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LSB Christmas Eve Homily – Luke 2:1-20

December 25, 2014

December 24, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of 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.’”

IMG_1453 “Good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Ask people what they would consider to be good news of great joy. What would such news be? You can think of the answers that you and others you know would give. Receiving the acceptance letter to an Ivy League college. Hearing that your bid won the multi-million dollar state contract. Watching your team wins its league championship after decades of futility. Following the election returns and seeing that the candidate that you poured hundreds of hours into helping has gained the most votes. Hearing a news bulletin that the enemy has given notice of surrender, so the soldiers will return home.

When thinking through such answers, some likely wouldn’t be considered worthy of the term “great joy”. What makes something “great” is a bit of an individual matter; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, after all. But even if we grant that they are all notices that bring “great joy, there is something that all those answers had in common: they weren’t “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” For every acceptance letter from Penn or Princeton, there are hundreds more which notify rejected applicants. Companies are regularly informed that their bids for the contract are rejected. Jubilant fans in one city have their crestfallen counterparts in another. Ballrooms on Election Night are full of campaign staffers racking their brains to figure out how a red state turned to blue or vice versa. While London and New York rejoiced, Berlin and Tokyo shuddered.

But the angel who spoke to the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plain declared that he had “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Can such good news exist? What does it look like? What qualities must it have, so that it is meant for all individuals to hear and take comfort in? The angel states the message: “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.”

But why is this a matter for all people to rejoice? The answer to that question is not found in Jesus’ Nativity Narrative. The details of His birth are but the beginning of a great event. Only when the event is completed is “the good news of great joy” revealed. But the event has come to a completion. And commentary on the event has been given, so that all people may hear why it took place. The Holy Scriptures provide this commentary. Of course, not all has been read this evening. But particular statements from the Scriptures that show the significance of this event have been read for you to hear. And in them, the reason why the birth of a Boy in Bethlehem is an evangel for the entire cosmos is laid out.

From Isaiah’s prophecy, you heard that the LORD declare that He would provide a sign of His trustworthiness: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and a bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” From Matthew’s gospel, you learned that this sign was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet….” The LORD gives a promise about a sign and fulfills it. But the commentary didn’t end there. The purpose of Jesus’ birth was also disclosed. Matthew’s gospel spoke of this Child whom Mary bore: “She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Now, the matter begins to take shape. The birth of this Boy in Bethlehem is connected with redemption and deliverance. All who have broken the Divine Law are to receive salvation from this Child. This key point is emphasized in John’s comments: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” This Jesus is way that life is brought to a world entangled in death. It is the expression of divine compassion and mercy, as Paul notes: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope….” 

These statements about the Boy born in Bethlehem provide the prism through which this event can be understood. This Jesus is Immanuel, God-with-us. That particular divine presence takes place in the world to bring life to it. The Savior, who is Christ the Lord, is born as the full expression of the LORD’s love for His human creatures. It is the appearance of divine grace that gives a new purpose and hope for humanity. This is why the angel’s declaration about the Child is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

The angelic declaration about Jesus’ birth and the commentary about the entire event of the Son of God’s presence in the world are meant for all to hear. They become the way that the LORD calls people to be recipients of His work. It began that night: “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this Child.” The shepherds went to see what they had heard. They wanted to participate in the great joy that the angel had spoken of.

The same calling continues. But it isn’t done through hearing only about the birth of a Boy in Bethlehem. No, it is done through hearing the purpose for which this birth took place. Hearing all those comments made about the identity of Jesus are how the drawing to Him occurs. The commentary goes further: statements are made about what this Jesus did. Again, the event did not reach its end with the events of that night. That is the first stage in a sequence of happenings.

“The saying that had been told them concerning this Child” includes all those comments from the Scriptures that you heard this evening. It includes all the comments from the Scriptures that you will hear during the annual cycle as the Church again considers the life and work of this Jesus born in Bethlehem: His being worshiped by the Magi; His being declared the Son of God at His Baptism; His overcoming the Temptation of Satan; His innocent suffering and death; His powerful rising from the tomb on Easter; His ascending to heaven and His sending of the Holy Spirit to His disciples. This is how the Boy born in Bethlehem shows Himself to be “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

This is what you have come to see and hear. You have been drawn to be recipients of this divine grace and favor shown to the world. Jesus has come to save you from your sins. He is the expression of the LORD’s love that seeks out people to be His own. His presence in the world as a Redeemer gives you hope, even as you hear all sorts of bad news of misery. For you are called to be in the kingdom that Christ the Lord possesses: “Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” 

That is what the Boy born in Bethlehem has done for you. He is the Son of God. He is God with you. He is your Savior. He is the propitiation for your sin. He is the full expression of the love and grace of God. You and the entire world are to hear and know this. That is the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” that all are to meant to receive. It has been made known to you; rejoice and be glad for it.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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