Christmas Eve: Welcome!

Lesson: Luke 2:1-20

Listen to the service here (the sermon alone is above. There were some issues with this recording so it is incomplete and there are some periods where the sound didn’t come through. We rejoice that Jesus was born to take away our imperfections!)

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

      Merry Christmas! Welcome to each and every one of you. I’m so glad you’re here. If you’re here for the first time, welcome! If you’re here for the first time since last Easter or last Christmas, welcome! If you haven’t been here in many years, welcome! If you came to simply watch children in a pageant, welcome! If you came to celebrate our Lord’s birth, welcome! If you came with the intention to continue robbing God with your tithes and offerings, welcome! If you came with generosity in your heart, welcome! If you came bearing a load of sins, welcome! If you came, thinking you’ve committed no serious sins since the last time entered Christ’s house, welcome! If you’re listening to this service online because you’re taking covid precautions or are in quarantine, welcome!

      Regardless of why you’re here, the Holy Spirit has a reason for gathering you in Christ’s house this night. And His reason is far more profound than what you could possibly imagine. Many come to Christmas Eve services merely out of tradition. Some to support the children. Some to support the teachers who no doubt have high nerves in anticipation of what is about to take place and what could possibly go wrong.

      The Holy Spirit has gathered you here because He wants you here. He wants you to listen intently to a life-giving and life-saving message. He wants you to be fully confident that Jesus was born for you to take your sins away, that He died for you to pay the penalty for your sin, and that He rose for you to grant you the gift of everlasting salvation.

      On our own, none of us are righteous. We would gain nothing by looking around the sanctuary to point out who is the best-behaved person here—who committed the fewest sins—who has done the best deeds. The prizewinner would still fall far short of the glory of God and has not done enough to earn his own salvation. That’s why God sent His Son to the world. To pay for all sin. To pay for the sins of all sinners by shedding His innocent Blood on the cross.

      Those sins of poor offerings? Those sins of neglecting to hear God’s Word? Those sins of not confessing the faith with your children at home? Those sins of loving our Christmas presents more than God’s Word? Those sins of cheating on schoolwork? Those sins of disrespecting teachers? Those sins of disrespecting those in government or our employers? Those sins of not upholding marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman? Those sins of fearing a virus more than possible condemnation? Those sins of trusting in government or money more than God?

      Yes, all your sin was placed upon Jesus. That’s why He became Man. He could then be declared The Sinner on your behalf. He could bear your sin in His Body. He could do what God otherwise would not be able to do—to die, rendering the ransom payment required for your sin through the shedding of His innocent Blood.

      Because Jesus became a Man, He is now your brother. You have been elevated to the wonderful status of being a child of God. You have You have been made rich in grace while He was made poor with your sin. You have become a child of God while He became a human to bear the sins of the world. He died so you can live.

      This is the message you hear each week as you are welcomed in God’s House. In the Divine Service, you even sing the Christmas song of the angels week after week: Glory be to God on High. We need God’s mercy. And it is found in God sending His Son into this world, born in Bethlehem, born to save.

      Our theme for Advent and for tonight’s service is Symbols of Salvation. If you look around our church, you’ll see many symbols of salvation, especially in our stained glass (which you can see from the outside at night or in here during the day). In the Old Testament, there were many symbols of salvation. When God visited Moses through the Burning Bush, we know that this was Jesus talking to Moses, the great I AM. Moses was sent by God to free His people from slavery to the Egyptians and bring them into the Promised Land. In the same way, God sent His Son to save us from our slavery to sin and bring us into the Promised Land of Heaven. God instructed Moses to build a Tabernacle for the Lord’s presence among His people and to serve as a means of worship. In the same way, Christ Jesus became flesh and tabernacled among us. He establishes churches for God’s people to gather in worship. God used lowly Gideon to save His people from the Midianites. In the same way, Jesus humbled Himself, making Himself nothing (even a little lower than the angels) to be our Savior and rescue us from sin, death, and the Devil.

      Tonight, you’ll hear of more symbols of salvation. You will hear why we have two extra trees in the chancel—one with red ornaments and one that is bare. You will hear of the manger, the angel, and the star, along with their significance.

      Throughout the Old Testament, it may have seemed like the faith was reserved for just a few people, the Israelites. Today, many feel Christianity is reserved for just the best-behaving people. But Symbols of Salvation show the faith was for more than just the Israelites. Throughout the Old Testament, Jesus was prophesied to come as the Savior of all people. And Jesus has come to be your Savior. Jesus came to take away the sins of both Jews and Gentiles.

      St. Paul quotes several passages of the Old Testament to teach that the faith is not just reserved for one group of people, but that it is available for all people. Hear the words inspired by God the Holy Spirit in Romans 15:8-13:

I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

      “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,

          and sing to your name.”

And again it is said,

      “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

And again,

      “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,

    and let all the peoples extol him.”

And again Isaiah says,

      “The root of Jesse will come,

    even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;

      in him will the Gentiles hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

      Jesus received sinners and ate with them. He loved them and laid down His life for them. Jesus receives you. He loves you and laid down His life for you.

      Now that you’ve heard that salvation is offered to you through Jesus, claim it as your own. Welcome what God grants you, just as God welcomes you. Welcome the opportunity to gather in God’s house every week. Welcome the opportunity to come before God and confess your sins. Welcome the opportunity to hear the forgiveness of all your sin. Welcome the opportunity God presents for you to eat the Body and drink the Blood of Jesus for your forgiveness. Welcome the opportunity to have all in your household Baptized into Christ.

      And welcome the opportunity “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). Welcome the opportunity to follow the Ten Commandments. And even more so, welcome the opportunity to follow Christ, especially as we hear Him grow, reveal Himself to be God in Epiphany, and go to the cross on Good Friday and rise from the dead on Easter. Welcome our Lord’s gracious invitation to be a Christian, turning from your former conduct of sin and unrighteousness, and receiving with great joy the marvelous gifts of our Savior, Jesus. Welcome the opportunity to receive Christ and His bleeding dying love. Amen.

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