Every Sunday (every Lord’s Day) Christians go to the Divine Service and we confess our most holy faith. We confess the historic and eternal reality of Christmas with these words: I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made. We confess that this Jesus through whom all things were made, came down from heaven was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.
Phew! The truth is – it’s a lot to take in! And sadly, by this point, we may have already hit autopilot. We’ve already sung a couple hymns. We’ve listened as best we could to a few readings from Holy Scripture. And more often than not our attentiveness, our fallen flesh, our fallen intellect, it all simply fails us. Sadly, our minds, they wander, and the words, “He came down from heaven, incarnate, and made man” all too often rolls off our tongues with little or no thought.
May God help us! God help us and spare us from the terrible shame of speaking those words with a ho hum or a bah hum bug! May God help us and intercede for us and awaken in us only the deepest awe, reverence, and joy for these words: That He, our God, was made man.
There is an ancient custom in the church for Christians to genuflect at these words in the Nicene Creed. That’s just a fancy word for saying hit the deck, bow and take a knee. Lutherans in America bowed out of the practice only about a 100 years ago. It was tough time for Lutherans in America, for a number of reasons, and so anything having the whiff of Catholicism was pitched, including genuflecting. We are of course free in the Gospel to stand or kneel, no conscience should be bound here. After all, Lutherans don’t like to be told what to do, and we have good reason for that. But when we consider the depth of this holy mystery, the incarnation, it’s enough to want to throw ourselves on your knees. And well, from my own personal experience, at those words “He became Man,” it’s only become a greater act of the will not to get on my knees than if I had!
What every single soul should agree on is that if we truly understood and internalized the sheer magnitude of these words and the meaning of the incarnation, we should all admit that our hearts simply burst with happiness! For the joy of what it all means!
Just consider that our most holy God, who created the heavens and the earth, and causes the sun to shine, and the snow to fall. The same God who keeps the sparrow in flight, and directs the sun, moon, and stars is the same God who now sleeps in a manger, and nurses from the breast of his virgin mother. The creator becomes a creature. Just think about that!
This child is no less than the Lord Himself. The Lord whose voice breaks the cedars now coos softly in his mother’s arms. The same Lord who told the shepherd Moses to not come near because the Lord’s presence was too holy now tonight invites shepherds to draw near to Him as He lies in a manger, as a helpless child.
The shepherd Moses had to cover his face from the Lord, but now tonight, shepherds behold the face of the Lord in the face of this child.
Tonight, God is not in a burning bush or a pillar of cloud or a pillar fire. He’s not shaking Mount Sinai with terrifying thunder and lightning, and fire and smoke, because God is sleeping in a feed trough. The unapproachable One is now approachable and he’s as harmless and gentle as a baby.
And this little baby will grow up. He’ll grow in wisdom and in stature and favor with God and man. Those little hands will grow too and those hands will learn a carpenter’s trade - a child to work among fresh hewn wood, iron hammers, and nails, foreshadowing why he came.
And those little infant feet will grow too, beautiful feet to bring glad tidings and good news of peace. He’ll use those feet to walk on water and he’ll use those hands to heal the sick, and he’ll use those hands to give sight to the blind and bless the children. But best of all those little hands and feet will grow strong for our sake to be stretched out and pierced for our transgressions. This child will grow strong to be crushed for our iniquities. He’ll grow strong to endure the chastisement that brings us peace. And he’ll rise up from death and hell to show us those glorious wounds in which this whole world finds healing, and grace upon grace.
Dear Christians, what god is like our God? Who so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life? Who else offers you the forgiveness of sins and the joy of a good conscience? Who else has promised to raise your body on the last day, and lift you gently from your grave? Who else has promised to you the gift of eternal life? Who else, if not Christ our dear Lord, will kindly welcome you into God’s kingdom of grace, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven? Who? Who, dear Christian, if not Christ, our dear Lord?
Dear hearers of the Word made flesh, there is no life apart from this little child who is sleeping in Mary’s tried and exhausted arms. In him is life, and the light of men. He is the promised seed, the hope of the Savior, given to Adam and Eve, after the Fall. He is the promise given to Abraham, that the Lord Himself would provide the sacrifice through His own Son. In this sleeping child is the promise given to Ahaz, and fulfilled in the Virgin Mary, who would conceive and give birth a son, our Immanuel. This child is the one of whom Isaiah prophesied that the nations would travel far and wide to see and worship, bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
So tonight, no mattered where you’ve traveled from, be like those wise men. Follow the bright shining star which is the Word of God. Listen to the angels that preach the Gospel and the glad tiding of great joy. Peer into the cattle stall and behold everything that properly belongs to heaven down here among us on earth – a holy family, the church, kneeling in adoration around a Savior swaddled in flesh and blood, and lying in a manger, to show that the whole world might be fed through him. Cradle him again in the manger of your heart, and believe this good news, this Gospel of great joy. That unto you, this day, is a born a Savior.
Then come again on Christmas morning to welcome him under the roof of your mouth, and sip from the chalice of his forgiving love. A rich and heavenly food, and a rich heavenly drink – that forgives refreshes, and delights. Truly a Christmas supper unlike any other.
Dear children loved by God, this is not ultimately a silent night. Because God on this Christmas Eve is speaking loudly and clearly from the manger, that you are loved, that you are valued, that you are so pleasing to your Father in heaven, through Christ, His Beloved Son, who was born, bled, and lives eternally for you. All so that you might live eternally for him.
A most blessed and Merry Christmas to each and every one of you, not just tonight and tomorrow, but today, tomorrow and forevermore, even unto the ages of ages. Even then, Merry Christmas. In the name of Jesus. Amen.