The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
December 24, 2018
Text: Luke 2:1-20
Why did you come tonight? Maybe it’s just because it’s Christmas Eve, and that’s the thing to do. Perhaps some nostalgia brought you here. On this night we wear our hearts on our sleeves as we sing the old songs about angels and shepherds and silent, holy nights. The lights are dimmed and we worship by candlelight. There is a romance about the whole thing. Maybe you’re here because your parents dragged you here. Your spouse told you the least you could do is make an appearance. Or maybe you’re here for all the right reasons, because you know that here you’ll find the Baby announced by the angels, your Savior from sin and death, Jesus Christ. But if I’m being honest, I have to say, I really don’t care why you’re here. I just thank God you’re here. Because there is incredibly Good News for you to hear tonight. But I have to warn you up front. You’ll probably be disappointed if you’re expecting a trite story about glowing stars and a serene birth and a little Lord Jesus no crying He makes. Oh, we have the old traditional hymns, and we’ll have the candlelight. But the real circumstances of Christmas are nothing like your Christmas cards or nativity sets. Mary’s face is probably anything but serene. She just gave birth in a stable. There is no such thing as the Motel 6 in the New Testament, and it’s not an “inn” in the sense we think of where Mary and Joseph tried to stay. Probably what happened is Joseph came knocking at the old family home, but there just wasn’t room for his fiancée who got pregnant out of wedlock. If you want to stay here, you’ll have to stay with the animals. She gives birth there, with no one to help, with the hay and the dung and the lowing cattle and bah-ing sheep. She wraps her Baby in scraps of old cloth and lays Him in the feeding trough. A beautiful scene, indeed. Fitting for the birth of a King. And the shepherds out keeping watch over their flocks by night? Can you imagine the smell? And it’s dangerous out there. Robbers and wolves and mountain lions. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s probably wet. These particular shepherds have to work the graveyard shift. They probably haven’t had a bath in weeks. Blue collar workers who don’t make much money to speak of. This is the last place you’d expect angels to show up.
It’s not very nostalgic, is it? But that’s the point. Christ wasn’t born into a beautiful manger scene. God came down into the stench and poverty and scandal of the real world. To redeem it. God came down, in real flesh and blood, for shepherds and for unwed mothers and for sons turned out by their own families. God came down, in real flesh and blood, for you. So you stink like a stable or a field full of sheep. Maybe you can fool others, but you know you’re full of sin. You put on a smile and try to ignore it, but that tape of your failures plays over and over and keeps you up at night. God comes for beautiful people in serene manger scenes, you think, but not for me. I’m too dirty, too smelly, too guilty. My sin is just too big. Brother… sister… you couldn’t be more wrong. Maybe we’d do better to craft more realistic manger scenes with apparent heartache and poverty, though they’d probably never sell. You have to understand, this Baby is born, not for the righteous, but for sinners… for tax collectors and prostitutes, for murderers and adulterers and thieves and scoundrels. Which is to say, for you. Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord (Luke 2:11). Yes, unto you. In all your sin and sadness. In all your mess of a life, your guilt, and your death. He was born for you. And that is Good News of great joy, indeed.
That also takes all the pressure off of Christmas. You’ve been running around frantically since Thanksgiving, skipping right over Advent, trying to make this the perfect Christmas, just like the ones you think you used to know. Like Clark W. Griswold, you just want to deliver a “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.” But your sister isn’t speaking to your mother. Uncle Bob is drinking too much and getting loud. Your son is whining because, despite your best efforts, he didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas, and truth be told, you didn’t either. Now your head hurts, your stomach aches (that second slice of pie wasn’t such a good idea), and reality slaps you in the face. You can’t make Christmas. But pass the aspirin and take a deep breath. Of course you can’t make Christmas! Christmas is made for you. God comes down, to you, for you, in the middle of the messiness of this world and your life to redeem this world and your life.
To you the angels sing. Good News of great joy for you and for all the people. Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. He makes Christmas, the Christ-Mass. He is the real gift, wrapped up in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger… wrapped up in the Scriptures and lying on the altar to feed the beasts, to feed sinners and forgive sins, to feed you with the Bread of Life that is His Body, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, the House of Bread. If you came here for nostalgia, perhaps that’s disappointing to you. But then again, perhaps it’s finally beginning to make some sense. The reason we give presents and eat candy canes and gather together to laugh and sing is that this Baby was born for us. And He gives Himself to us, to make all that is wrong right. To take away sin and pay for it in His flesh. To be mocked and accused and humiliated. To be nailed to the accursed tree. The cross looms large over the Christmas story. This Baby is born to die. But that doesn’t make the story morbid. That is what makes it Good News for sinners. No sin is too big that the death of God, born of the Virgin, cannot cover it. This Baby is born, that by His death you be released from all that binds you. You are free. Hell has no claim on you. Jesus took your place in it. Satan cannot harm you. Jesus crushed the serpent’s head by His own death. Sin is undone. The Law no longer accuses you. Because this Baby was born under the Law to take your transgression of it into Himself and put it to death in His Body.
