Christmas Vigil 2016

Christmas Vigil
December 24, 2016 A+D (10:30 a.m.)
St. Matthew 1:18-25

In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The next three services are really quite special. Advent has drawn to a close. John the Baptist decreases and Jesus increases. Christmas eve is about the nuts and bolts of Jesus’ birth, His Nativity. Today we get the birth narrative from Matthew 1 and later tonight we will hear Luke’s account of the Nativity. Tomorrow’s service on Christmas day is the theological reading where we hear about the Word becoming flesh from John’s Gospel. But for today, we hear about Mary being pregnant without a husband, Joseph believing the Word of God spoken to him in a dream that the baby was of the Holy Spirit, that this baby would save His people from their sins, and that Jesus was God in the flesh—God physically with us on earth.

What we don’t get in Matthew 1 is the pre-birth account of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, or the physical circumstance of the night on which Jesus was born. We don’t get the stable or manger or the shepherds. Matthew’s focus was upon the righteous man Joseph, the son of David, who was convinced of this miracle by the spoken Word of the Lord. He believed the promise even though it sounded incredible that his betrothed could be pregnant by the Holy Spirit and not by a man. By the Word alone, he believed the mystery.

We confess this mystery in the creeds. The Apostles’ Creed uses the words “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” The Nicene Creed uses the words “incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” In few words both creeds confess the mystery that Jesus was true God and true man, conceived without an earthly father, but born of an earthly mother. I had never thought about it this way until I read Luther’s sermon on this text, but this makes Jesus more relatable to us than Adam or Eve. Adam was created from the ground, Eve was fashioned from one of Adam’s ribs. They were not born, but Jesus was born of a mother like you and I were. Jesus is one of us. I guess it’s possible that God could have formed Jesus from the ground and breathed in him the breath of life like He did Adam, but that would have kept him always and eternally at arm’s length, not quite one of us. He had to take up our very flesh, be born of a real human mother, so that He could thereby take up our very sins and remove them from us.

This is what God promised from the first prophecy on down through the centuries. The seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. God would raise up a prophet like Moses. Abraham’s descendent would bless all the families of the earth. The virgin would conceive and bear a son. His name would be “God with us” and more properly “the Lord is salvation.” He would live, suffer, die, and rise again to lead us into the promised land like His name’s sake, Joshua, long ago, but it would all begin with His birth. God became man.

Angels were created more glorious than we were in power and ability, but through Jesus, God granted man more honor than they by becoming a man. God didn’t become an angel. He became a man. Et homo factus est. Those are the words in Latin from the Nicene Creed that are translated “and became man.” Those are also the words at which those who serve at this altar genuflect. Some in the pews bow their head or bend at the waste at the same time because genuflecting in the pew is difficult, but the sentiment is the same. We bend the knee at the mystery of God becoming man. Genuflecting at this point “expresses reverent awe over God’s grace in becoming man in order to redeem us.”[1] It’s an outward gesture of an inward faith. But you don’t have to genuflect or bow to have reverent awe. Awe comes from believing what God says about himself. Awe flows from faith that is given and strengthened by God’s Word. So like Joseph, we hear God’s Word that the Son of God became man and we believe. This is the substance of our faith. Jesus was born. God is with us in the flesh. God saved us from our sins by taking them upon himself in His Son. Through this faith we have the hope of eternal life.

Righteous Joseph knew what this meant. He knew that his betrothed was going to give birth to the Messiah. He knew Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be God with us. He also knew from Isaiah that the Messiah would suffer and die for the sins of the whole world. But presumably he did not see that day before his death. Much like Abraham, his father, he looked forward to that day and believed that God was bringing it about. How much more blessed are you because you live in the shadow of Christ’s sacrifice. You see clearly and confess with the whole Church the birth, suffering, death, and resurrection of this God-man Jesus. You stand in awe of what God has done for His people–for you. You believe now because of God’s Word. Because of this faith, your hearts bend in reverent awe at the mystery of the incarnation every time you hear His Word or receive His flesh and blood in the Sacrament. And when the opportunity and ability allow, you even sometimes bend your knees.


In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.

The Rev’d Michael N. Frese

Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana

[1] Lang, Ceremony and Celebration, reprinted in 2012, p. 69

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