Even of the Nativity of Our Lord
24 December 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The world has no room for the Christ Child. "No room in the inn." No room for Christ in Christmas. But then again, what kind of "Christ in Christmas" do people want? Many who cry out about Christ not being in people's Christmases do not want the real Jesus as part of the celebration. They want a sentimental picture of a sweet baby, "asleep on the hay." They want a "Little Lord Jesus" who is completely disconnected from the cross, and has no eternal consequences of sin and forgiveness, damnation and salvation. They just want a manger scene in public places, with angels that look more like Disney fairies, and maybe a few churchly ornaments on trees.
How about you? The fact is, often you have no room for the Christ Child. What?! "Pastor! How can you say that?!"
Are you uncomfortable when you focus on that Baby in the manger growing up to suffer and die to be your Savior? Is the Christ in your Christmas just a cute, impoverished Baby, or the Redeemer of the world, God-made-flesh? Guess what? It matters.
That Child is not an ordinary baby. He is not even just a good or righteous child or prophet. He is not simply a man who went about teaching people to love one another. If that is your focus -- if you continue to keep that kind of Christ in Christmas, perhaps it would be better if you were completely secular. Is one worse than the other: being ignorant of God, or demoting Him and teaching falsely about Him? He would tell you the false teaching is worse.
"Bethlehem" is Hebrew for "House of Bread." In this House of Bread, Jesus, the Bread of Life was born. But He was not born in great accommodations, not a palace, not a house of stone or cedar, not a hospital -- not even in an "inn."
Now get this: the word used here is not actually an "inn" as the modern person has in mind. This was a guest room. In fact, it is the same word used for the location of Jesus' Last Supper with the apostles. The location of the institution of His Sacrament, where the body and blood of Christ were located for the Church. God locating Himself for His people.
So go back to that night in Bethlehem, where there was no room in the inn -- the guest rooms. God leads St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin to the humble accommodations with the animals, where He places the body of His Son in the manger. God locates Himself for His people.
In Bethlehem, the "House of Bread," the body of Christ was wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. Now, the body of Christ awaits you, wrapped in cloths and lying on the altar.
This House of Bread, gathered at the manger of Christ's altar -- that is the true meaning of Christmas! In the end, people tend not to have so much of a problem with keeping Christ in Christmas. They just have the wrong understanding of Christ. What many fail to do is to keep the Mass in Christmass.
I can hear the whispers now. "Did Pastor just say, 'Mass?'" Yes. It is unusual to many Lutherans in the Midwest, but the word "Mass" is still used by other Lutherans around the world when they speak of the Divine Service. It simply means the worship service where the Word of God is proclaimed and His Holy Sacrament is distributed.
While "Christ" is in most peoples' Christmasses, the Mass is not a part of Christmass for many. That is to say, many fail to celebrate the holy day by receiving Jesus in His preached Gospel and in His body and blood, which had been laid in a manger, and now lies on the altar, ready to do what the carol sings of: "the dear Christ enters in."
You see, you can have beautiful, heart-felt Christmas cards, with baby Jesus' picture on them, but that will not forgive your sins. You can have the most elaborate and expensive manger scene, but it cannot absolve you. You can hold a candle and be caught up in the sentiment, but it still has no eternal consequences on your life. You can boldly greet with a "Merry Christmas," and avoid other "holiday" talk, but that still does not bring salvation. Are any of these wrong? Absolutely not! They are joyful reminders of our dear Savior!
However, dear friends in Christ, you are here tonight, and Jesus has gathered you to keep His Mass in Christmass. You cannot go back in time to the manger. Yet the Lord has done something far better! He has brought you to His pulpit. Here, "the dear Christ enters in" your ears, placing His Gospel inside you, forgiving you and strengthening you in body and soul. And He has brought you to His altar. Here, "the dear Christ enters in." Here you eat the body of Christ, born of Mary, given for you, and you drink His blood, shed for you. You are forgiven. You are given life and salvation.
So "come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. O come ye, O come ye," to the House of Bread, given to you from the manger of this altar! Fear not! Your dear Savior isn't stuck, thousands of miles, "away in a manger," He is right here, given for you! Merry Christmas! Amen!