Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
25 December 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Watch a classic film like Holiday Inn or White Christmas, and you may think the most important thing about Christmas is being with friends to celebrate and sing, or even better, sharing Christmas with someone with whom you are in love. See the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade, and you are caught up in talk of dreams and wishes, and Christmas "magic." The Hallmark Channel on TV has dozens of movies that teach the "Christmas spirit" is all about giving and kindness to all. But is that it? Christmas is still just an empty, earthly celebration if it focuses merely on you and yours.
Of course, another classic film, It's a Wonderful Life, presents a different message. Now, the misinformation about angels needs to be set aside. Instead, think about the idea of, "What would the world be like, had George Bailey never been born?" But instead, the thought is how the world is different because Jesus Christ has been born. Had He not, you would still be in the slavery of sin, owing not merely your homes or town, but the entire debt of life, unable to pay the miserable, Mr. Potter-like devil.
Thanks be to God that you never have to worry what your city, indeed, what your world would be like, had Jesus never been born. "Christ the Savior is born!" "Unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord." Yes. The Father, in His love, has begotten the Son. And Jesus, having become Man for you, is God's perfect Christmas gift.
If Christmas is little more than a day or even twelve days of love and giving, it would be the same as any man-made holiday. But this is the day to celebrate God becoming incarnate. Today is the day that the first promise of the Gospel in Genesis 3 came to pass; "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her Seed. He will crush your head and you shall bruise His heel." When you stop and think about it, that was the first passage in Scripture about Christmas!
This moment impacts all of history. "Of the Father's love begotten, e'er the world began to be, He is Alpha and Omega, He the Source, the Ending He, of the things that are, that have been, And that future years shall see Evermore and Evermore."
"Oh, the birth forever blessed, When the virgin, full of grace, by the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race, And the babe, the world's Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face Evermore and evermore."
Do you realize the impact? Do you understand just how huge this is, and how it completely affects you? God takes on flesh and becomes Man for you. Amazing!
That is why your pastor kneels at those words in the Creed, when you confess, "who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made Man." For centuries, all the people in churches knelt at that moment. Many Lutherans to this day bow at that moment. No matter what you do, your thoughts, your posture, and your words should bear witness to the awe and thanksgiving for God becoming Man for your salvation.
Do they? Do your words and actions show the reaction to your generous, incarnate God? Not always. Not perfectly.
Still, the "little Lord Jesus" did not remain a Baby "asleep on the hay." As a Man, He bore your sin to be your Savior. He removed all sin and guilt, including the sin of lacking perfect awe and respect, or imperfect posture for prayer. He does not keep you or kick you out of church, based on whether you are acting like a humble peasant shepherd, or like a self-important Pharisee, but grants you full and free pardon of all your sin. You are absolved! You are forgiven!
With joy and amazement over your generous God-in-the-flesh, you worship and then go about your daily life in the true Christmas Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit, who has called you to faith and delivered this forgiveness, life, and salvation, through the Gospel and sacraments, just as your Savior has promised. The Holy Spirit is the One who is giving you joy over the birth of Jesus, and brings you to the deeper understanding that this is all far more than friends and family, gifts and love; this is all about Jesus; God becoming Man for you!
Merry Christmas, you dear, forgiven saints! Merry Christmas, as you celebrate in the true Christmas Spirit, who delivers Jesus to you in His Gifts, "calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies" you and keeps you in the one true faith! He brings you to believe and understand the most profound words about Christmas, which are not even from Luke 2, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Yes, Joy to the world! The Lord is come!" And He will continue to come in His Word and His Sacraments, until He gathers you to Himself in eternity! THAT is an amazing Christmas gift! Merry Christmas! Amen.
The Rev. Richard A. Heinz, Pastor
St. John's Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL