Monday, December 24, 2018

Sermon -- Christmas Eve (December 24, 2018)

LUKE 2:1-20


In the name + of Jesus.

     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 among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14)  I am certain that this was the greatest choral performance in the history of the world, as angelic choirs sang God's praise.  The angel choir itself was glorious, but they sang of a greater glory—God's glory which has been revealed to mankind.
     When we think of the glory of God, we think in terms of power and holiness.  And to be sure, those are glorious.  They are glorious in the way that a nuclear explosion would be glorious.  It is a power beyond anything we have every seen; and, God willing, we will never actually see one.  We also think of the grandeur of creation.  We are awed by the splendor of mountains or the beauty of tropical beaches.  Those are glorious.  Photographers and artists devote their lives to capturing these on canvass or in print.  The angel choir was glorious—for they are powerful, holy beings.  God is even more glorious; for he is the Maker of the angels.  He is most holy and all powerful.  But when God revealed his glory at Christmas, there was really little about it that was powerful or awesome or even pretty.
     In a tiny town in Judea, a young woman gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  It was hardly the first birth in Bethlehem.  Other than people's usual interest in the birth of a child, there was nothing noteworthy about the event from casual appearances.  The peasant woman wrapped up her peasant baby in strips of cloth.  She put him in a manger because the hay was softer than the ground.  She rested after the work of delivery, while her husband did what he could to care for the needs of his bride and the baby.
     We have made the scene quiet romantic, but life is seldom as romantic as our imaginations make it.  Life is gritty and hard.  Life is filled with sinners who say regrettable things and act selfishly toward others.  We do not even love our loved ones the way we are supposed to.  We try to make our Christmas as wonderful and festive as possible, but it usually results in anger toward other people who happen to have that same goal.  We all get in each other's way.  We snap at each other.  We are overcome with stress because nothing measures up to our imagination.  We want glorious; we get gritty and hard.  In a season which is supposed to highlight the best of mankind, we see plenty of greed, impatience, sarcasm, disappointment, tears, and bitterness.  We prove that we are sinners.  You can try to put a pretty wrapping on that if you want, but you can't hide what you are.  Certainly God knows better.  And knowing that God is most holy and almighty makes him glorious, but it does nothing to comfort us.  It means that his justice is fair and accurate, and his judgment will be crushing.
     That is why the birth of Jesus did not appear glorious.  No one fled from the house in fear when Jesus was born.  There was nothing about him that looked glorious or godly.  Therefore, the angel appeared to the shepherds.  The angel had to reveal the glory of God concerning the one who was born in Bethlehem.  No shepherd would have left his flock for a boy in a manger.  But this was no ordinary boy. 
     The angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)  The Savior has come for sinners.  He has come to deliver us from the righteous judgment of a holy, almighty God.  In order for God's righteous judgment not to condemn us, we have to have our sins removed from us.  Jesus has come to do that—to take away your sins so that you can stand before the Lord without fault and, therefore, without fear.  Jesus made your sin his own and suffered and died in your place for you.  For this reason, you are pardoned on all counts and cleared of all charges.  The judgment has already been issued: You have a Savior, and you are forgiven.
     God's glory is revealed by God's grace.  The boy born in Bethlehem is the Christ.  He was anointed by God to serve as your substitute—both in life and in death.  He does what no man has done or can do: He obeys God's commandments with a perfect life.  He does for all mankind what we cannot do: He atones for all of our sin with a perfect sacrifice.  High Priests were anointed into their office to stand before the Lord to make sacrifices for sins.  So also, Jesus is the Lord's anointed.  He not only represents you before the Lord to make the atoning sacrifice for your sins, he himself IS the perfect sacrifice which atones for all your sins.  Jesus is the Christ, the Lord's anointed—sent to make the sacrifice—to BE the sacrifice—which saves sinners.
     God's glory is revealed by God's grace.  Jesus is the Lord.  He is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; begotten, not made; of one being with the Father, through whom all things were made. (Nicene Creed)  Since he is God, he is most holy and almighty.  But he does not come in bare glory to strike us with fear and cause us to flee from him.  He comes in weakness.  In fact, he could not have come in a more helpless form—relying completely on Mary to nurse him, relying completely on Joseph to protect him, and needing swaddling cloths to keep him warm.  God Almighty comes in frail flesh and blood.  The Most Holy God comes to show that he is gracious to sinners.  The Maker of heaven and earth loves his creation and desires to redeem all people in it.  Therefore the Lord himself comes to earth—not in glory, but in infancy.  He was born for you to give you a new birth into God's family.  Through him, you are the Lord's; and, therefore, heirs of his glorious kingdom.
     The angels marvel at the love God has for you—such love that God himself became one of us in order to redeem us.  Therefore, the angels revealed God's glory and God's grace in song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)  He is pleased with you, thanks to Jesus' saving work.  His peace is upon you, thanks to Jesus' saving work.  God's glory is revealed by God's grace—that he works to save sinners and to give us the heaven we do not deserve.  But God graciously gives it all the same.
     If the angels had reason to declare the praises of God, we have even more.  For, the Lord did not need to save the angels.  They have not received the grace that you and I have.  The angels glorified God because he is gracious to us!  We have all the more reason to glorify God.  That is what the shepherds did.  After they came to see the Lord, they went forth and declared this glory to all others.  Likewise, we gather here to have God's glory and God's grace proclaimed to us again and again.  We sinners continue to need it; and God graciously gives it.  Then, we get to go forth and declare God's glory and God's grace to others.  For, this is good news of great joy.  It is meant for all the people, because Jesus comes to be the Savior of all people. 
     Glory to God in the highest!  For, the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, is born.  He comes for you—to live for you, to die for you, and to save you.  This is the glory of God, that he is gracious to sinners and saves them.  God's grace for you is on display in Jesus.  Jesus is God's grace in the flesh.  Your Savior has come.  God's peace is yours.  God's glory is revealed.  Glory to God in the highest!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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