But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Christmas Day- 2023

Luke 2:8-14; Isaiah 9:2-7

EXORDIUM:

Christ is born! Let us glorify him!

Today is the festival of the Nativity of Our Lord. It recalls the day in Bethlehem, so many centuries ago, when God’s Son entered into this world, and set out on his life’s journey as humanity’s Savior.

God’s Son had, of course, been a part of the human race since his conception. He was already the divine-human Lord of heaven and earth when he was still in the womb of his mother Mary, growing and developing according to the human nature that he had taken from her.

But now, as he is born, he begins to be accessible to those whom he came to save. He was accessible to the shepherds, who came to his manger throne to adore him. He was accessible to the wise men, who will soon be on their way to worship him.

As he grew to adulthood, and began his public ministry, he became accessible to the people of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem, where he preached and taught. And as a living Savior, whose death for human sin was followed by a glorious resurrection from the grave, Jesus is accessible to us now as well.

The most common popular term for this festival in the English language, is “Christmas”: that is, the mass of Christ. It is indeed a day when it is especially appropriate for the church to celebrate the presence of the Lord among us – and the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation that he bestows upon us – in a mass, or a divine service.

As we gather around his Word and Sacrament, Jesus speaks to us in his gospel and in his absolution. Jesus blesses us in both soul and body – nourishing our faith and our own resurrection hope – by sacramentally bestowing upon us his true body and blood.

Jesus, the newborn king and the reigning king, is indeed accessible to us in these wonderful ways today. And Jesus is accessible to all who would hear his voice, heed his words, and believe his promises.

And so, as we today joyfully celebrate his birth, and his continuing presence among us, we sing the festival hymn, number 142, “Rejoice, Rejoice, This Happy Morn.”

SERMON:

Christmas is generally understood and experienced to be a time of joy and happiness. This joy and happiness are fed and nurtured by the joyful and happy things that are usually going on around us at this time of year.

The old Christmas song “Silver Bells” describes some of those uplifting features – in the typical ambiance of the Christmas season – that contribute to this kind of cheerful atmosphere:

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style; In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.
Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile, And on every street corner you’ll hear:
Silver bells, silver bells. It’s Christmas time in the city. Ring-a-ling, hear them ring. Soon it will be Christmas day.

Other things that help to make the Christmas season to be a joyful and happy time are the time spent with family and friends; the sharing of gifts; the glow and sparkle of candles and other decorations; and the overall amplification of a general feeling of goodwill and kindness that this season produces.

But what if these positive and uplifting things are not a part of your Christmas? Or what if they may be there, externally, but are not able to overcome a more powerful inner sadness that you may be feeling?

What if you have experienced a serious loss in the past year? Maybe you lost a job or an opportunity for a job, a loved one or a relationship with a loved one. Thoughts about this loss still haunt you, and they discourage you, even today.

And for many, a burdened conscience may be weighing you down at Christmas, with regret over hurtful actions that you cannot undo, or with remorse over the effects of bad decisions that you cannot reverse.

If this is the way things are for you – in whole or in part – your Christmas may not be very joyful and happy, but rather depressing and lonely. Or at least that’s the way you may feel.

But in spite of such subjective feelings – if they are there – the objective reality of Christmas is always a time for rejoicing – for true rejoicing. And it is a time for happiness – not a superficial pretense of happiness, but a real, inner, and overflowing contentedness and peace.

This is so, not because of the circumstances of your life here and now in this world, but – in many cases – in spite of those circumstances. The joy and happiness of Christmas are not created by the external ambiance or traditions of Christmas that surround you, but by the gospel of God’s Son made flesh for your redemption.

That gospel – that joyful good news of salvation in Christ – pierces through the sadness, even when the sadness is deep and wide, and goes right to your heart. The angel, sent by God to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds near Bethlehem, gets it exactly right:

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

It is the Word of God that supernaturally puts true joy and happiness into Christmas: not silver bells and children laughing; not friends and family; and not the absence of hardship or grief. It is the Word of God that puts true joy and happiness into you.

And this is why Christmas can be, and should be, a joyous and happy time for anyone, in any life circumstance.

Christ the Lord – the divine Lord of Israel and of all nations – has been born as a human baby, to be the companion and friend of humans. A Savior – one who will rescue us from the danger and peril of our sins – has come to this troubled and troubling world, to live for us, to die for us, and to rise again for us.

In the birth of Jesus, God became a part of our human story. And as the resurrected Lord, God’s Son remains even now as a part of that story. He lives among us still, and in his gospel and sacraments he speaks to us still.

To our guilt, he speaks his forgiveness. To our fear, he speaks his protection. To our loneliness and discouragement, he speaks to us as one who will never leave us or forsake us, and who tells us: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

If you look at what is going on around you at this time of the year, or even if you look inside of yourself – at your own emotions and thoughts – you may or may not find joy and happiness. But if you look to the Babe of Bethlehem – the Savior born for all people, who is with you today in Sermon and Supper – you will find a deep and abiding happiness, and an enduring comfort in your human troubles.

If you hear and believe the angel’s good news of a great joy that is for all people – and that is therefore for you – you will know that joy. The joy of Christ will shine upon you – and through you – even as you continue to face hardships and challenges, trials and temptations.

What the Lord says to his people Israel through the Prophet Isaiah, he says also to his church, the spiritual Israel. And he says it to you:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

And Isaiah comforts Israel, and us, also with this declaration:

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

Now to the Lord sing praises, all you within this place,
In Christian faith and charity each other now embrace,
This holy tide of Christmas reveals to us God’s grace.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Christ is born! Let us glorify him! Amen.