So you live. He dies, and you do not die. And He is risen. Death could not hold Him. Because He was innocent. It is not His own sin for which He died. It is yours. But now it is done. And He is risen. He lives. And He’s still in the same flesh and blood, born of the Virgin Mary. He’s still a man, this God who came down. He is a man for you. He is Emmanuel, God with you. And He gives Himself to you now, with all of His forgiveness, life, and salvation. I don’t know why you came here tonight. But don’t leave here without this Gift. If there are no other presents for you this Christmas, this Gift makes the holiday, the Holy Day. Jesus is born for you. Your sins are forgiven. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace. God is pleased with you for Jesus’ sake. You have a Father in heaven. You have a Savior who loves you. You have a family, the Church, to sing and feast with you. Tidings of comfort and joy. Merry Christmas. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
December 25, 2018
Text: John 1:1-18
There is great wisdom in the preaching of our Fathers, and this Christmas morning I delight to unwrap for you the gift of one Alexander of Alexandria’s Christmas preaching. But be warned. As I said to you last night, true Christmas preaching is anything but nostalgic. The manger always points us to the cross. This Baby was born to die. Because of us. Because of our sin. For us. For the forgiveness of our sins. Christmas is infused with joy inexorable precisely because of Good Friday. And because on Good Friday, death swallowed up Righteousness and Life, death has come to its own end. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead in the flesh born of the Virgin Mary. He will raise you. You live in Him. Hear now Pastor Alexander, who died in the late 320s AD (326 or 328), thus only several generations removed from the Apostles, and who served as a mentor to St. Athanasius, for whom the Athanasian Creed is named:
Alexander of Alexandria
"Why did Christ, who was vested with glory, clothe Himself in flesh? And although He was God, why did He become man? And although He reigned in heaven, why did He come down to earth, and become incarnate in the virgin's womb? What drove God to come down to earth, to assume flesh, to be wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger cradle, to be nourished with milk from the breast, to receive baptism from a servant, to be lifted up upon the cross, to be interred in an earthly sepulcher, to rise again the third day from the dead? What drove Him to this?
"It is sufficiently clear that He suffered shame for man's sake, to set him free from death; and that He exclaimed, as in the words of the prophet, 'I have endured as a woman in labor' (Is 42:14). Truly, He endured for our sakes sorrow, ignominy, torment, even death itself, and burial. For thus He says Himself by the prophet: 'I went down into the deep' (Jonah 2:5). Who made Him thus to go down? The impious people.
"Behold, sons of men, behold what recompense Israel made unto Him! Israel killed her Benefactor, returning evil for good, affliction for joy, death for life. They killed by nailing to the tree Him who had brought to life their dead, had healed their maimed, had made their lepers clean, had given light to their blind. Behold, sons of men! Behold, all you people these new wonders! They suspended Him on the tree, who stretches out the earth. They transfixed Him with nails who laid firm the foundation of the world. They confined Him who confined the heavens; they bound Him who absolves sinners; they gave Him vinegar to drink who hath made them to drink of righteousness. They fed Him with gall who offered to them the Bread of Life. They wounded His hands and feet who healed their hands and feet. They violently closed His eyes who restored sight to them. They gave Him over to the tomb, who raised their dead to life both in the time before His suffering and also while He was hanging on the tree."
Alexander, On the Passion of the Lord, 5.5
Thus far Alexander.
How blessed we are this Christmas that our Lord willingly became flesh and blood for us and for our salvation. God was born a man. The Author of the Law placed Himself under the Law to fulfill it for us transgressors. Flesh and blood God suffered and shed His blood on the cross to pay the penalty for our iniquity. The body of God was laid into a tomb, but the tomb could not hold it. He is risen, flesh and blood. He has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father in human flesh and blood. But He is not gone from us. He is not a God removed from His creation. He is Emmanuel, God with us, and that means in the flesh. It is so in Baptism. It is so in the Word as it is proclaimed. It is so under bread and wine, which is His body and blood, the very body and blood born of Mary, dead and risen for you, because that is what He says. He lays Himself on the altar for you, to feed you with Himself. Why? For your forgiveness, life, and salvation. There is no greater gift. Merry Christmas! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.