Christmas Eve (2022)

Christmas Eve  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  25:51
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Luke 2:8-12 “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “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 cloths, lying in a manger.””
I once read a sermon on this text by the famous English preacher, Charles Spurgeon.  Spurgeon was arguably the best preacher in the English language who has ever lived.  I have always marveled at how this fellow could preach to packed halls sermons that must have lasted well over an hour.  He preached doctrine.  It wasn’t a lot of feel good fluff, socially popular niceties, or politically correct pieties.  He preached solid doctrinal sermons and his congregations were mostly working men.  They didn’t have much formal education.  Nowadays, the television and the internet have turned many churchgoing folks into lazy religious consumers who don’t want to have to think when they go to church.  What a shame!
Spurgeon camped out on what the angel declared to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”
And that means you!  This Savior, whose nature did he assume?  He assumed the nature of all humanity?  He most certainly did.  And that means he was born to be the Savior of all people, including the atheists who worship no god at all, and of narcissistic, self-indulgent people who worship themselves, their pleasures, their desires, their thoughts, and their feelings. 
Jesus was born to change the world and to be the Savior of sinners, as St. Paul wrote so clearly and simply, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  If he came to save sinners he came to save sinners even those sinners who never come to faith in him and benefit from their salvation.
Christmas means that God’s love is universal.  No one is excluded. In a world where all types of people are excluded, no one is excluded from God love. Jesus came to change the world!. 
He assumed our human nature, that is, what he redeemed. God became a man for all humanity. God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. If he didn’t, he would not have become one of us to do as one of us the work of obedience his holy law required and to suffer as one of us the punishment for sin that justice demanded. Jesus was born to change the world.
God sent his angels to announce his birth. Those whom God chose to be the first to hear of it were shepherds watching over their flocks by night. He chose common men, working average men, with average lives. He didn’t go the the well-ta-do, or the politicians, He went to common folks. There was nothing special in the shepherds that would have called for their formation as the first assembly to hear the good news of God’s coming in the flesh. To preach the gospel to shepherds is to preach it to the whole human race. God’s love in Christ is universal. Jesus was born to change the world.
And it is very specific. When we use the word universal it might conjure up notions of a general, philosophic truth of transcendent hope and peace — a philosophy, if you will, of peace and goodwill.  Many hold to this notion of Christmas.  Their idea of Christmas is a sentimental mishmash of happy feelings and busy-body dogoodism.  One size fits all.  Everybody can join in, supplying whatever particulars they find meaningful.
Over 20 years ago we lived in the Sacramento area, I was pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Yuba City, CA. Many of the residence of Yuba City were Muslims. One such man lived across the street from the church and stopped by for some reason that I can’t remember right now. But I bring this up because he had a very high opinion of Jesus.  He regarded Jesus as a prophet.  He believed that Jesus was born of a virgin and lived a sinless life.  Like all Muslims, he looked up to Jesus and Jesus was a part of his religion, too. But that is about it.
However, Jesus is who Jesus is.  It was the pre-incarnate Christ who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, identifying himself as I AM.  He will not permit himself to be fashioned according to the desires of false religions.  The universality of God’s love in Christ does not accommodate the beliefs of all people.  Indeed, it contradicts them, refutes them, and reveals the saving truth to those blinded by lies of the worlds religions. You see, Jesus was born to change the world.
When the angel who preached the Christmas gospel to the shepherds appeared to them the glory of the Lord shone around them. This was a messenger of God and you had better listen when God speaks. If he speaks he has something to say. The shepherds were terrified because they knew they were in the presence of God and what God says goes.  But what God said through the angel calmed their fears.  He revealed his love for all people. He defined his love and he located his love.
God defines his love.  His love is defined as a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  You may think that you know what God’s love should give you. You may think that if God really loved you as he should love you, he would take away from you a particular problem that besets you.  He would get you a better job, change the circumstances of your life, take away an illness, or improve a relationship. But He is the expert on love. He is love. He knows what his love requires. It is that you have a Savior from sin. This is the good tidings of great joy that God tells you through his messenger. Jesus was born to change the world.
