Christmas Eve, December 24, 2013
Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20, John 1:1-14
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Titus wrote: “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.” What a poetic and beautiful way to describe the coming of Christ, the Messiah! The grace of God, which brings salvation, coming to earth. And in the prophet Isaiah, the Messiah is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. In a little while, when it comes time to light the candles, we’ll read the opening of the Gospel of John, which describes Jesus as the Word of God through which all the world was created. That’s quite a lot to put on the shoulders of one little baby, born in poverty and darkness in a stable in a tiny town in a backwater part of the world!
And yet, he’s not just a baby, is he? Jesus is more than that. So often, when it gets close to Christmas time, we let our sentimentality take over. Isn’t that a cute baby in that pageant? How sweet those children sound, singing Away in a Manger. How heart-warming to have family and friends coming together for a special meal. How beautiful that picture of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus looks! The sentimentality overflows, from made-for-tv movies to Christmas pageants in churches. We think of the “reason for the season,” and we try to be a little nicer, a little more generous, as we go about our daily life. And that’s a good thing! That heart-warming message of hope and love is an important part of Christmas.
But let’s remember just how great the love is; let’s remember how awesome the hope is. Because Jesus’ birth isn’t just a reminder that babies are sweet and we should be kind to one another. There’s a reason that all those different Bible texts we read tonight have extraordinary expectations of that little baby! You see, that little baby is God in human flesh. God, immortal, all-powerful, chose to come to Earth and be born as a human. The Word became flesh, truly God and truly human at the same time. Yes, he was a human baby, born in sweat and tears and blood in a cold stable to a poor family. He probably cried and fussed like any other baby; he definitely needed to be fed and have his diaper changed like any other baby. But he was also God, present and active in the creation of the universe. He is the grace and love of God given physical form. He is the one who breaks the chains of slavery and oppression. He is the one who brings justice and peace. He was and is the light that brings hope and joy to the world. That hope is for more than just a little extra kindness at Christmastime. That hope is for the redemption and renewal of the whole world. God, who created the world and watched his good creation become broken and marred by sin, became human for the sake of saving the world.
Why would God chose to do that? Why would God choose to be limited by becoming a human being—and a baby, at that, the most vulnerable and helpless that any living creature can ever be, a baby, totally dependent on others for even the most basic needs? In Christ Jesus the greatest power in the world chose to be the most vulnerable and powerless he could possibly be. What could God possibly think worth it? I’ll tell you: us. Every person who has ever lived or ever will, and all of creation around us. God thinks we’re worth that. God loves us so much that he was willing to do anything to save us, and he proved it when he became a human being, when he became a baby who was born in a manger, wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger, because there was no room in the inn. What extraordinary love that is!
But that’s just the beginning of the story. You see, Jesus grew up. And he taught people how to live better lives; how to see the kingdom of God in their midst. He taught people how to build better relationships with one another and with God, how to forgive one another and to see God’s face in all of creation. And then he proved his love in the most dramatic way possible: suffering and dying on the cross. And in that ultimate act of weakness, in that death, were the seeds of the greatest victory possible. In his resurrection, Jesus Christ shattered the gates of hell.
That’s why the angels sing at the birth of Jesus: they know what he really is. A baby in a manger, yes, but also the light and hope of the world. God in human flesh, God become human, coming to heal all of creation. God came to live among us so that we might become his children, loved and cared for just as Mary cared for Jesus as a baby. That is the great joy of Christmas, for in the dead of winter, in a lowly stable in the middle of nowhere, hope is born for the whole world. Two thousand years after Jesus’ birth, twenty-five hundred years after Isaiah’s prophecy, we still live in a world filled with boots of tramping warriors and blood-soaked garments. We still live in a world where there are people who have no home, and no family to care for them. We still live in a world where there is fear. But God’s light has come into the world; God’s hope has come into the world; God’s Word has come into the world. That is the grace of God: that he would take on flesh and blood for our sake, to save us from our own sin and brokenness. Thanks be to God.