The Eve of Christmas
December 24, 2019 A+D
St. Luke 2:1-21
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We hear again how it was that Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem. “A decree [went out] from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.” Luke even provides good historical data about who the Roman rulers were at that time to help prove the historical accuracy of the birth. This is certain: Our Lord was born in Bethlehem. God came in the flesh. We gather tonight to commemorate this momentous event.
But by far, the largest portion of this Christmas Eve Gospel explains to us how the birth of Jesus was announced and proclaimed by an angel to Shepherds and how the shepherds “made known abroad” the news of the Savior’s birth. This is the proclamation. This is the Gospel. This is the Good News that God is making good on His promise to send the Messiah to save the world from its sins. And it was all announced by angels, God’s messengers.
In the beginning, God created angels and men in complete righteousness and holiness, so that both angels and men were in communion with one another in one spiritual body, one congregation, whose head was God Himself.[i] But because of the pride of Satan, and the desire of Adam and Eve to take that which did not belong to them, they separated themselves from the congregation of angels and rejected God as their head. From that time, man was separated from God and these celestial beings; and God “set Cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned everyway, to guard the way to the tree of life.”[ii]
God made a promise to reconcile man to Himself and bring them back into the congregation of the holy. The Seed of the woman would one day bruise the serpent’s head and redeem mankind from slavery to Satan. This was foretold throughout the Old Testament. This redemption began in the birth of the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And angels made it known to men.
This long-anticipated announcement was preached by angels in this way. “The angel of the Lord came upon the [Shepherds], and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
This proclamation is the foundation of the “Quempas Carol” that we just sang alternating between children, the choir, and the congregation. The angel of the Lord preached this message: “Joy, great joy and tidings glad we bring from heaven resounding, For you, for you and all the world abounding.” It’s the message of the eternal Gospel. This great joy is for all people. It’s universal. It excludes none. It includes you! Christ, the Lord, is born. The Messiah has come. The Savior was born a man. The promise from long ago is finally being fulfilled. God is reconciling man to Himself. “God’s own Son is born a child, is born a child; God the Father is reconciled, is reconciled!”
The Arch-Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, the Overseer of our Souls[iii] became man. Oh shepherds in the field, do not fear. Your Lord has come to you in the flesh. He has not come in anger or wrath. He has come in love to make satisfaction for your sin. He has come to unite heaven and earth once more, to bring angels and men once more into communion. That’s the significance of what happened that night. The Lord of heaven and earth took on flesh to redeem flesh. Earth and heaven are brought together. God’s own Son is born a child. God the Father is reconciled.
“Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” With Christ as our brother in the flesh, God is our Father and head once more. This is the instigation of the angels rejoicing. They waited for this precise moment when God would reconcile the world. Now we join in their song around the thrown: Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, God’s good will is for us. “To God on high alone give praise and glory, And peace on earth again shall reign. Let all mankind with gladness heed this story And rejoice in His good will.” This event is the provocation of rejoicing, of singing, of proclaiming. The angel hosts could not contain themselves any further. At the announcement of the angel of the Lord to the shepherds, they suddenly appeared and burst forth in rejoicing. We echo their words in the Gloria Excelsis in our Divine Service when we confess that the same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem is in our midst in the same flesh in Word and Sacrament.
The shepherds believed this message and went to see for themselves this sign. “And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” They saw their Savior with their own eyes, and despite the humble appearance of God in the flesh, they did not stumble at His humility. They spread the message around, causing all who heard it to marvel. They saw God in the flesh and knew their salvation was close at hand. They saw with the eyes of faith. They saw the sign announced by the angel and they believed.
That baby of humble birth would grow and complete His mission on the cross. He would make satisfaction for sin, once for all. He would satisfy the Father’s wrath. The Cherubim once barred the way to the tree of life, but now angels announce that Christ, the true vine, will graft us into His divinity, redeeming mankind and making us sons of God. The way is barred no more. Jesus is our tree of eternal life. We have access to the Father through the Son. We have a mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. “God’s own Son is born a child, is born a child; God the Father is reconciled, is reconciled!”
Glory to God in the Highest! Amen.
[i] Gerhard, pp. 56-57
[ii] Gen. 3:24
[iii] 1 Pet. 2:25