by: Rev. Jason Radmacher
Text: Luke 2
Tonight we tell a very familiar story.
Long, long ago, the prophets of ancient Israel foresaw a leader, anointed of God, who would deliver them from physical and spiritual futility. Rooted in their community’s experience as a displaced people, the prophets envisioned a messiah, which means “anointed one”, who would end the exile of their discontent and lead them home.
The first act in that homecoming brought to a chaste couple named Mary and Joseph heavenly messengers who said that Mary would miraculously give birth to a holy child.
When her time came, at a town called Bethlehem, Mary delivered her child in a humble manger and Joseph named the baby Jesus.
On that same night, just outside of town, shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks in the neighboring fields when suddenly a magnificent sight shattered the darkness.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.(Luke 2:9-11, KJV)
Then appeared a choir of angels who were singing, “Glory in the highest!” And when the angels departed them, the shepherds made their way with haste to the manger.
Finding Jesus where the angels said that they would, they told Mary and Joseph about what had happened in the fields, about the angels, and their message. And while “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart”, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
That’s the story that brings us together tonight, the biblical account of Jesus’ birth.
Oh, there were wise men, too, but they came onto the scene a little bit later, and they get their own holiday in twelve days, anyway, on The Epiphany. Tonight, though, it’s all about the prophet’s vision, Messiah’s birth, and the shepherds’ joy.
On Christmas Eve we read, tell, and remember a very familiar story. This holy night inspires us to worship, however, because Christmas is for us.
A sermon preached by Martin Luther on Christmas Day nearly five hundred years ago sheds some light on to this point. On that occasion, the great reformer said,
The Gospel does not merely teach us about the history of Christ. No, it enables all who believe it to receive it as their own, which is the way the Gospel operates. Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own? (Martin Luther, Christmas Sermon, c.1521)
Christmas is for me. Christmas is for you. Christmas is for us.
Christmas is for us in the sense that it is a gift given to us.
One thing that the New Testament makes abundantly clear is that Jesus’ birth, the Incarnation of the Divine Word, was neither the wage paid to pious people for their good works nor an action required by God in any way. Rather, like the news that a virgin was pregnant, it was a surprise, and the people received it as an unmerited blessing, an act of grace and divine favor.
And that’s Good News because that’s exactly how we receive our Savior, too, as a gift.
We actually profess this to be true throughout the year whenever we celebrate a baptism. Be it the sacrament, our place in Christ’s Church, salvation, or new birth—“all of this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.”
Christmas is for us because Christ is a gift given to us.
But it’s also true that Christmas is for us in the sense that it is exactly what we needed.
Only a people aware of their need for salvation rejoice at the news of the Savior’s birth. Such awareness, therefore, is vital to the transformation we seek tonight.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is the traditional Advent hymn of yearning. It is not a song for holiday revelers. It is a prayer for God to take action on behalf of a hurting wounded people.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.”
Come to your people, God, for we are alone.
Pay our ransom, Lord, for we are indebted beyond our means.
End our exile and set us free, O Christ, for we long to go home.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a captive’s plea for release, release that was granted in and through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Mary’s boy.
As Saint Paul put it,
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…so that [all of us] might receive adoption as [God’s] children…So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Galatians 4:4-7, NRSV)
In the fullness of time, God sent his Son who is our Savior to pay our ransom and end our exile.
Christmas is for us in the sense that it is exactly what we needed.
Christmas is about grace. It’s also about our greatest need. Grasping these ideas we take hold of something fundamental about the gift of Christ. However, truly to probe the depths of this holy night, we must also note something about this gift’s intended recipients.
When we say that Christmas is “for us” of whom do we speak?
We speak of all people, of any who reap the consequences of Adam’s folly because this night, this story, this Christ, is all for sinners’ gain.
Oh how tempting it is to convince ourselves that this gift of love is merely for us, in the most narrow sense imaginable—for people who look like us, act like us, believe like us?
How easy it is to resist God’s grace and ignore our need?
How quickly we forget that the manger of Bethlehem cradled not just a baby, but a king, our king.
If this night is a gift given to us, then it must be a gift given to the world God loves.
If this night is for sinners like us, then it must be for any who walk in darkness and traverse the valley of death’s shadow.
If this night is for us, then it is for all.
On Christmas Eve we tell a very familiar story.
The Gospel does not merely teach us about the history of Christ. No, it enables all who believe it to receive it as their own, which is the way the Gospel operates. Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own?
People of God, hear the Good News.
Christmas is for me.
Christmas is for you.
Christmas is for the lonely, the lost, and the last.
Christmas is for us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.