Lessons: Psalm 105, Exodus 3:1-14, John 15:1-8
Hymns: LSB 343, 357, 933, 338
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
You know the familiar account of our Lord’s birth. St. Luke reports in part, “There were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear” (Luke 2:8-9).
Tonight, we heard that Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, in the wilderness and came to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. This is the same mountain on which God would later give God’s people the Ten Commandments. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. When Moses was told to take his sandals off and come near, Moses hid his face for he was filled with fear (Ex. 3:1-6).
The parallels between Moses and the shepherds are striking. They are both watching sheep out in the country. They are both visited by an angel of the Lord. They both are filled with fear. They both receive a great message. They both learn of how God will deliver His people.
Perhaps less obvious in the account with Moses, they both reveal Christ Jesus. Of course, the birth of Jesus is all about Jesus. The angel makes a clear announcement to the shepherds: Jesus is born in Bethlehem! He is the promised Messiah, and His coming fulfills the many prophecies of Him in the Old Testament. Upon hearing this announcement, the shepherds go to Bethlehem to see their newborn King. And then they made widely known what they had heard and seen.
In the account with Moses, the message is much different, but there are still some similarities. Just as the shepherds go and see Jesus and tell of Him, so Moses is being raised up by God to tell God’s people that He is delivering them from their bondage. Jesus Himself is born to deliver mankind from the bondage from sin. And Moses is being raised up by God to deliver the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. Jesus is born to ultimately bring us into the Paradise of God’s presence by removing our sin from us. And Moses is raised up to bring the Israelites into the paradise of the Promised Land.
But how is Christ revealed in the account with Moses? It goes much deeper than the parallels we can draw between the two accounts. There are some interesting names used to describe God in this account with Moses. Verse 2 says “The Angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire.” Verse 4 says, “When the Lord saw that [Moses] turned aside to see, God called to [Moses] out of the bush.” Here, the “Angel of the Lord,” “God,” and “Lord” are all used synonymously—they all refer to God.
We call these special appearances of God to His people “theophanies,” which means “manifestations of God.” You see, God is personal. He is not distant, nor is He only interested in some spiritual existence apart from matter. He made the Earth and all that is in it. He made us. And so, He comes to us in personal and tangible ways. In this account with Moses and the burning bush, God came to Moses personally and in a very unique way. This is a theophany, a manifestation of God.
In the Old Testament, the words, “Angel of the Lord” frequently refer to the preincarnate Christ—to Jesus prior to His incarnation and birth as Man. You see, Jesus has existed from eternity as the only-begotten Son of God. And so, He makes His appearance among His people at various times and in various ways during the Old Testament period.
It is Christ who spoke to Moses. Christ Jesus promised to be with Moses as he goes up to the great Pharoah, saying, “Let my people go!” And when they were delivered, Christ went before them and followed after them. Hear the Word of the Lord, which the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded in 1 Cor. 10:1-4, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
All right, we can all agree that Jesus is present in the Old Testament. After all Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me” (John 5:39). But how do we know that the “Angel of the Lord” is truly Jesus, especially in this account with Moses?
To know this truth, we need to remember what the Angel of the Lord says to Moses and what Jesus Himself would later say. We have already established the reality that the “Angel of the Lord” is God Himself and the Lord Himself, as we heard in Exodus 3:2-4. When Moses is selected for the lofty task of leading God’s people out of their slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, Moses has a few objections. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t really want to do it. It’s certainly a greater task than what he could possibly handle on his own. Moses also thinks Pharoah and even the Israelites will doubt Moses’s authority. Aside from trying to get out of this lofty task, Moses actually asks a good question (Ex. 3:13), “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
The Lord God (the Angel of the Lord) replied to Moses, saying, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14). God calls Himself I AM. In the Hebrew, the divine name Yahweh and the phrase I AM (or Ehyeh) are very similar. So now we know that I AM is another name for God.
Then, in His public ministry, Jesus regularly referred to Himself as “I AM.” We heard it in our reading from John 15:1-5. Jesus said, “I AM the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” On another occasion, Jesus gets even more to the point. He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). And then, Jesus adds these rather stunning words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, (meaning, Jesus is about to say something very, very important) before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).
The crowd knew what Jesus is saying. He is the same person who spoke to Moses at Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God, through the burning bush. Jesus is the same person as the Angel of the Lord, who visited Moses on that holy ground. Jesus is truly our Lord and God, as Thomas would later (and rightly) testify.
So, the Lord Jesus revealed His name to Moses from the burning bush. Jesus is the great I AM. He declared, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” “I AM the Light of the World.” “I AM the Bread of Life.”
In Christ, we have life. Just as the Israelites were being rescued and brought into a good land through the hand of God using Moses as God’s instrument, so also we are being brough into the good land of Heaven with Christ Jesus as our Savior. He came to redeem us by shedding His innocent blood on our behalf on the cross.
Jesus came to Moses in a very special way and delivered His people. He truly ushered in a new era for God’s people as He rescued them and brought them into the Promised Land. It was an Old Testament Christmas of sorts.
And when Jesus came in the flesh as He was born in Bethlehem, He came in a very special way to deliver all people from their sins. He ushered in a new era for God’s people, fulfilling the Old Testament’s laws and prophecies, and granting us eternal life by grace through faith.
There are numerous times in the Old Testament in which the preincarnate Christ visits His people through various theophanies. They, in a sense, prefigure, His coming in the flesh in which Jesus made His dwelling among us. We rejoice at the gifts He came to bring, both in the Old Testament period, and at His incarnation. We rejoice that He also continues to come to us today through His Word and Sacrament.
May God grant you joy as you prepare to celebrate our Lord’s incarnation! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen