In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Imagine Bethlehem the night Our Lord was born. God is there. He is recognized by ox and donkey, praised by angelic choirs. The stars adjust themselves to look down. It looks like heaven. But don’t be fooled. Salvation is not in heaven. It is on earth, where the Savior was born, for us earthlings. Do not think you must ascend to God, that you must conquer heaven by violence or works, sneak in, or charm the Lord. For unto you is born a Savior on earth. He has descended. He has leaped down from heaven.
I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the shepherd’s song. The angels sing. My heart is stirred. A Savior is born – unto me! – in Bethlehem, on earth. The archangels blend their voices in harmony. The cherubim resound their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory.
But the Savior is not born unto them, to angels and archangels, in heaven. He is born – unto me!, on earth.
And unto you! To all of you, to shepherds and priests, bankers and police, soldiers and salesmen, good and bad, frequent attenders and once-a-year-stoppers-by: a Savior is born unto you.
This is the cause of our holy feast of holy food for holy people, for you. The feast this night is nothing less than the the Body and Blood of God given in bread and wine because God has a Body and has Blood, because God has become a Man, that the hearts of men might be glad and free of sin.
The Savior is born unto you in Bethlehem, the house of bread, on earth. It is no coincidence that He lacked a crib and was placed instead into a feeding trough. For He was born unto you to be bread: bread for beasts, bread for lapdogs, bread for wolves, bread for sheep. He comes in His Body to feed you into life, to slake your thirst and satisfy your soul. He is put into a manger not only because He is rejected by men and there is no room for Him in Bethlehem’s inns, but also because He gives Himself to men as food on earth.
And if this great cosmic event causes angels to sing for joy, how much more should you, unto whom the Savior is born, sing and praise God’s Holy Name? The shepherds come to gather sheep. So follow them. Be gathered. Rejoice and be glad. Behold the Godhead on earth, in the manger, wrapping Himself in your sins, as a Man, subjecting Himself to your death. He is born unto you, a Savior.
Do not ask how it is accomplished, how God can be in the manger and in heaven at the same time, how He can be God and Man. You might as well ask how God can be in heaven and be present on all the Christian altars of the world in His Body and His Blood. Where God wills the order of nature is overturned. It is His nature, His creation. He turns it as it pleases Him. Our science is but a feeble attempt to discern the laws and rules we can observe. But there are things we cannot observe and things we mistake. In Christ, the finite holds the infinite, God is a Man, not as we observe but as He promises. So also do we fail to comprehend or to observe how it is that He is Alpha and Omega, without beginning and without end. This is His will, His promise, and His grace. He is God. He is Man. He is born unto you and He is your Savior. He had the power and the right. He descended. He took up your flesh to make Himself a sacrifice. Then He humbled Himself, denied Himself the full and constant use of His Divine rights and powers for a time as a Man, so that He might suffer in your place and die. All things move in obedience to the Lord, even thorns, nails, spears, and cross, even virgin wombs. It is His will to be born unto you, to be your Savior, on earth. He wills to take up Flesh, to be God and Man at the same time without compromising either: so it is. A Savior is born. Humanity is rescued. Hell is undone. You receive a reward you did not earn and reap where you did not sow. You are more blessed than the holy angels and have more cause to sing. Least in the Kingdom of God, you are greater even than John the unbending Baptist.
That heavenly scene in Bethlehem will not last. The angels only sing there once. The ox and donkey go back to ox and donkey ways. And then things turn quite Hellish for Bethlehem. Herod vents his rage towards the little town. Christ, the Lord, the Savior is exiled and chased about the earth. Then Hell moves its focus to Galilee, then to Jerusalem, driving pigs off cliffs, sowing betrayal into the hearts of friends, and crucifying the Son of God, on earth. The city of Peace becomes the city of injustice and idolatry.
But the Savior will not shrink from His course on earth. He is not afraid nor hesitant. He was born unto you for this. They do not take His life from Him. He lays it down to have you. He was born unto you for this. And out of the grave He will spring back to Life, a Man, Body and Soul, the Second Person of the Godhead, the Deity, the Savior, who was born unto you, alive out of death, to redeem and save you on earth.
Unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
This is all our hope, all our life, our salvation. And thus do we sing with angelic joy: “Glory be to God on high and on earth, peace, good will toward men.” Jesus is born and Jesus lives.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
* With some help from the Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom.
Pastor David Petersen