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TEXT: LUKE 2:1-20
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

Joy to the world the Lord is come!  Joy to you this night for you are in this world and “God so loved this (fallen) world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  I bring you good news of great joy!

The first sermon proclaiming the actual birth of the Christ Child was delivered by God’s messengers from heaven.  There is this realm of God’s creation beyond your sight at present – beyond the sense of your feelings and mine.  The most tragic mistake we human beings can make is to relegate that realm to the category of “make believe” and then live as if we are god - as if we are in control.  You know those thought patterns for they tempt all of us – experience all you can – be helpful and make a difference here – take hold of all you can - for who knows if there is anything else. 

Just in case there is something else the human mind may also fabricate other levels of spirituality – higher planes of existence that we are thought to enter based on estimations of our goodness or to control with our understanding.  Yet God says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5, 6).  He also says what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal (II Cor. 4:18).  On that first Christmas that which is eternal entered our time.

As the dark night lit up, the angel from that real but normally unseen realm of God’s creation proclaimed to the shepherds, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  Dear Christians – this is the miracle of all the ages!  You have not anticipated too greatly the true joy of the night St Luke records – that is not possible!  Nor are you living too joyfully from the gift of this night in your present station in life!  I bring you good news of great joy.

Now it is true that we sinners get easily confused about joy.  For one thing, we are always pressed to manufacture alternative joys – you know - the right to pursue happiness (as the preamble to the Declaration of Independence states).  Make no mistake about the value of that declaration and about the amazing earthly freedoms we have been blessed with in this country.  Those freedoms are uncommon on this earth, undeserved by us, and always under assault.  But enjoying earthly freedom and chasing earthly happiness will never yield the great joy God offers here for free!  Joy must be sharply distinguished from happiness and pleasure.  Joy is never in your power while temporary pleasure often is.  True Joy is not a state of mind that you and I can manipulate.

It is also true that we sinners easily conceive of lesser pleasures and satisfactions as our chief joy!  If I just have that - or because I have this - or compared to others – my cup of joy is full!  Every human heart is infected with this pseudo-joy bug.  This is not to say that desire for our own good and enjoyment is a bad thing – not at all!  But if abilities or accomplishments or beauty or memories or possessions or good times are mistaken for the real thing – then they become idols.  They are not the great joy itself!  Your desires for the real thing are never too strong – but too weak – and too easily sidetracked – like mine.  We are far too easily pleased with passing pleasures and temporary pursuits that pale in comparison to the Prince of Peace!  Compared to the infinite joy God offers us in Christ – those we manufacture are like the faint echo of a beautiful tune or like the partial scent of a flower we cannot see or like news from a country we have never visited.  

By nature we judge our well-being by our senses – by what we see and feel – by what we think we have under control.  That’s why our sense of happiness can fluctuate so greatly.  In part, that is why emotions may soar one day and nosedive the next day.  Even this season that is hyped and hung heavy with anticipation can seem to rob us of joy when expectations are not met.   

Still, the deep, joyful truth is that you cannot anticipate too greatly the joy of this night!  I bring you good news of great joy.  This night heaven kisses earth!  Overshadowed by the most high, His virgin mother bears Him who drives shadows away.  This night nature is surpassed for the one through whom all things were created (John 1; Col 1; Heb 1) nurses as an infant at the breast of His mother!  This night the devil is confounded!  Fear not for behold I bring you good news of great joy a Savior  from sin – your Savior from sin. 

Behold this new and wondrous mystery!   It is so weighted with God’s Grace – so pregnant with God’s forgiving love that the messenger trumpets Fear not.  Fear not he says because of the good reason there is to fear in the darkness of this dying world.  Left to ourselves we real sinners deserve God’s wrath.  Whether shepherds in their fields two millennium ago or residents of Wisconsin in their homes today we rebels have reason to fear the holy presence and the glory of God  Our culture ignores this truth, but our culture is wrong – dead wrong!  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3).  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  It is appointed for men once to die and then the judgment (Heb 9:27).  The games people play in judging God and playing God and ignoring God will come to a sudden halt up ahead just a bit for every human being.

We often fear most greatly the wrong things - missing out on something – others’ opinion of us.  We may fear the loss of earthly position or possessions or pleasures.  We may fear taxes or cancer or being a burden to others.  In contrast to these phobias the one whose birth we celebrate tonight gave the bottom line on fear.  When grown to a man He taught of fear in this way – Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt 10:28).  You see, without recognizing our desperate need and our greatest reason to fear we will not receive the great joy God brings to earth in the Christ Child. 

