It’s time, but it’s not time for what you think. It’s time for a registration, or a tax census. The government wants its money and that means that it requires people to return to their home city to pay up. And so Luke records for us, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” This seems like such an ordinary, boring way to start a story. After years of waiting, the dramatic story planned long before is revealed, and it begins with, of all things, taxes. Why would God begin this most wondrous, heaven-shattering story this way?
First of all, He does so to show that His Christ was born in ordinary history. This is no mythical god born in never-never land, once upon a time, long long ago. No, this is the real God invading and inserting Himself into what we thought was our history. Humans thought that the way it works is that God stays in heaven while we live our lives on earth, and He leaves us alone to go about our business. But that is not the God of the Bible. History is His, under His control, accomplishing His purposes. The purpose was hidden, but on Christmas we see the secret purpose revealed: God came into human flesh to be born as one of us, our Brother.
But let us move on to something more heavenly, more Christmassy, so to speak. We may not be thrilled with the report of taxes, but we love the news that the angels bring. They tell us, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” We love these words, because they are straight from God, announcing the new age dawning with the birth of the Christ Child. Here pure light and life are announced, that shall never fade for us in an eternal kingdom of blessedness.
If you grew up with the King James Version or have ever seen Charlie Brown Christmas, we are more familiar with this wording: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Which one is right? Is it that God on Christmas was bringing peace and goodwill to all people? Or was He saying through the angels that His peace would rest on those with whom He is pleased? There is truth in both. Christ came as Man for all men. He took human flesh in such a way that He is the perfect representative of all people – whether male or female, young or old, of whatever race imaginable.
For all men, He became incarnate. To pay the price to atone for all sins, He took flesh that could be pierced, and blood that could be shed, so that every man of every place can say, “Jesus, the Son of God, became my Brother.”
That is the meaning behind this night, that God would be born among us in order to die for us. Luther, in one of his sermons for Christmas, writes the following: “This Gospel is so clear that it requires very little explanation, but it should be well considered and taken deeply to heart; and no one will receive more benefit from it than those who, with a calm, quiet heart, banish everything else from their mind, and diligently look into it.” Just what does Luther mean? Everyone has heard the Christmas Gospel time and time again, and yet it is hard for us to accept this for what it is. It is simply the promise of salvation fulfilled for mankind.
This is the reassurance of the Gospel, that no one has to wonder, “Was He born for me? Did He die for me?” The answer is always yes. For all, He came. For all, He died. On some, God’s chosen elect, He will create faith through His Word. These will receive the gracious gift. They will enjoy eternity, not because of anything they have done, but because God’s favor rests upon them. Again, Luther writes, “He does not simply say, Christ is born, but to you he is born, neither does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you glad tidings of great joy. Furthermore, this joy was not to remain in Christ, but it shall be to all people.”
Just what takes place in the manger is nothing short of a miracle. We see here how Christ, as it were, takes our birth from us and absorbs it in His birth, and grants us His, that in it we might become pure and holy as if it were our own, so that every Christian may rejoice and glory in Christ’s birth.
This is indeed great joy that the angel speaks of to the shepherds. This is the comfort and exceeding goodness of God that, if a man believes this, receives the peace that the angel declares, a peace among those with whom God is pleased. In this case, that is us. We, the chosen ones, have God’s peace. This is a peace beyond understanding, a peace that is always with you. It is the peace that Christ purchased for you, the peace of knowing that your Brother is God’s own Son, and therefore all will be well with you. Christ takes care of His family, so He will take care of you. He has already purchased forgiveness and eternal life for you. He will not forget about you or let you slip through the cracks. You are His own.
For us, we should do as the angel says: “Fear not.” God became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and accomplished our entire salvation. He sent His Son into our world and won salvation for it. He sent and continues to send messengers to proclaim the marvelous news of salvation in Christ: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” In Jesus’ name, amen. And now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.