✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
It is good that you are in the Lord's house tonight. Perhaps you’re here because Christmas Eve service is a tradition. Perhaps you’re here because this is one of those few times in the year when the family is able to get together for church. Perhaps you’re here because you love the lights and the candles and the music and all the stuff of Christmas that brings about a certain sense of nostalgia and wonder and mystery. All of that is good.
But I hope and trust that you would be here even if family couldn’t be, even without the lights and presents and all the rest. For there is a wonder and mystery here that those things can only begin to point to. In the midst of the darkness of this night, in the midst of the darkness of this world, you recognize that there is something here that you need, even if you can’t always put your finger on it. You have a sense that things aren’t quite right with you, that there is something about our humanity that has gone wrong and needs saving. Tonight we are here to go back to the beginning and return to the Source. Tonight is about how our broken and fallen humanity is restored. Tonight is the unveiling of how you are made fully human again.
What we are celebrating here is not merely a birthday. We are celebrating the fact that God has embraced our humanity in order to redeem it and ennoble it and raise it up. The Son of God took up our flesh and blood, our body and soul, and was born of the Virgin Mary in order to sanctify us and make us holy and right again. He shared fully in our humanity in order that we might share fully in His divine life.
Jesus is the only one who is truly and fully human, without any sin polluting and corrupting His nature. And the joyous message of this night is that by embracing your humanity and joining it His divinity, He has made you truly human again. His birth cleanses you and gives you new birth. Through faith in Jesus, the image of God is restored to you. Baptized into His body, you find your humanity.
That’s what you’re looking at when you see the baby in the manger. You are seeing your life restored to God. You are seeing peace and reconciliation between God and man. For Jesus is both God and man in one undivided person. That’s why He’s the only way to be saved. Only He brings God and man together again. The unmasked, unveiled face of this holy Child is both the face of God and the face of redeemed humanity. Here is God not keeping His distance from us. Here is God with us, Emmanuel, God so close to us that He shares in our very life, our flesh and bones.
This is the real wonder, the real mystery of Christmas: The One who holds the whole creation in His hands is cradled in the arms of His virgin mother. The One whose divine essence no man can touch is wrapped in swaddling cloths. The One who gives daily bread to all is Himself fed on milk from His mother’s breast. The fullness of God chooses to dwell in an infant. God becomes man, so that man might be restored to God in Christ. The Uncreated One is created; the Timeless One enters into human history in order to give us everlasting life in the new creation. He who is made of woman is Himself the Maker of that woman. She who delivered the Christ-child would herself be delivered and redeemed by Him.
Consider also the mystery of how Jesus’ birth foreshadows His death and resurrection. He was born during the reign of the Roman Governor Caesar Augustus that he might be crucified under the Roman Pontius Pilate. He was born in earthly poverty so that all who trust in Him might become rich in heavenly treasure. He slept on the green wood of the manger, so that he might sleep on the dry wood of the cross to pay for our sins. He was wrapped in swaddling cloths, so that he might be wrapped in burial cloths and lay in a tomb to save us from the grave. His birth was announced by angels, so that angels might proclaim His rising from the dead. He was worshiped by lowly shepherds, because He came to be the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for the sheep. He came in humility to die so that those who humble themselves in repentance and faith might be raised from the dead in His glory.
The Christmas message, then, is not only given to the shepherds this holy night, it is given to each and every one of you.
To you who are faint-hearted, who are weary, who feel the burden of your sins: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who Himself will become weary, who will bear your heavy load to set you free.
To you who are broken-hearted, to you whose loved ones are far away, to you who feel depressed and downcast and taken advantage of: To you is born this day in the city of David of Savior, who is near to those who are have a broken heart and saves those who are crushed in spirit, whose heart will be pierced for you on the cross to mend you.
To you who are fearful, to you who are burdened by the darkness of doubt, to you who are struggling with bodily pains and chronic ailments: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who will go through the valley of the shadow of death for you to bring you through it all and into the light of the resurrection of the body.
To you who have wandered from the Lord and have foolishly forsaken His command to remember the Sabbath Day each week, to you who have squandered what the Lord has given you, to you who feel isolated and cut off: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, the Shepherd who has become a lamb in order to restore you to the flock so that you may dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
And to you who are puffed up and proud, to you who have arrogantly trusted in your own merits and strength: To you also is born this day in the city of David a Savior, born in humility so that you might learn to humble yourselves, that the Lord might lift you up in due time.
To a world full of anger and conflict and anxiety, out of heaven comes the angelic message: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” God is glorified in the high places by sending His Son to us in the depths, the Prince of Peace, who reconciles God and sinners.
To the sons of Adam is born this day the new Adam. To those battered by the storms of life is born the One who stilled the storms with a word. Are you weak? Look, Jesus becomes weak for you! Are you sad? Look, Jesus comes to share your sorrows, and to give you His joy in return! You who are dying, see in the manger your Life! You who are lonely, see in the manger the Friend of the outcast and the forsaken! You who are unrighteous, see in the manger your Righteousness, freely given to you as a gift! Behold in that feeding trough the Living Bread from heaven, born in Beth-lehem, the house of bread, in order that even beasts like us might feed on Him and become human again and live forever.
So revel in the marvelous mystery of this night. In all the massive expanse of this universe, the Lord pays attention to you; He has heard your prayers and your cries. This Child comes to you and says, “Do not be afraid.; be at peace. I have come for you to save you. I have come to remove your guilt. I have come to bear your afflictions and your thorns as My crown. I have come to be your life. Do not be anxious. Take heart!”
A blessed and merry Christmas, then, to you all. For your humanity has been restored in Jesus. There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
With thanks to Christopher Esget and William Cwirla for some of the above thoughts
Image: "Emmanuel Altarpiece" by Edward Riojas. You can purchase prints of his work here: https://edriojasartist.com/giclee-prints-2/giclee-prints