherds, the angel of the Lord preaches, “Do not be afraid.” He comes bearing a message from the Lord for these poor shepherds. But it’s not a message of wrath and condemnation so that they should fear. It is a good report. “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 to you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” There is no reason to fear. The angel brings good news for them and for all people. A savior is born! He is in the city of David, Bethlehem! Here are the signs by which you will find Him: a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. The one whose mother lays Him in the manger is Christ the Lord, Christ meaning Messiah and Lord meaning God. This child born of Mary is God’s Son, “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3). This babe is the Word of God, eternally begotten of God the Father, through whom all things were made, but not in human flesh and blood. God gives His Son in human flesh to these shepherds, to all people, so that all who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.
“Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” The preacher has finished His sermon. Now the angelic choir appears, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God: Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth. Goodwill toward men. The shepherds rush to see the child who brings God’s peace on earth and God’s goodwill toward men. What kind of peace does this child bring? If we look at all this from a worldly perspective, this child certainly doesn’t bring any peace at all. If we hear in the angel’s song of peace on earth peace among the nations of the world, we will be sorely disappointed. If we hear the angel’s song of goodwill toward men and imagine that this child will bring rapprochement between social classes, different religions, or political parties, then we will be terribly dissatisfied. Christ the Lord brings none of these things. He will even say during His ministry, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). When two brothers ask Jesus to arbitrate a dispute over their inheritance, Jesus balks at them, “Who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). God did not send His Son into the world to bring the kind of peace we think we need; whether it’s peace between nations, family peace, or financial peace.
“Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Not between men but between God and man. Worse than the enmity between nations, peoples, or classes is the enmity between God and sinful mankind. When our father Adam rebelled against God’s command in paradise, he plunged his entire race into sin, darkness, and death. St. Paul says, “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Because the head of our race sinned, that sin has spread to every man, woman, and child. And because sin has spread to us, death has too, because where there is sin there is death. “Through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation” says the Apostle (Romans 5:18). It is not only that because of Adam all are born sinners who are doomed to die. Adam’s judgment flows to his entire race, so that the entire race, all people, stand condemned before God. Because of our sin, both that which we inherit from Adam and that which we daily commit of our own will, we stand under God’s wrath. And where there is wrath there is no peace. There is only hostility.
All people stand under God’s condemnation, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But the angel of the Lord tells the Shepherds “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” It is to all people since all people stand in need of it! It is for the shepherds but it is even for you! “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” He is humanity’s savior from sin, death, and the condemnation each of rightly deserves. He’s your savior from your sins, your death, and your condemnation. He saves sinners by dying in their place upon the cross. Through His innocent, bitter sufferings and death He pays for all of the sins of the entire world. He earns a perfect righteousness by His holy life of obedience to the Father. All who believe the promise of the Gospel are absolved of their sins and possess the righteousness He earned. He declares you righteous not through works which you have done but by faith which believes the gospel and trusts that Christ’s death and merits avail for you.
By faith we are forgiven our sins and justified, and “having been justified by faith,” Paul says, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). This is the peace the child brings. This is the peace sinful humanity needs most. It is the peace the angel choir sings about on the night of His birth according to the flesh. Peace with God for all who flee to Christ for mercy. Peace of conscience which is borne from the confidence that your sins, though scarlet, are white as snow. Peace of soul which rests not upon your own righteousness, your own works, and your own merits, but on Christ’s promise of forgiveness and perfect righteousness. By faith in Christ your sins are forgiven. And where sins are forgiven there is no more wrath, no more condemnation, and no more punishment. Apart from Christ all these remain, but through faith in Christ God gives you all the blessings Christ earns for you. For these “good tidings of great joy” praise God with the angels, for to you this night is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Give glory to God in highest, for this child brings you peace with God, His favor, and His goodwill.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.