In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, Syria, Nazareth, Judea, Bethlehem, Joseph, and Mary.
Not just a long time ago, or once upon a time, but exactly then, when Caesar Augustus had won his war against Marc Anthony, when he was consolidating power and assessing his tax base, when Quirinius was governor in Syria. Then, exactly then, the Lord came to earth.
And not just in a distant land, far away, but precisely located, from Nazareth, into Judea and Bethlehem, to the city of David, the House of Bread. There, exactly there, the Lord came to earth.
And not just some generic princess and cruel step-mother, not some beautiful woman or extraordinarily clever lad, not some everyman who rises to the occasion and proves himself to have a deeply heroic character, but these fallible yet faithful people: Mary, shamed with a pregnancy outside of wedlock, submissive to the Word of the Lord; Joseph, who thought for a time that she was impure and indiscreet and by mercy was spared the greater chastisement which fell upon Zechariah for less impious thoughts, but was rejected by his kinsman in Bethlehem; and the shepherds in their fields, whom the townspeople considered to be but ruffians and malcontents. To them, exactly to them, the Lord came to earth.
Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, Syria, Nazareth, Judea, Bethlehem, Joseph, and Mary. The Lord is into names and places. For the Lord is into people.
He Himself is no abstraction. He has a Name: He is the One-Who-Is, by Him all things were made and without Him is there nothing that is. It is He who who spoke to Moses from the bush that burned but was not consumed. It is He who led His people through water and fire, night and desert, out of slavery and into a gifted land of their own. It is He who provided for them and delivered them again and again and again. Jesus is His Name. He is the One-Who-Is who saves His people from their sins.
He is not a generic idea of cosmic friendliness, a concept who might be taken in part or admired from a distance, the way we think that the French have some good things to say about cooking and the Germans have some good things to say about engineering, but we’ll while we’ll learn a few things here and there, we’ll stay Americans, just the same, if you please. The Lord is not into lukewarm.
Nor is He is changing masks, one time appearing as a monster and hater of humans, sending men to war and asking for ethnic cleansings, and then the next time showing up as a Baby in Judea, and the next perhaps as a butterfly in the rain forest or an echo in the Grand Canyon. The Lord is not into confusion. The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are One.
He does not reveal Himself partially or hide Himself by means of deception or false doctrine. Christianity is not simply a fuller Truth than other small truths. Telling half-truths is a euphemism for telling lies. The God of Abraham does not lie. The Lord born of Mary is God or there is no god, or something else is god, but He does not share His Divinity with the devil nor the devil’s multitude of religious options. He is not the master of a buffet where you can choose what you like and leave the rest. The Lord our God is One and He is jealous for His people. He is not into polygamy or pantheism or polytheism or any sort of new ageism.
Nor is He-Who-Is vainly keeping lists of who is naughty or nice. Not that it matters to those gods of men who keep such lists. For while they threaten coal and disapproval, and look down upon the judging of reindeer, or disbelief in magic, they always bestow blessings on the rich, even if they are naughty. So why the list? To justify the rich. “You-know-who brought us gifts so we must be good. Look how “blessed” we are with this house and cars. The Lord must be into drugs and pornography and extortion and all the evil ways we got our stuff.” That is blasphemy. The Lord is not into sin. So too does such list-making and then generosity despite naughtiness make it seem that no one is really naughty, or that naughtiness doesn’t matter. What does it matter if we murder and deceive, betray and cheat, lie and steal, and fornicate like animals in the jungle without minds? “It does not matter,” says the devil. “You’re only human. Nobody’s perfect.” But then why does it hurt so bad? It even hurts when we’re not the victim. In fact, the criminal is more hurt, more corrupted and infected, than anyone. And if it does not matter, why do we long for justice and faithfulness? Because the Lord who made you is not into injustice or infidelity.
The God who sent His only-begotten, the One-Who-Is, is not so zestfully jolly, nor so tolerant of sin and naughtiness as our fallen flesh would like us to believe. He is not particularly into sugar plums, jingling all the way, or balls of holly either. For He did not come to fill children with sugary joy or to make for quaint moral tales about being nice and how even mutations of glowing noses have their place. He did not come to be a bribe or a threat. He did not come to try and make us behave.
He is into names and places because He is into people. And as much as we might hate and abuse and defy and steal from Him, as often as we run and pretend that our consciences do not bother us, that we are no worse than other people and maybe even just a little bit better, and that ought to be good enough, no matter how deluded and self-pleasing we become, and by what vain means we seek to comfort ourselves in the cold of the night: He is steadfast and patient. He loves us. The Lord is into people.
He came in that time, when Quirinius was governor in Syria, and place, Bethlehem, to those people, Mary and Joseph and shepherds, precisely and exactly and on purpose. But He did not leave it there. He took on that onerous task, a bitter cup He’d rather have escaped if He could, but could not. He took it on for it was the cost of humanity. And the Lord is into people. More than any other thing, more than lilies or sparrows, no matter how gloriously they are arrayed; more than whales and great cats; more than mountains and rivers, stars and planets; even more than the holy angels; more than anything else He has made: the Lord is into people. And thus did He allow Himself to be betrayed, to be handed over, to be tortured, and to be killed.
The Lord is so into people that He become one to suffer in their place and set them free. He become a Man, one of us, one of our people. He was ushered into this world, flesh of our flesh in an issue of blood, to be a bloody ransom, a price worthy of the sins of all those who hated Him. He came to meet the demands of Justice. For the Lord is into Justice. He came to pay the debt. For the Lord is into the letter and the spirit of the Law. He came to absorb the wrath and the fire. For the Lord is into fulfillment.
He came to end Hell’s claim on mankind, to reconcile all people back to His Father, to restore the goodness of His creation to its original glory. For the Lord is into mercy.
He came then for us now. The Lord is still into all the things He was into then. He does not change. His mercy endures forever. He sends the Spirit, who proceeds from Him and the Father, who prepares the hearts of men with the preaching of the prophets and the apostles as recorded in His Word, He gives to them His Holy Doctrine, the revelation of His Grace, He shows them His love. He bestows upon the Church His institutions and gifts, by which He promises to be present and to work here and now: Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Holy Ministry. Thus has the Lord decreed in mercy and thus do we receive in faith. The Lord who was present then in Bethlehem is here and now for you. The Lord is into you.
That is why He is into names and places, Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, Syria, Nazareth, Judea, Bethlehem, Joseph, and Mary, Fort Wayne, Woodburn, Dupont, you. That is why He joined us in the Flesh, why he forgives our sins and calls us His. That is why the edges aren’t fuzzy, why the people have names and faces and flaws. That is why Mary has so much to ponder as she waits for the sword that will pierce her soul, and why the peace announced to quaking Shepherds passes all understanding, and, yet fails to stop war. God has come to earth. He is into people. He was crucified and raised for our justification, and He is still into people. Therein lies all our hope, all our joy, all our Christmas merriment. Therein lies our past and our future. The one thing in this fallen world we can trust, which will not fade or tarnish or be taken away, is the Word of the Lord, Jesus Christ, His mercy, which endures forever.
The Lord is into people and the saints have names. Some of those names are written on your baptismal certificates and drivers’ licenses and in your family trees. Some of them find themselves on the lips of your mothers, or your wives, or your brothers and your sisters here tonight, during their prayers. Not abstractly. Not generically. Not imaginary. Precisely. Exactly. On purpose. The Lord who came to earth then, for you, is into you. He is into you in His Word and Sacrament. For there He enters you as His Temple, His Mary, His Bethlehem, His Church.
Merry Christmas in +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen