In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There hasn’t been, and won’t be, a word heard here tonight, in song or text or sermon, that these walls haven’t heard over a hundred times before. No matter how old we are, most of us have sat here each Christmas Eve, or someplace quite like this place, and heard these words, these songs, these texts before. The story is not so complicated that we are likely to forget it. There is little in the way of detail to begin with, and nothing new is ever added. It is the same as last year, and the year before, and the year before that.
And yet, as old and familiar as it is, it is ever new, like watching a flower bloom each Spring. And even though we know the entire story by heart we’re always slightly taken aback, a little bit shocked that there is no room in the Inn, that God would deign not merely to dwell with men like Zeus come to earth looking for a lover but that God would deign to dwell with men to suffer their abuse and die their death so that He might love them once again. He comes to earth not looking for a lover but to be a Lover. For God has always loved men. It is because He loved the world that He sent His Son, and the sending of the Son, the overshadowing of and conceiving in the virgin, the temptation and the fasting in the desert, the lashes and the mockery, the suffering leading up to the ultimate forsaking at the cross, this is how God has loved the World. He has raised up a Sacrifice. He has paid a ransom. He has crushed the devil’s head with bruised heel. The story is as old as man’s rebellion when God first hatched His plan to reconcile us back to Himself again. As old as man , yet always new.
The Son of God assumed a complete human nature, incorrupt. He possesses all the powers and desires belonging to this nature and appropriate to it. He is one of us, a man like us, with skin and bone, teeth and hair, organs and arteries, even weaknesses and frailties. He sucked His mother’s breast. He messed His pants. He scraped His knees. He wept at Lazarus’s untimely death. But He was not given to vice. He is without sin. Like us in every way except that He was not infected. He did not succumb to temptation. He made Himself weak in order to suffer and His humility and perfect love made Him subject to death. He let us kill Him rather than have us face our punishment. These weaknesses and sorrows He willingly assumed. He endured them for our sakes in order to become the sacrifice for the sins of the human race. He took up our flesh to atone for sins and to deliver us in peace to the Father. God became a Baby in Bethlehem so we that we are now free to love Him.
You won’t find a tale like this in all of man’s vain mythologies. When Zeus comes to earth looking for a virgin it is to ravage her, to use her for himself and his pleasure. The offspring is Hercules, a man of great strength, who proves himself by violence and acts of might and valor. He gets to become a god in the end. When the God of Abraham comes to earth He favors a peasant virgin in David’s line. She is no beauty. For unlike Zeus He is no respecter of persons. Men are not judged by appearances or by works, but by His grace. In His grace Mary is beloved. By His grace, she believes and submits to His Word. She conceives the One begotten of His Father from eternity is born a man. She is the most blessed of women. Her virginity remains intact. She is not ravaged. She is not used. She is not abandoned or forgotten like Zeus running off to Olympus and his wifes. God cares for her and sustains her and eventually brings her to himself in heaven.
Her Offspring is not half-God and half-man. Rather in a mystery beyond all comprehension, He is fully God and fully Man at the same time. He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, yet born with hair and skin, organs and arteries. He takes up our life to feel our pain and submit to our death. Thus unlike Hercules and his might deeds, Jesus is a man of sorrows, a suffering servant, a worm and no man. He proves His faithfulness in weakness and in suffering. He turns the other cheek and lays down His life. Unlike Hercules His greatest act is in dying, in seeming to lose the fight. But then He pulls a trick that not even the imaginary strength of Hercules could match: He walks out of the grave. He died but He lives. He builds a bridge over the river Styx. He empties Hades. He doesn’t go to Hell to rescue one beautiful and beloved maiden. He goes there to rescue the wretched, evil men of earth, those who hated Him, who betrayed Him, who used and forgot Him. He loves all men and gave His life for all of them. He opens heaven to all believers, beautiful maidens, lying harlots, cheating scoundrels, princes, and beggars. There is no guard to keep you out. He destroys death, once and for all. In Christ death has had its fill. The three headed dog dissolves like fog in the morning sun. Those who believe in Jesus never die.
Our Lord is also unlike Hercules in His ordinariness. His birth was unusual, but not supernatural. If anything it was more common, more poor than the normal lot of men. Still it is possible that another child somewhere has been laid into an animal’s feeding trough, that in some war-torn country a baby was born in a dung filled chamber to the lowing of cattle, in the cold winter’s air. It is not likely. But it is possible. Though Jesus is richer than Zeus could ever dream, He was born into our world as the poorest of the poor. His denial and His suffering are self-chosen. He deigns to be a sacrifice, to suffer the worst that men can know, to make all men rich.
So it is that the story of this great Lover from heaven always takes us by surprise and is ever new. No matter how many times we’ve head this promise, felt this love, considered this mystery, been forgiven of all our sins, it is ever new and never grows old. There is plenty here for Mary and for us to ponder, no matter how many times we’ve done so before.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen