27 December 2018

Homily for the Nativity of Our Lord-Christmas Eve (2018)

"Pondering the Mystery"
Luke 2:1-7

The Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a bush that burned with fiery flame, but was not consumed (Ex. 3). That Angel of the Lord was the Son of God, before He took on human flesh. In that burning bush we get a preview of our Lord’s Incarnation. The Lord was about to rescue Israel from slavery in Egypt. When He takes on our humanity, He comes to rescue us from slavery to sin and death. The bush was not consumed by the fire; our Lord’s human nature is not consumed by His divine nature. The Lord God is “a consuming fire” and He “dwells in unapproachable light,” but His human nature is not harmed by His divine nature. “In Him the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily.” This Child is true God and true man.

Tonight we celebrate the mystery of God the Son taking on our human nature. Let’s imitate Moses as he approached the burning bush to see why it was not consumed. Let’s ponder this mystery and miracle of Christ being both God and Man. As Moses took off his shoes on that holy ground, let’s take off the shoes of our sin-stained thoughts and come near with the bare feet of humility and faith given by God. Let’s ponder the time of Jesus’ Birth, then the place, then His mother, and finally the manner of His Birth.

Let’s ponder THE TIME. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Caesar Augustus was perhaps the most powerful emperor of Rome. He united the Romans and reigned at a time of peace and prosperity. So Augustus decreed a registration—a census—for taxing his united empire. It’s into this world the Son of Almighty God comes—the universal King, who alone holds all power and peace. But He comes to bring His eternal kingdom. He comes during a time of Roman peace to bring the  peace that surpasses all understanding. He is the “Prince of Peace.” He’s born into this world of sin and death to set the human race at peace with God once again. He wants to give the true, inner peace of faith in Him and His salvation. “For where there is faith, there is Christ; where there is Christ, there is God’s grace; where there is grace, there is peace and joy of the heart” (Gerhard, Postilla I:48). “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

We also note that our Lord was born at a time of census and taxation. But He does not come to tax us. No, He comes to keep the taxing Law of God Himself. “God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). He comes to free us from the curse—the taxation—of God’s Law. In fact, our New-born King registers our names in His Book of Life. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:20). More than that, because our Lord has taken on our human nature, you can rejoice when He tells you, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Is. 49:16). “Yes, He loved His people, all His holy ones [are] in his hand” (Dt. 33:3).

Infant King Jesus does not burden us with taxation, as do Caesar or Uncle Sam. Instead, He rescues us from the debt and taxation of sin and death. “To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder” (Is. 9:6). Earthly governments may govern on the shoulders of their subjects or citizens, but King Jesus carries the load of His eternal kingdom on His own shoulders; He willingly takes the burden of sin and death upon Himself.

Let’s ponder THE PLACE of our Lord’s Birth. “Joseph went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.” Joseph and Mary resided in the backwater town of Nazareth. But that’s not where the Christ was to be born. Micah had prophesied: “You, O Bethlehem…, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Mic. 5:2). God knew how to fulfill His promise through Caesar’s decree. That’s how God works for us too. We all suffer worldly troubles, personal mishaps, interpersonal strife, individual illnesses and limitations. And yet God works through these things to achieve His purpose. What purpose? To turn our hearts away from other helpers so that we may cling solely to Jesus for help and comfort. Not only is Christ born in Bethlehem, but He is also born in us. And He gives peace. He said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). It all starts in Bethlehem.

And speaking of Bethlehem, there’s great comfort and joy in that name. It means “house of bread.” This Babe born in “House of Bread” is the true food for our hungry souls. He says, “I am the Bread of Life…. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn. 6:48, 51). We get to leave the insignificant, little villages of our self-serving hearts and minds, and we get to receive the Food of the Christ, the food that fills and satisfies our souls—our lives—with His grace, with His mercy, with His life.

Let’s ponder our Lord’s VIRGIN MOTHER. Why be born of a young virgin girl? Isaiah had foretold it: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14). Mary fulfills that promise. But how can a child be born of a virgin? God has a unique way of bringing something out of nothing. In the Old Testament Aaron’s staff “sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds” (Num. 17:8). On one day Gideon’s fleece (a lamb skin, not a sweatshirt) was filled with dew water, but the ground was completely dry. Then the next day the ground was covered with dew, but Gideon’s fleece was dry as a bone (Judg. 6:36-40). In the same way, God works supernaturally through Mary. By the Holy Spirit, Mary, a natural virgin, produces the supernatural fruit of the Christ Child. Through the Holy Spirit’s work, Mary was filled with the heavenly dew of Christ the Savior. As Isaiah foretold: “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness” (Is. 45:8). When Jesus is born, the dew of His righteousness, salvation, and forgiveness is spread over all the earth. And Mary remained pure virgin after the birth just as before the birth.

Why was the Christ Child born of a Virgin? So that He might be born without sin. You see, if He were born in the normal, natural way, the infection of sin would have been passed on to Him too. But Jesus wanted to take on pure, holy, untainted flesh, in order to heal our sinful, tainted human nature.

And the mystery of Jesus’ Virgin Mother applies to us in another way. Just as Mary was at the same time a virgin and a mother, the Christian Church is also both virgin and mother. As a virgin, the Church lives in complete fidelity to her coming Bridegroom, Jesus. And the consummation of that relationship will come at the eternal wedding feast. And as a mother, the Church daily conceives and bears and nurtures us, the children of God, children “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13).

Finally, let’s ponder THE MANNER of our Lord’s Birth. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the [guest room].” In the home where Joseph and Mary most likely stayed that night, the guest room was already taken. So after Mary gave birth, she placed her Child in a manger at the back of the main family living room. This Little Child came into the world to rescue us and all sinners. We humans have been driven out of Paradise because of our own sin and rebellion. So, this Little Child comes to bring us back to our heavenly home. He comes to where we are in order to find us and lead us home. Psalm 49 says, “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish” (49:12). How fitting, then, that the King of the Universe should be born and placed in a feeding trough. It’s where He would find us in order to lead us back home to His heavenly Paradise.

So, He humbles Himself to exalt us. By His poverty we become rich. He becomes weak to make us strong once again. He takes our debt of sin and pays it in full, and He frees us to enjoy the wealth of His eternal mercy. As Johann Gerhard proclaimed on this day some 400 years ago: “If a rich brother can bequeath the inheritance of the father’s treasures to his brothers and sisters, how much more will not this our wealthy Brother, who is Lord of heaven and earth, be able to give us the kingdom of His treasures which He has won for us through His birth in poverty, through His holy life and through His bitter death! By grace He wants to do this. Amen.” (Postilla, I:54)

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