“‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house/Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Tonight is the night. Tonight is when the kids will place the cookies and milk out for Santa, staying up all night, hoping to get a glance at the Jolly ‘ol Fat Man. When the sun comes up, it will be all about the presents under the tree. Sadly, for many, that’s what Christmas is all about. However, Christmas is more than just Santa Claus and presents. Christmas is all about a promise being fulfilled.
The prophet Isaiah records these words: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Now, the time has come for the prophecy to come to bear. However, things are not working out as Joseph had planned. He was betrothed to Mary. She was for all legal purposes his wife. Everything was perfect in this betrothal except that Mary was pregnant. How could she do such a thing by cheating on her betrothed? What is there for Joseph to do but to divorce her? He didn’t want to see any more shame come upon Mary than what would come about by her having sexual relations with someone other than Joseph. He thought very little of the shame that would fall upon himself. He was only trying to look out for Mary, regardless of how she treated him.
Fortunately for Joseph, God had other plans in mind.
In a dream, an angel appeared before Joseph revealing who this Child is that Mary is carrying: the child is conceived by the Holy Spirit. This is a union unlike any other union, for this is truly God’s union. This is a union of God and man with one intended purpose: to forgive.
This child which was given to Joseph and Mary is given to you and me also. It is Jesus, the One who will save us from our sins. It is Immanuel, God with us; here with us in the flesh as true God and true man, who lived an earthly life. Jesus is the New Testament counterpart of Joshua, “the Lord saves.” Just as Joshua led God’s Old Testament people into the promised land of Canaan, so Jesus came into the world to lead His followers into the heavenly Canaan.
This is the true meaning of Christmas. It is not about receiving lots and lots of presents. It’s about receiving one gift: Jesus Christ. It is not about receiving Christmas cards. It is about the message which the angel proclaimed to Joseph: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This echoes the words of Luther in his wonderful Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” He writes: “This is the Christ, our God Most High, Who hears your sad and bitter cry; He will Himself your Savior be From all your sins to set you free.”
This is who the promised Messiah is: the One whom will set you free from your sins. He will forgive you all of yours sins by His blood that will be shed for you on the cross. He comes to take away all sin from you and me and from all people. Jesus became flesh to fulfill God’s Law and to redeem you, to buy you back from death. He came to live a life of perfect obedience to all of God’s commands so that He might be the sinless sacrifice in your place.
On account of the Babe of Bethlehem, you will live and not die. Because of Him, you receive that second birth with God’s name placed upon you in your Baptism, marking you as one of His beloved children. All of this is yours as a gift, a gift that comes in the form of a Baby born to meek and mild parents.
This is the very Son of God made flesh for you. This is the very Son of God who came to take your sins upon Himself. This is Jesus, the Lord saves. This Child that is born comes to save all people, regardless of who they are. Again, we hear the words of Luther: “This is the Christ, our God Most High, Who hears your sad and bitter cry; He will Himself your Savior be From all your sins to set you free.” This one stanza encapsulates why Christ came: to set you free from all of your sins. This is what was foretold all the way back in Genesis. They had been waiting and waiting for the promised Messiah and now her He was, but now what they had expected. No one had expected the Messiah to be born in a lowly manger amongst the animals. No one had expected the Messiah to be born to such lowly parents, yet that is precisely how this Savior of the nations was born. He was born to earthly parents and lived an earthly life for all those here on earth, for you and for me.
This is who the Messiah IS and not who we WANT the Messiah to be. We want the Messiah to be one who will make all of our problems disappear, someone who will make our lives easier. That is not the Messiah promised to us in the Scriptures. The Messiah that is promised in the Scriptures is the One who would give His life for the life of God’s creation. St. Matthew writes, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
That is precisely what Jesus does, beginning on this night. He begins His mission of redemption for God’s creation by coming into this world, born of Mary and Joseph. All this happened according to God’s preset plan and under His control. More than that, as we look back at the history of the world, particularly as recorded in Old Testament Scripture, Christ Himself is the proper fulfillment of everything, and the Key to the Bible’s interpretation. He is the center and heart of the Old Testament as well as the New. He is what God intended all along.
This is especially important because the plan of God is for you. His working throughout Old and New Testaments was in preparation and fulfillment of your salvation. He prepared centuries and millennia before Bethlehem, back to Isaiah’s prophecy seven centuries before, to King David, to the Israelites in Egypt, and even back to the Garden of Eden, when a Seed of Woman was promised some four thousand years before Christ was born. This entire grand, perfect plan was for you – so that God could save you through the Blood of this perfect Baby, who would be sacrificed in your place.
So it is the same for you as it is in the pages of Scripture: Christ is the center and heart of your life. Who you are is not seen in your external actions, but in Him. You do not have to make your lives right. You are already perfect in the eyes of God, the only Judge who matters. Your life is not a series of merely human events. Your life is transformed by the work of God in Christ Jesus your Lord, for He has done mighty things for you. Your righteousness is perfect because of the work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.