(Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2016) TS
The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Are the words so familiar that we have trouble pondering them at times? The decree from Caesar Augustus. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The house and line of David. The swaddling clothes, the baby lying in a manger—no room for them in the inn. As we praise God for the birth of his Son, we ponder a few of the details of our Savior’s birth.
The Son of God did not become man by the will of a human father. This is a point that Scripture makes clearly, and about this we have no doubt.
The Son of God also did not become a man by the will of his human mother. Mary made no choice while she carried God in the flesh in her womb. It would not even surprise us to learn that Mary suffered pain while giving birth to Jesus, since most of the pain a woman has is caused not by the physical body of her baby, but by her own flesh and bone structure making room for the baby to get out.
What is more, the Son of God did not fulfill the prophecy about being born in Bethlehem according to the will of his mother or her husband. Mary had spent the first three months of her pregnancy with Elizabeth in a town in the hill country of Judea, not far from Bethlehem. Why return to Nazareth if she was trying to force her son into an Old Testament prophecy? No—Mary simply went along with her life, and allowed God to work out things like the manner of the incarnation and the way his own prophecies would be fulfilled. And that’s exactly what happened. God had foreseen, and God fulfilled what Micah said, which was that “You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Mic. 5:2).
The Son of God did not come into the world this night according to the will of Caesar Augustus. For although Caesar had commanded a census, it was not carried out in Judea the way things were done in the rest of the Roman Empire. Rather than sending census-takers door to door, which is still the method used throughout most of the world, Caesar’s order was modified by someone—certainly King Herod the Great—to send everyone back to their home towns to register.
The Son of God came down into the world this night to be born of his mother Mary for the most humbling of reasons: To rescue you and me.
There was Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, swaddled—wrapped up tightly in a blanket so that the newborn baby would feel warm and safe and secure—that’s what swaddling does. But this baby would make all of mankind safe and secure through his love and sacrifice, and he would bring all who put their faith in him into the warmth of God’s love and security for all eternity.
There was Christ, the Son of God, in human flesh.
What does that mean? Did Jesus Christ have human failings—no, not that are the result of sin, and this shows that the Bible is true when it says that he was without sin. But we could have been and was affected by the sins of others. So as a human man, he was able to have things happen to his physical body that could not happen to a spirit. He was able to cry, be hungry, be thirsty, laugh, joke, be seen, be hurt, bleed, and die.
Here he was, God in the flesh, but submitting to natural laws and even the natural growth of a human mind and body. So although he was the Almighty and All-Powerful God, the creator of the universe, he submitted to his infancy, and the need to learn how to walk and talk, and learn to speak and sing and show his manners.
Although he was the omniscient and all-knowing God, he submitted to the necessity of need to learn human language, and to learn the Scriptures from infancy onward.
This baby was never anyone other than the Son of God. From the moment of his conception, the man Jesus Christ was the Son of God, so that there was never a time when Jesus’ personality or mind or voice was not identical with the personality, mind, and voice of God. It is not as if God possessed a man, removing the human to make way for God, but God was born as a man, a unique man, and from conception through birth, through life, and death, and resurrection, and ascension, he remains the same God-man, Jesus Christ. So that the same flesh he had in the manger is the flesh in which we will see him in heaven, except that he will appear as he did at his ascension, as a grown man. The same eyes he had in the manger are the eyes we will look into and adore in heaven.
He did all of this, for your sake and for mine. To rescue you and me.
He bore our guilt just as he bore hunger and thirst and grief and tears—not because of any flaw in him, but to save us from the flaw of sin.
So consider what the manger means. We might ponder how low Jesus came—homeless in his hometown, a baby with parents not yet married, a stranger in what should have been his own kingdom. But those things barely scratch the surface. When Christ comes again on the Last Day he will be descending through the clouds to blast of a trumpet, raising the dead and judging mankind, and before him every knee will bow. That’s the entrance of God to earth we would expect. But this first entrance, in the manger, was to place himself under all, “born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal 4:4-5).
The manger reminds us that he will raise us up—all of us, no matter what our circumstances, all of us who put our faith in Jesus will be raised to eternal life and glory. Everything he set aside to come down is what we will behold and even share in when we are brought to our eternal home in heaven.
He came alone to bring us together.
He bore our sin to free us from sin.
He suffered so that we will never again suffer.
He died so that we might live.
He brought the message of the Gospel so what we might preach.
He brought the forgiveness of sins to free us to serve.
He was born into our world so that we can be reborn into his.
Unto us a Son is born, unto us a Son is given.
O come, let us adore him. Christ the Lord. Amen.