December 24, 2022
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The Gospel is so clear that it requires very little explanation, but it should be well considered and taken deeply to heart; and no one will recover more benefit from it than those who, with a calm, quiet heart banish everything else from their mind and diligently look into it.” These words were written by Martin Luther nearly 500 years ago for a Christmas Day sermon on Luke 2 and yet, these words hold the same power and meaning for us today as it did 500 years ago.
This past month has been a whirlwind. Every week and weekend has been filled with church events, meetings, hospital visits, moving from one home to another. The whirlwind that was December made family time hard to come by and then this storm blew in and nearly derailed an entire month’s worth of work. From a power outage that was said to last until Dec 27 and now the unending leaks. But as I look back to the past few Christmases I have had as a pastor, I have noticed the devil has been working overtime to derail the gospel, yet despite the devil’s best effort, the gospel still prevails and is proclaimed despite nothing going to plan. But that doesn’t mean I’m not tied.
I have felt pulled in so many different directions. Do you feel that way? All of us have been bombarded by ad after ad, email after email from stores and companies vying for business. What was once a quiet feast day in the church year 1000 of years ago has become a billion dollar industry. While the rest of the world has been talking about feeling joy, I have found myself more and more in a funk—a bad mood that just seemed to get worse and worse as the days ticked by.
Yet as I reflected on these timeless words from the gospel Luke, a text that I have read or heard read to me all the years of my life, I am struck the most this year by Luther’s interpretation. Luther says, the only way one should approach this holy story from Luke 2 is with a calm and quiet heart; “that we banish everything from our mind and diligently look into” the gospel’s words and ponder its meaning. In approaching this text with a quiet heart, the question that surfaces in my mind involves the incarnation itself. What does it mean that our God would take on our flesh, live in our world, be born of a human mother, be accepted as a father’s legitimate son?
Notice how the ordinary in this story is transformed: A stable becomes a palace; a feeding trough becomes a bed; a carpenter from a forgotten town in Galilee becomes the father of the most high; a teenage mother betrothed but not yet married bears the savior of the world in her womb, but among the people of her time she is looked down upon for having a child out of marriage. “No one is conscious of the great wonder she bears; she is silent, keeps her own counsel, and regards herself as the lowliest in the town.”
“When they arrived at Bethlehem, [the holy family] were the most insignificant people in town and probably the most despised, so that they had to make way for others, until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share the cattle’s lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head of tables in Inns to full to make room for the Holy family. They were honored as lords as the real Lord was born and wrapped in scraps of cloth. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable... O what a dark night this was for Bethlehem, [no one was] conscious of that glorious light being born in the stable! See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has, or desires...See how little the world knows or notices what God is, has, and does.”
In this very gospel, in this good news, the world is put to shame by Christ’s most humblest of birth and we are exposed for all that we do and know, or in this case, what we do not do and what we avoid knowing. This story of good news shows the world’s wisdom as foolish, the world’s best actions as wrong, the world greatest treasures as empty promises.
Yet, it is in this humble story of our Lord being born in a stable, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger—we also hear how the angels cannot contain their joy in heaven but filled the sky surrounding Bethlehem and told not the governor or those who filled the inns in Bethlehem with their news. “God chose poor shepherds, who, though they were of low esteem in the sight of [humanity], were in heaven regarded as worthy of such great grace and honor.”
And notice what they tell the shepherds. “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” - this isn’t just any news, but this is good news for all people. Not just ones who have a room in Bethlehem. Not just those who are keeping watch over sheep in the fields. This news is for ALL people. “TO YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luther writes, “[The Angels] do not simply say, Christ is born but to you he born; neither does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you I bring glad tidings of great joy. This joy was not to remain in Christ, but it shall be to all the people.”
Of what benefit would it be to any of us if Christ had been born a thousand times, and if it would daily be sung into our ears in a most loving manner, if we were never to hear that he was born FOR ME, for you, and was to be my very own?
The message of Christmas, of this night, is that it is not just for our children. Christmas is not just for the kids. You don’t get to stop celebrating Christmas after the kids grow up and move out of the house. And by celebrating, I do not mean you must put up a tree and decorate your front lawn with lights and a nativity scene. That is decorating and not celebrating Christmas. Celebrating Christmas means realizing that our Lord came to this world FOR YOU. He was born FOR YOU. He lived and taught FOR YOU. He gave us his body and blood FOR YOU. He died on a cross FOR YOU. He rose again FOR YOU. That is the message of the angels that I think us adults so easily forget but our children can remember year after year, and sometimes know it before they can even speak words.
One of my most treasured memories of Thomas happened when he was 9 months old. My parents and us took a bus trip with my congregation to Lancaster to visit Sight and Sound and see the play, “The Miracle of Christmas.” We had to leave early morning and Thomas refused to take a nap on the way up to Lancaster. There were too many people to see and talk to on the ride up to Lancaster and best of all, he didn’t have to sit in his car seat. Too many people to make faces at. Too much to see for a little baby. So around scene three, Thomas fell asleep on his mommy's lap and daddy fell asleep on mommy's shoulder a couple of scenes later. We both woke up for Act 2. And Act 2 was when the Angels appear to the shepherds. And there are angels flying in from the ceiling. The orchestra is playing beautiful music. It is quiet the scene they portray. And all the while, Thomas is watching and is clapping every time the angels appear.
Why he was clapping, I do not know. Maybe it was the music, maybe it was the lights, or the special effects or maybe this little child recognized the good news that the angels brought to the shepherds and the whole world that night in Bethlehem. Of course Thomas has no memory of this afternoon in that Lancaster Theater so we’ll never really know why her was clapping, but I believe he was clapping because recognized the good news. He recognized and saw that when the angels show up, it is always good news for the people. And tonight, the angels show up again with words of good news of great joy for all to hear. Our lord was born in a stable and not in a palace. Our Lord doesn’t need to be served but came to serve and save us from ourselves. And it all began in a stable, in a cave, a forgotten corner of the Roman Empire. The first guest of the newborn king were lowly shepherds. God came not to hold court for the elite, but for all of human kind.
Our Lord came to this world for you, and for me, for Thomas, Isaiah, your children, and your grandchildren—but most importantly—FOR YOU. Everything that you do tomorrow with your family, everything that is or isn't under the tree, everything that you have tried to do over the past month, everything that you have missed over the past month, all the Christmas traditions you have forgotten or didn't get to this past month - they don't matter.
What matters is that this message from Luke is told to all corners of the earth. And you, my brothers and sisters are to be God's messengers - God's angels this night. You are to go out from this place and tell the same message that the angels told the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, "To you, TO YOU, to YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." And I hope that you will be greeted with clapping. I hope that there will great rejoicing in heaven and on earth at the news you bring. But i know that this will not always be the case. The Christmas story is not just about joy and happiness. It is a real-life story of struggle and perseverance of God against the devil and the world. God used every tool in the arsenal to bring us the hope found in this babe of Bethlehem and now God uses us to proclaim this hope today.
But the world might not want to receive the message you bring. This message of good news is not good news for all. But I promise you, 9 month old Thomas will clap for you. This body of people will clap for your news. Your Father in heaven will clap and he will send his own angels to sing with you—even as they drive the nails into your hands and feet. Because Hope has come to our world. It came in the form of a baby—a baby who grew up to be a man who would one day save and redeemed us all. Christmas doesn’t have to be filled with joy and happiness like Hallmark and the world proclaim. Christmas needs only be filled with Christ and the message of his presence with us now and ever more. With joy in our hearts, let us be as bold the angels and the shepherds at proclaiming this good news for all people.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.