Our biggest problem, however, is our sin against God. It isn’t the wrong done against us by others. It’s the wrong we’ve done to others. It’s not that people don’t give us the respect or attention we deserve. It’s that we don’t care about our neighbor’s needs as much as we care about our own. We don’t love our neighbor as ourself. That is our problem.
And neither do we love God above all things. Instead of desiring God’s will above our own will, we want God to conform his will to ours, and we thereby place ourselves above God.  That’s sin and that’s our problem.
You see, if God is going to love us, he must define how that love actually works. And he has. It is a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Not just a holy baby boy. 
Not just a prophet. 
Not a great teacher.
Not just a unique human being, even the most holy, pious, and wise human being who has ever lived. 
But the Lord. 
All other religions are excluded.  There is no room for any other religion, any other philosophy, any other interpretation of this little baby Jesus than that given by God’s infallible messenger. He is the Lord. He is God of God. He is the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
So, God defines his love. It is our salvation from sin. It is God rescuing us from the punishment we have deserved because of our sin. It is deliverance from death and hell, which is the bitter fruit of sin. God’s love for you is defined as your salvation in Christ, the God-man. And there is salvation in no one else. The Christian faith is the only true faith because Christ alone is the Savior of sinners. Jesus was born to change the world, and God defines his love in Christ.
God also locates his love. God’s messenger gave them the town: Bethlehem. He gave them the specific location within that town: a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a manger. Naturally, it would be Bethlehem because that was King David’s home town and Jesus was the heir to David’s throne. Perhaps they could have figured that out if they knew their Bible and were familiar with the prophecy of Micah. But they would not have been able to locate the Christ Child without the specific detail of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. They wouldn’t have looked for him there. It wouldn’t have occurred to them. The universal love of God for sinners is located where God says it is located and if you look elsewhere you won’t find it.
This universal love of God in Christ means that God loves all people. His love is universal. It encompasses everyone everywhere. But it is located specifically and only where God says it is located. Those shepherds could have searched all over Bethlehem and never found their Savior if they didn’t look in the manger. The manger was the only place where he could be found.
Who would look for God where the animals eat their food? Who would think that God would even become a man? This precious truth is simply beyond any mortal’s ability to fathom. But that when God became a human being he would choose such a lowly bed for himself, that he would assume such a humble demeanor — this is what we would call counterintuitive. It’s not what you would assume. But that’s where he was.
So, indeed, God locates his love.  We don’t tell God where he is to reveal himself and how. He tells us. Jesus continued to live a humble life of obedience, assuming the role of a servant, submitting to abuse and injustice, finally suffering and dying as a criminal on a cross. The holy Child remained holy. He thought, spoke, and did only holy things. And God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us as he laid on him the sin of the whole human race. And he died. From the wooden manger to the wooden cross God’s love was located in Jesus; because Jesus was born to change the world.
And so it is today. Where is he? He is with us, his holy Christian Church. The sign of swaddling cloths and a manger have long gone. Today Christ directs us to the sign of Holy Baptism where he washed away our sins and became our God. He gives us the signs of bread and wine, which are his body and blood. The same body that was laid in the manger and nailed to the cross is given to us to eat in the sacramental bread. The same blood that Jesus shed when he was named Jesus at the age of eight days, and later shed when he suffered and died for our sins is given to us to drink in the sacramental wine. God locates our salvation in his holy sacraments, so that wherever we have these signs we have the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
God locates our salvation in the good news of great joy that is for all people. But it is only the people, that is, the Holy Christian Church, who receive the good tidings of great joy. It is for all people. But, it is received only through faith. This is why we gather together in Jesus’ name as his holy Church. 
On that first Christmas, God could not be found except in the manger. On this Christmas, God cannot be found except in his holy Christian Church. Here his love is defined. Here his love is located. Here, where the gospel is proclaimed purely and the sacraments are administered according to God’s word is where Christ chooses to save us sinners from our sins.
So here we are. We listen to the good tidings of great joy and we know with the certainty of faith that it is for us, all of us. We know this because Jesus was born to change the world.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
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