Christmas Day: The Living Nativity

The Nativity
The shepherds visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem (front) after learning of His birth from the angel (rear) based on Luke 2:1-20. From Martin Luther’s Church Postils (sermons), published in 1563.

Lessons: Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20
Hymns: LSB 375, 391, 382, 358, 387

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Once upon a time, there was a young woman who did not yet know a man and she miraculously became pregnant. This sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale. Fairy tales usually involve someone young, even childless, living in mythical lands. In the end, everything turns out good and fine.

      Our Gospel is no fairy tale. Bethlehem is no mythical place. It isn’t once upon a time, but in the fullness of time. Our Gospel begins, “And it came to pass in those days.” Ceasar Augustus was ruling the Roman Empire and Quirinius was governor of Syria. The importance of these facts cannot be overstated.

      At this time of the year, our culture is focused on many mythical things. Angels getting their wings. Abominable snowmen. Omniscient Santa delivering Christmas gifts, knowing who is naughty and nice. And the “stuff” of Christmas often serves as a flight from the real world and real life into an imaginary world of bliss, lights, and self-indulgence.

      Unlike our incessant attempts to retreat from real life, Christmas is not an escape from some fantasy world. The real Christmas is real life. For the real Christmas involves a real place and real people doing real things. The real Lord sent His real only-begotten Son into this world, born of the real Virgin Mary in the real town of Bethlehem. Jesus was not born as some sort of spirit, but as a real human being with real flesh and blood. He came to really rescue us from our many damning sins and reconcile us to our real Father in Heaven so that we may truly obtain eternal life.

      When Jesus was born, there was no room for Joseph or Mary to stay in an inn. So Jesus was born in place where the animals stayed. In a sense because of our sin, we are like those animals. Our sin causes us to engage in self-preservation at all costs and follow our basest instincts and desires. As we depart from God’s will and ways, we become inhuman. So Jesus became a Human to take our sin away. He became one of us—a Human—so that we can become like Him—righteous in Christ. He came to restore us to Himself—so that God and sinners are reconciled.

      By our Lord’s conception and birth, Jesus has sanctified and purified our human nature. We like to think that “to sin is human” but God originally created humanity without sin. The sin of Adam infected us all so that we are now all sinners, deserving of death. But Jesus was born to give us life. He died to defeat death and He rose to secure our salvation. In this, Jesus is restoring fallen mankind. For the Son of God, by becoming Man, took our humanity into Himself so that we might be made new in Him. He makes us holy. Jesus did not become an angel, nor will we become angels. Instead, Jesus became Man so we can one day be restored to humanity without sin.

      Jesus became one of us to take our place under the Law and set us free from its condemnation. He fulfilled the Law in our place. He did everything it demands so that He can credit us with keeping the Law. By fulfilling our Father’s will, He could remain the sinless Son of God who could shed innocent Blood on our behalf. The first drops of His innocent Blood was shed as He fulfilled the Old Testament’s Law on being circumcised when He was just eight days old.

      When Jesus was born, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Before mankind sinned, clothing was unnecessary, for no one had anything to hide. Without sin, there was no shame. But when Adam and Eve sinned, they discovered their nakedness and tried to sew fig leaves together to make coverings for themselves. God then covered them with the skins of animals to serve as their clothing. The first animals died for mankind, prefiguring the sacrifice Jesus would make for the sins of the entire world. His sacrifice would cover mankind’s sin. In fact, we are now covered in the very righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ through Baptism.

      When Jesus went to the cross, He was stripped and beaten. Upon His death, He was wrapped in a clean linen shroud and laid in a tomb for His grave. When He rose from the dead the third day, He left behind His graveclothes.

      When we are Baptized into Christ, we are stripped of our sin, leaving it behind. We then walk in the newness of life, covered in Christ’s righteousness. We die to sin and rise to life.

      This realty is Good News for us. What Jesus did is no invention of man, and it is no fairy tale. All other religions out there are but the imaginations of sinful men. They’re the fairy tales. They may teach something interesting or provide some moral grounding, but they provide no eternal value. All the world’s religions except Christianity direct people to gods which do not hear, care, or act. They are false hopes.

      But the angel tells us of our only real hope, declaring to the lowly shepherds, “For not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

      Fear not. You have no reason to be afraid of the angel’s presence. You have no reason to be in terror of God’s judgment. Your sins are forgiven. You no longer need to even be afraid of death. For Jesus swallowed up death in victory. To live is Christ, to die is gain (Phil 1:21). That’s what it means to have a Savior. And our Savior lives and reigns to all eternity. Christ the Lord!

      The shepherds were given a sign. They will find in Bethlehem a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. In faith, they go to see Jesus. They don’t attempt to worship Jesus under the dark skies and serene countryside. They don’t figure that they could worship Jesus just as well in nature. They go to where He can be found.

      In the same way, God has called us by the Gospel. We have heard the wondrous deeds of our Savior. For most of us, our parents raised us in the Christian faith. They brought us to Jesus through the waters of Holy Baptism. And our faith continues to be nourished as we go to where Jesus can be found—as we search the Scriptures in our homes—and as we go to the Lord’s House to hear His Word.

      Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Bible reveals Jesus from cover to cover. The Bible speaks of our Lord’s mysteries and testimonies. So we as Christians love to read the Sacred Scriptures. The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). Given that this Word is living, we have in it a type of living nativity. It’s where all true doctrine comes from. It is the source of any legitimate Christian teaching. It is the source from where our faith flows.

      Another living nativity is found right here in God’s house. For Jesus Himself is here. When the Word is proclaimed, He is here. When the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, He is here. He truly makes Himself present in the Sacrament. We eat His true Body and drink His true Blood in Holy Communion. We are like the shepherds who went to Bethlehem to worship Jesus. The name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” On the altar sits the bread and wine. When the Words of Institution are spoken, that bread, according our Lord Jesus is Christ, is His Body and that wine is His Blood. We feast on it as a meal of forgiveness. Christ Jesus came in the flesh, and He comes to us today in the Sacrament. What joy it is that the Lord is come! What joy it is that Jesus is here! What joy it is that this is all true!

      We do not follow cunningly devised fables (2 Peter 1:16-21). Eyewitnesses of our Lord’s majesty recorded the Sacred Scriptures as they were inspired by God the Holy Spirit. Jesus is true God who has become true Man. He died on the cross to save us, and He rose from the dead the third day. He lives and reigns. He will come back at the time known only by God the Father and will make all things new. All sin will be gone. We will be perfect. We will live without any spot or blemish. Christ will take away all tears and hardship and sorrow. And we will always be with the Lord. Since our bodies will be raised in perfection, we will be fully human without the effects of Adam’s sin.

      It should be no wonder then, that we gather at our Lord’s birth year after year to hear this saving message and receive the Sacrament of the Altar. The mercies of God are profound. We are reconciled to God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ! So we, like the shepherds, glorify God and praise Him for all things we have seen and heard. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen