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LSB Christmas Eve Sermon – Matthew 1:18-25

December 24, 2015

December 24, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” Matthew begins his record of our Lord’s nativity in a straightforward manner. He gives the basic details of what happened. A virgin in Galilee is engaged to be married to a man from her town. But before they are married, she is with child. This is out of the ordinary. Not just that it might offend the social mores of the time or would be scandalous to the the people of Nazareth. No, the extraordinariness of this is summarized in the phrase used by the Gospel Writer: “before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

This night commemorates the unique birth of the Child mentioned by Matthew. But it isn’t simply a recognition that Mary gave birth to Jesus, who having been “conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Yes, that is a significant part of the event. It is rightly remembered, as we have done so by hearing from Isaiah’s prophecy and how that ancient statement was declared as fulfilled: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet….” We have correctly expressed our awe at that happening in our song: “A great and mighty wonder, / A full and holy cure: / The virgin bears the infant, / With virgin honor pure!”

But this night is meant for more than expressing awe at a unique birth. It is to bring to mind what has been disclosed concerning this Child whom Mary bore: “‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’” This is the greater part of Christmastide—to recognize what the Boy born of Mary would accomplish.

Today is meant for our hearts and minds to dwell on what the hymnist called “A full and holy cure.” Just what is that, exactly? From what are we being cured? How is it fully remedied? The angelic statement spoken to Joseph placed the importance on the name that Mary’s Son would bear and what that name signified: “‘You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’” This is the cure that the Creator gives to humanity. The Child conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary would bring deliverance from sin. That is the plague which He will cure. That is the purpose of this entire enterprise which the prophet foretold: “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” For it is by God being with His creation and becoming part of it that He brings the deliverance that it desperately needs.

This focus on the work that Mary’s Son would accomplish is seen in the portion of First John read tonight: “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.” It is true that Christmastide serves as a time when an extra focus on love is given—and rightly so. But this emphasis needs to be cut away from the ideas of nostalgia or romance, even as they are fine themes for the holidays. But the love which is emphasized at Christmas is what God revealed to His world, a charity beyond compare. The great expression of this care and compassion, blessing and benefit, is seen in the person and work of Jesus.

“The love of God was made manifest among us….” wrote the apostle. But the love of God isn’t seen simply in Jesus’ presence in the world, even as great an event as that was. Rather, the love of God was revealed in what Jesus did—being “the propitiation for our sins.” Jesus displays and extends the divine love to us through the appeasing work that He accomplishes. This is the cure to sin God grants to humanity. It is the remedy that we receive from God Almighty.

The apostle tells us: “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” That is the good news of Christmastide. Being the Savior is the role laid out for Jesus, as the angel revealed to Joseph: “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus’ being the Savior is the message that you will hear declared to Bethlehem’s shepherds by the mouths of angels: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Jesus’ being the Savior is the great act that you have praised in your song: “Since all He comes to ransom, / By all be He adored, / The infant born in Bethl’em, / The Savior and the Lord.” It is the foundation of your faith and the heart of your hope as the people who “have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”

The unique birth of the Child in Bethlehem allowed this divine love to be shown to us. The Son of God conceived by the Holy Spirit served as the great ransom offered to atone for sin. That God would deign to dwell with mankind reveals a divine compassion that would not allow His creatures be doomed forever. Instead, He stoops down to raise up what had fallen. The giving of Jesus as a propitiation for our sins shows us a selflessness that we can only hope to imitate in part. So we learn that the LORD truly is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; He acts just as He describes about Himself. That is what we have come to understand and trust about God’s character and will.

The LORD proves Himself to be extraordinarily charitable by performing an extraordinary act that brings salvation to us. This is the good news of great joy that we hear at Christmas: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit…. She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’” So has the love of God has been shown to us. And we have come to know and believe it.

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

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