Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sermon: Christmas Eve - 2017

24 December 2017

Text: Isa 7:10-14, Mic 5:2-5a, Isa 9:2-7, Matt 1:18-25, Matt 2:1-12, John 1:1-18

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

A sign is something that gives us information.  Signs don’t just crop up all by themselves.  Signs are placed because someone wants us to know something.  On the highway, we sometimes miss signs because there are too many of them.  There is information overload.  So when God wanted to give us the greatest sign of all, a sign that God said could be “deep as Sheol or high as heaven,” He chose to give us something normal, but given in an extraordinary way.  The sign is a baby, but a baby that came by means of a miracle. 

Moreover, this baby is God in human form, but not blasting mountains and moving galaxies with His fingers, but rather a newborn, wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

The sign is the fact that this is not what we would expect God to look like.  Like the old story about a turtle on a post, we know that this is not just a random act of nature.  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

“Immanuel” means “God with us.”  Almighty God is not coming to us as our angry judge, but as one of us, an extraordinary baby wrapped in the ordinary cloths of this world.  He is the ultimate turtle on a post, a twist in the plot.  He is with us not to destroy us, but to save us.

Moreover, He doesn’t come to Rome in majesty, or even in Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be Ruler in Israel.”  And this King doesn’t come to collect taxes (but to give His lifeblood as a ransom), nor to enslave our sons to fight His wars (rather to take the form of a servant to fight and die for us). This King comes to “shepherd His flock,” not to fleece it.  For, “He shall be their peace.”

Peace, dear friends, comes as a result of victory over our enemies.  As long as there are those who hate us, who wish our destruction, who plot night and day for our demise, we can never sleep secure.  But once those enemies have been vanquished, we can indeed sleep the sleep of the saints, confident of being aroused from slumber on the Day of Resurrection.  When the foe has been crushed, we can sing for joy, and relax in the knowledge of our security.

And with the coming of our Prince of Peace, the one who crushed the serpent’s head as He won the victory for us upon the cross, laying down His life for His people, we can indeed cry out: “For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.”

“For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  This newborn Warrior-King comes to establish “justice” and “righteousness from this time forth and evermore.”

This greatest sign, the incarnate God in human form, born of a virgin, and appearing in a tiny unimportant village, “took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.'”  And the news of this ultimate turtle on a post (that was predicted seven hundred years before) was announced to Joseph by the Angel of the Lord.  And this Immanuel shall be called “Jesus,” that is, “God saves,” because this God With Us is here for that reason: “for He will save His people from their sins.”

The Lord also gave signs in the stars to point the whole world to the baby Jesus.  For this news is too good to keep hidden.  The entire planet would come to ponder the extraordinary in the ordinary.  This good news was not only for Israel, for Judea, or even for the Roman Empire.  This good news isn’t only for the people of the first century.  For “wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?’”  These Gentiles and their descendants are all over the world, and to this day, we of every nationality, are blessed by this Jewish Messiah. For these wise men have, as have we, “come to worship Him.”

We have come to worship Him, dear friends!  For He is more than the fulfillment of prophecies, more than our champion and King, more than our ticket to heaven, more than a curious turtle on a post – He is God, Immanuel, God with us, God in our skin, God in our world, God in our midst, God not only with us but for us, God by whom all things were made, God who was there in the very beginning!

This, dear friends, is the glory of the mystery of this Holy Child and this holy night, the reverberations of which continue to rumble the universe to this very day: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him….  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

He is coming, dear friends, coming to give us the right “to become children of God.”  For this is the ultimate sign and mystery that was to forever change the fabric of the universe: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

This sign, dear friends, not only communicates something; it communicates the truth, and this is the ultimate and most important truth ever told, and ever received: the truth is that God Himself has done the impossible by squeezing His almighty and infinite being into the confines of space and time, into the single-cell of a fertilized human egg, one not naturally conceived. 

He developed in the womb and was born in a tiny village without royal human fanfare, but to the song of angels and lowly shepherds, a song that still resounds today: “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” 

He is the Word, God of God, Light of Light, begotten not made, wrapped in swaddling cloths, nursed by His mother and cared for by His stepfather.  He is the Light that dispels all gloom – even the darkness of death – by defeating the devil through His own sacrifice on the cross and His own resurrection from the tomb.  He who was baptized by the preacher John will baptize us by means of other men called into the preaching ministry.  We too will continue to hear this good news of Immanuel, God with us.  Each year we celebrate, each week we partake, each day we pray, each moment we draw breath by God’s grace, and when we die, we will die in the Lord to be brought by our Immanuel into eternal glory: “glory as of the only Son from the father, full of grace and truth.”

Let us give praise to God, not only for the sign, but for Him who signifies, and who is the Truth.  Let us give thanks for this truth that we are beloved of God and redeemed by this Holy Child, that “from His fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

Evermore and evermore.  Amen.

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

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