Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

Sermon on Luke 2:1-20
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
December 25, 2008 (The Nativity of our Lord)

It’s not easy to stay up all night, when the rest of the world is asleep and your body’s telling you that you should be too. But somebody had to do it. Somebody had to watch the sheep. At night especially, the sheep were in danger. Wolves were out and about looking for a nice meal of mutton, and nighttime was the best time for them to sneak up and kill a sheep that had wandered off from the edge of the flock. And so it simply had to be done. But it wasn’t necessarily pleasant to be awake and to have to stay alert and watchful while the rest of the world is sleeping, and while your own body wants to be at home in bed with the rest of them. These shepherds were probably wishing that it had been someone else besides themselves that had drawn night-guard duty that night.

But these particular shepherds were the luckiest ones of all that night. Or rather, they weren’t lucky, they were blessed by God. For it is to them that God’s angels bring the message of the birth of the Messiah. It is to them, the lowly shepherds, that the good news of the coming of the Savior is proclaimed. It is they who are the first human beings besides Mary and Joseph themselves to look upon the face of the incarnate Son of God. It is they who have the blessed privilege of sharing with everyone else in David’s City the good news about the birth of the Son of David. Not king Herod; he had to find out later, secondhand from a bunch of foreigners. Not Caesar Augustus, who never did find out about Christ, even though it was Christ’s birth which in God’s plan determined even his orders to have a census. Instead, poor, lowly shepherds who would rather have been anywhere else than out in the field that night are the ones who are the first to bow down and adore the Son of God made man.


Why do you think it was that these shepherds were the ones to hear about Christ’s birth, and not the great and mighty of that day? One look at King Herod will give us an answer to that question. When Herod found out about the birth of Christ, he tried to have Him killed; in fact, he killed all the children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem just to be thorough. This is hardly the action of a person who is worthy to hear about Jesus’ birth. The majority of the rich and powerful in the world at that time were threatened by Christ Jesus; that’s why He eventually ended up dying on a cross thirty-some years later. But the poor and lowly of the world were ready to receive Him in repentance and faith and to receive His gifts of forgiveness and salvation. Those who knew they were nothing in and of themselves were able to accept everything from Jesus Christ and to welcome Him to this world with thanksgiving, praise, and confession of faith to those around them. And so it is to the shepherds on the midnight shift that the angels come. It is they who bow down before the newborn King. It is they who confess their newfound faith to everyone else they meet.


This is the way it has always been with God. Those who think they are something, are nothing before Him. But those who are nothing in themselves receive everything from Him. Which are you? Do you think you are somebody? Do you think that you have deserved for God to come to you? Do you think that you have earned something from God because you have been a good person who goes to Church and lives a basically good life? Or worse yet, do you think that maybe you don’t have to go to Church because you are a good person who has lived a basically good life? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, you are fooling yourself. None of you is a good person. God doesn’t expect us to be generally, on average, pretty good people, He expects us to be perfect. And none of us has been perfect. All of us are sinners, and poor, miserable sinners at that, because the worst sin of all is the very pride in ourselves that convinces us that we have earned something from God. If you think that you are anything else than a poor, miserable sinner, you are lying. You are lying to yourself and everyone around you. And worst of all, you are lying to God, and since God knows you better than you know yourself, He also knows the truth about you. If you think you have earned anything before God by your own actions, you are only increasing the judgement against you.


But if you said no to the questions I asked a few seconds ago, don’t pat yourself on the back; rather, praise God! This means that His Holy Spirit has worked repentance in your heart. It means that your pride and your selfishness have been crushed by the Law of God. It means that you are ready to receive the Christ who comes to you to give you forgiveness and salvation. It means that you are like those shepherds on the hillside that first Christmas morning. You are the ones who are ready to hear the glorious message from the lips of God’s messenger that today is born for you in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.


This Savior didn’t stay tiny, as we know. He grew up, looking for all the world like an ordinary child, except that He was perfect and committed no sin. He became an itinerant preacher in Galilee and then Jerusalem. His message caused the same reaction in the leadership of Israel that the message of a true prophet always causes among the rich and powerful: they put Him to death. But He did not stay dead. He rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. These are the things He was born to do. He accomplished all of these things for you and for me, so that we might live forever with Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.


He still comes to us today, though unlike the shepherds we can’t see Him with our eyes. He comes to us in His body and blood. Sunday after Sunday we hear the voice of His messenger calling us away from our everyday life to worship at the throne of the Savior, Christ the Lord. We go to Bethlehem, which is Hebrew for “house of bread,” to receive the true Bread of Heaven and to adore Him by receiving His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We join with the choirs of angels singing in exultation and with all the citizens of heaven above, singing “Glory to God in the Highest.” With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee and saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.” The Lord of hosts is present here and now for you. Oh, come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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