But the message of this night gives answer to that fear.  Fear not: for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  To you is born a Savior – not a handy dandy answer man!  To you is born a Savior – not a cultural conformist to assent to your every desire.  To you is born a Savior to bring you blessed release from the wages of your sin and peace with God and a clean and good conscience.

This is the miracle of all the ages!  You have not anticipated too greatly the true joy of the gift of this night – that is not possible!  God’s promises in Christ are staggering!  You see we can’t have Jesus as a great moral human teacher and pick and choose from his ideas.  There is no half-way house here and there is no parallel in the religions of man’s invention.  If you had gone to Buddha and asked him “Are you the son of Brahma?” he would have said, “My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.”  If you had gone to Socrates and asked, “Are you Zeus?” he would have laughed at you.  If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, “Are you Allah?” he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off.  (Lewis – God in the Dock – 157, 158).  But when Jesus was asked if He was the Christ, the Son of God He replied to the High Priest you have said so and spoke of His Second Coming in Judgment (Matt 26:63-66).  For this they spit in His face and slapped Him and said He deserved death. 

You see, the things Jesus taught about Himself are so very different from what any other teacher has said.  Others say, this is my philosophy or I think you should live this way or you ought to go that way.  Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).  Trying to fashion Him into a nice man who did nice things and gives us some good advice is nonsensical.  He claimed to be the Light of the world!  He claimed to be the Bread of life!  He claimed to be the resurrection and the life and the fulfillment of all Scripture!  He can’t be just a nice guy who helps us do a little better.  Either He is a lunatic or He is God the Son in human flesh.  Middle ground here is mental quicksand and spiritual quicksand.

God’s people awaited this wondrous mystery since the moment sin and death infected the human race!  The prophet Isaiah proclaimed it centuries before the Messiah was delivered in Bethlehem.  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

This child is the Mighty God!  This baby is the Prince of Peace!  This infant is one with the Father (John 10:30) even as He lies in the manger.  In addition to these astounding names, Dr. Martin Luther found another name for Him in the angel’s sermon.  From that message Luther delighted in the name “Great Joy” for Jesus.  He said that Jesus is joy personified.  Quoting him, “He is nothing other than pure joy…rightly named “Great Joy”.   

This good news of great joy is for all the people and therefore “for you”.  Nestled in Mary’s arms is God the Son – in the flesh – for you!  Sleeping in the manger is Great Joy for you!  Christ did not come to earth to pour out God’s wrath against you.  That is our natural state that we confess we deserve (Eph 2).  Rather, Christ came to earth to pour out God’s Grace for you.  I bring you good news of great joy.  You were made body and soul to enjoy something (really someone) in a way that you cannot fully experience now.  But the Messiah, Jesus, comes to get you ready!

The Son of God wraps Himself in human flesh and then in swaddling clothes for you!  One day He was also wrapped in grave clothes for you!  Can it be that God who is life itself could come down among us in our flesh and blood and take upon Himself our sin?  Can it be that He could give Himself into death – even death on a cross – to make peace for us by the blood of His cross?  Oh yes!  That is the depth of God’s love for us sinners!  That is the reason Jesus is born in Bethlehem!  There is no greater joy than the incarnation of God’s Son for the purpose of our salvation!  

As He laid aside His swaddling clothes as He grew, so He threw off His grave clothes as He rose from the house of death on Easter morning!  Now, risen from the grave He still brings that which is eternal into our time!  He continues to come to His gathered people to deliver the forgiveness of sins in water and word and bread and wine.  And joy of joys where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation! 

As Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart – so may the Holy Spirit lead us to treasure them up and ponder them in our heart!  Even the little joys of this season can help ponder the great joy!  God help us enjoy them more and more!

The Christmas lights rightly point to Him who is the Light of the World!  The evergreen of Christmas trees and boughs rightly point to the eternal life offered in His name.  The water that keeps real trees green for a season rightly points to the waters of Baptism into the living water Jesus Christ.  The exchange of gifts tonight and tomorrow rightly points to God’s pure Gospel gift of love to this passing world. 

Each week the living Christ comes among His gathered people to teach them and feed them His pure Gospel gifts and to steady them with the great joy of His presence.

This Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit given through God’s Word and Sacrament!

This Joy despairs of self as worthy to stand before God and humbly wonders at being invited into God’s presence to be forgiven!

This Joy embodies the longing and desire for that which is not fully yet!

This Joy is our anchor to the future for Christ is risen and He is drawing us through the pilgrimage of this life to eternity!

I bring you good news of great joy – in the name of Jesus! Amen!


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