December 24, 2021 A+D
St. Luke 2:1-20
NO SERMON AUDIO
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus once prayed: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.”
It often seems harsh to us, but God hides Himself from unbelief. Thus says the prophet Isaiah: “Truly You are God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Isaiah 45:15, ESV).
There is a lot of hiding in Luke’s account of Christ’s birth. God is the true King, not Caesar. It is God and not Caesar who makes the necessary arrangements to get Mary to Bethlehem. But He conceals this from unbelief by hiding His intent and will behind Caesar’s decree. Only those with eyes to see can see what is really happening. And those who don’t see it, are judged because of it.
In a similar fashion, God’s taking up flesh in the virgin’s womb and becoming a Man is an exercise of great power. It is a miracle. While we rightly say that He condescends to become Man, we do not mean that it is an act of weakness. But God cloaks it in humility and the world thinks it weak or doesn’t even notice. It is most likely that Augustus died without ever hearing about it or knowing what his decree had wrought. He, who used men as pawns, was Himself a pawn for God.
God’s power is mercy. His humility is kindness. It is known only to faith. Revelation, God showing Himself to us by His Word in a way that does not destroy us, is a gift of intimacy that delivers salvation.
The angel’s announcement to the shepherds is consistent with this. It is a show of power in a sense but it is limited to a few, and those few are rather humble. The announcement contains no fireworks. It isn’t noticed in the nearby village of Bethlehem.
The actual announcement contains only two adjectives: great and all. The Gospel that the angel preaches is of “great joy” and it is for “all people.” Those are humble adjectives for such an event. It is not in the least bit exaggerated or hyperbolic. If it wasn’t an angel saying it, the shepherds probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. In fact, there really is nothing greater in all the world and this Savior is literally for all. But, again, the language is simple, practically an understatement. It lacks urgency or much emotion. It is not at all, in any way, a sales pitch or attention grabbing or persuasive. The angels engage in exactly zero emotionally intelligent active listening or in any relationship and trust building. It is just this. Here is the news: unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Here is the sign: He is in a manger.
Without the manger the shepherds might have worried whether or not they had found the right baby. They needed some sign because there was nothing to see in the Baby that distinguished Him from other babies. He is a wiry, dried up, half-dead root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness. There is no beauty in this Baby that we should desire Him. The manger is not a mark of power or Divinity. It’s main purpose is to keep Him out of the dung and off the ground. It is, of course, highly unusual and thus serves as a distinguishing feature to set Him apart from other babies. But in that sense the angel could have said something, “Look for the Baby with the brown eyes and blue blanket whose mother has a mole on her lip.”
But, of course, that isn’t what the angel said. What is hidden from the wise is that there is more here than simply a sign for the right baby. For faith, the manger is a witness to Christ’s poverty and rejection. He is in a manger because there was no room in the inn. He came unto His own and His own did not receive Him. Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. Angels appear to shepherds and the shepherds end up telling abroad what has happened, but the mayor of Bethlehem stays in his bed. The innkeeper does come downstairs and make room for the King of Kings. When the wisemen show up a year later, Herod sends assassins but does not come to worship, and neither do the priests who told Him the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. God’s miracle is hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed to babes like us.
For faith, the manger is also a witness that Jesus is born in the House of Bread to feed the world with His own Body. The Sacrament of the Altar is as much a Sacrament of Christmas as it is of Easter. If He had no Body and Blood, if He was not a Man, or if that Body and Blood had not been crucified and risen, we would have no Sacrament. But the wise and prudent are not hungry anyway. They want to be spiritual without being religious. They don’t go for bloody things or ordinary things. Things like Jesus lying in a manger, nailed to a tree, forsaken by His Father. They want to think abstract things, profound dainty things. This because they think they can take care of themselves. They have farms and factories and science. They are satisfied and thus they are damned.
The things we know, the things that endure, belong only to faith and faith cometh by hearing. The sadness of the Christmas story is its glory. Christ comes to make Himself a sacrifice. He is exalted on the cross. This is how He loves the world. But in all these things, He hides Himself from the wise and prudent.
The wisdom of this age simply can’t handle the truth. But “the wisdom of God” is given to us “in a mystery.” It is a “hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Paul goes on: As it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. . . . Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. . . . But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Co 2:6–14, NKJV).
By Grace, we have the mind of Christ. Unto us, a fools, a Savior has been born on earth who shows Himself to us in His Word. Therefore we are unashamed of the foolishness of the cross. We see in the Christmas story more than history. We see God in His mercy, Christ, Our Lord. We hear a Gospel of great joy for all people.
God is not hidden from us. He looks upon us in mercy. He allows us to gaze back upon Him and see Him as He is: merciful, mighty, living. Unto us, a Savior is born and revealed.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.