Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.
It’s been a long pregnancy. This trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was long, around 80 miles. Trying to keep a mild pace, it would take several days, if not a week to get there, and add to the fact that you’re pregnant. To say that this was a journey was an understatement, to say the least. After a long trip, especially one of this magnitude, all you want to do is find a nice warm and comfy bed. However, no bed would be found for them. If only that were the extent of their troubles. Now, the time for Mary to give birth was here. Full-blown labor has set in and there is no proper place for her to give birth. Our Lord would be born in very simple and crude means and laid in a simple manger.
The angel who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds on the fields of Bethlehem was a messenger of few words: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The first Christmas sermon was a marvel of simplicity. In these simple words, everything that needed to be said was said. The sweet simplicity of Christmas and the Christmas Gospel has been lost somewhere along the way.
Listen to the words of the angel again. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” That is where you will find Jesus. You won’t find Him within the royal splendor of Jerusalem, but in the lowly unpleasantness and filth of Bethlehem. You won’t find Him in the palace of a king, but in a small Judean cattle cave. You won’t find Him in the incense perfumed presence of the high priest, but in the company of smelly shepherds and in the dense aroma of a cow barn.
Christmas is a simple wonder, and its message comes in simple words and in simple places. It is simple in its message, simple in its circumstance, simple in its characters, and simple in its faith. However, we lose the wonder of this holy season because we look in wrong directions. We seek its wonders in the beauty of our Christmas lights and in the thrill of Christmas pageantry. We seek the Christmas message in gifts and cards and all the pomp and circumstance that make up the season of Christmas but in the end, we often overlook what makes up Christmas day: “the babe, the Son of Mary.”
What should be a very simple account of the birth of our Lord has turned into something that has taken on a life of its own. No longer is Christmas focused on the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, but rather it’s focused on commercialization, on shopping and retail, on receiving gifts from one and all, and to a much-lesser degree, giving.
When we look at just how simple Christmas is, it boils down to this: Jesus was born in a manger, the most non-ideal conditions for a birth, especially for the birth of a King. The fact that the Savior was born in such humble surroundings and of such an unassuming mother was not meant to make us feel sorry for Him. Where do we have the time to feel sorry for Him anyways when we take the focus of Christmas from Him and put on worldly things, making the Christmas message complicated? The manner of His birth was in keeping with His mission: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There would be no posh palace on earth for this King. His reign on earth would be marked by humility and Luke sets that up for us from the beginning, by focusing on where the Christ Child was born.
That is the work of this child that is born, to live in our place, to die in our place, and to rise again in our place so that all that is His will be ours. Because of what God has done for us, the only response should be that of rejoicing. Jesus is born and all the angels in heaven cannot restrain themselves from breaking out in rejoicing. Even poor shepherds in the fields hear them preach, praise God, sing, and pour out their joy in heaven and earth.
This Christmas message continues to get simpler and simpler, regardless of how complex we make it. The angel doesn’t just say, “There is born a Savior, Christ the Lord.” The angel says, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Unto you! This Savior is not here to save the world in general, but you in particular. He’s not your Savior if you manage to stay out of trouble and under the radar while He cleans up the place. He’s born to save you, specifically. Because He desires the death of no one – and earnestly desires that you have eternal life, He’s become flesh to die in your place on the cross. That’s the reason for this birth. He’s been born to die for the sins of the world. Not just the generic world; He’s born to die for you.
For the millions of believers in Christ, tonight is the culmination of much wishing and hoping and waiting. Christmas means that what we yearn for has already come, is here right now: God is present, with us, with an everlasting love in each and every moment of our lives, whether we perceive those moments as good or bad.
The time has come for us. In Jesus, God has entered our world where we are born and die, work and play, love and dream. Let this Christmas time fill our lives with the knowledge that all our days are in God’s hands. Since God joined us in our pain and disappointments, and knows our weakness and death, then let this Christmas time bring us strength, knowing that God’s love is stronger than death, and God is able to bind up all our wounds. Since the time has come and God has rescued us from the sin that enslaves us – from the destruction we do to ourselves, to others, and to creation itself as a result of our sin – let this Christmas time fill us with the will to love and care for all, just as God has come to show love and care for us sinners in our great time of need. Since the time has come and God has visited His people, let us join Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and angels, and all believers everywhere this night to glorify and praise God for the gift of salvation that comes in the form of a babe named Jesus. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.