December 24, 2020 A+D
St. Luke 2:1-20
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The angels announce to shepherds the end of man’s rebellion for in the birth of Christ heaven and earth are reunited.
Hardly had Christ been born of the virgin and laid into the manger, when the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds in their fields with the terms of peace. They were terrified, of course, because they were sinners. Our sins declare war on God even though we have no ability to defeat Him. But the angel comforts the shepherds. He says: 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 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
God has become a Man to end the war. In the weakness of a Baby, who can be no threat to us, He joins us to Himself. He has come to fix what we broke, to instill peace where we made strife. He stands as one of us in our place, in order to be crucified as our Substitute, and to rise as our Champion, ascending to His Father as our Advocate. This is the peace that passes all understanding.
Standing between the two realms, with one foot in heaven and another on earth, the angels sing: Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, Good will toward men. The war is ended and the peace that passes all understanding begins. God has ended the war and the sad divisions of our race at the cost of His own Son. And now, in Him, on earth: peace.
Much of what is described as happening in Bethlehem belongs in heaven. But heaven and earth are no longer divided, no longer enemies. So we see the Lord Himself, worshipped by angels, announced by a star, conceived without the aid of man: He is God. But He has taken up flesh and become a Man. He comes to us as a friendly child lying in a manger, dependent on His parents, able to be killed by wicked priests and cowardly bureaucrats at the instigation of an outraged mob. Yet He is still God. And this God, a Man, is become our peace and our righteousness.
Around Him, the holy angels mingle with shepherds. Heaven and earth are together. The shepherds are too stunned to speak, but they are invited to sing, welcomed by the holy angels as brothers. The music of heaven fills the air and is now accessible to men. We join in that song. Glory be to God on high, at each Holy Communion outside of Advent and Lent. For the Holy Communion is our Bethlehem, the manger of Christ, the place where heaven and earth are one and where we gather with angels and archangels around our mutual Lord.
To be sure, at first, the shepherds were afraid. We vainly rebelled against God as though we knew better than Him, could do better than Him, could endure without Him. We were not only conceived in this sin, but we have added to it. Each sin is a little declaration of war, an insistence that we are more worthy and more wise than God and that we should be in charge. Worst yet, we tend to shrug these transgressions and insults off as though it was nothing and God owed us grace or ought to indulge us. Which of us hasn’t taken our sins lightly, planning to repent later if necessary, acting as though his sins were trifling things or necessary? And which of us hasn’t taken God’s grace for granted and assumed it, expected Him to indulge us? Repent.
We have done this because we have listened to Satan. We have become jaundiced and jaded. Satan has whispered in our ears that the forgiveness of sins and the peace that passes all understanding, that which Christ has won for us, doesn’t touch upon the things that actually matter or harm us. He says: “The forgiveness of sins doesn’t cure covid. It doesn’t pay the bills. It won’t make your husband love you. It doesn’t heal depression or fix leaky pipes and drafty windows. It won’t allow you to go back in time and live your life over. It is not what you really want or need, that you can see for yourself.”
But he is a liar. The forgiveness of sins does all of that and more. It sets us right with God. It puts an end to all lack. It even brings back our dead loved ones and reunites us with them. The forgiveness of sins is more central to what ails us than any vaccine rushed to the market or any luxury goods promised in Amazon ads on Facebook or even any super power imagined in the Marvel or DC universes.
But the forgiveness of sins is not a tool for us to use for our own ends. That Babe in the manger and that Man on the cross, the Christ, our Savior, is the Lord God Almighty. He comes to save us and to serve us, but He is not ours to command. He is the King. We are the subjects. No one takes His life from Him. He lays it down of His own accord and He takes it up again by right. He loves you and knows what He is doing. He will choose the time and the character of your blessing for He knows far better than you what is good objectively and what is good subjectively, that is what is good for you.
He does not call you to a life of ease. He calls you to a life of faith. He doesn’t offer opium for the weak-minded who are afraid to face the truth. The shepherds don’t live out their days on earth in perfect but ignorant bliss. What He gives is the opposite of delusion. He puts His people into reality out of sin. The delusion of mankind is that sin can satisfy us, that His Law is not practical or is outdated and slightly off. The opium is that it will all be fine and if there is a God He couldn’t possibly ever be mad. But the recognition of what sin is and what God gives in forgiveness of sin, the bestowal of the peace that passes all understanding and the hope of the life to come in Christ, this is cold water in the face. But it is precisely what is needed when you are sleeping in death. It puts us into reality and bestows the courage needed for facing hardship, enduring disappointment, and even for dying.
Faith knows not only the imperfections and brokenness of this world, it also knows the love of God in Christ and the promised future. It knows the pronouncement of peace by angels. Thus Christ comforts those who are willing to be uncomfortable, those who honor more than their own physical well-being and pleasure, those who know more than themselves. This is not for the weak-minded lotus eaters who simply insist that all is well and that their sins are beneficial. Instead this is for the willful, deliberate, humble, repentant, believers.
Sinners, on their own, cannot abide the presence of God, but Christ became a Man to welcome sinners. For those willing to receive it, the war is over. The comfort with which the angel comforted the shepherds is likewise our comfort. This is our great joy and hope in times of light and of darkness, in prosperity and in adversity, in peace and in conflict: For unto us and for us, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, has been born and there is peace on earth with heaven.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.