Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; Isaiah 9:2-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The date hasn’t changed, ever. You knew it was coming, even months ago. And yet, here it is, and you aren’t prepared. Or, at least, you’re not as prepared as you hoped to be. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving was so late. Maybe it’s because there’s no snow and it’s been unseasonably warm and mild. There are all sorts of excuses that you can make. However, they don’t change the fact that you knew this day was coming and, now that it’s here, you’re not prepared.
But, that’s kind of the point of Christmas, isn’t it, when you really get down to it? The Christ-child came when you weren’t looking for Him. He came in a way, a time, and a place that you never expected Him to come. He came, not with a shout or a trumpet blast, but “when all was still and it was midnight,” that is, when God’s people were walking in the darkness of sin and death, the darkness of unbelief, doubt, and despair. The people of Israel and Judah had been conquered and re-conquered so many times that they no longer remembered who they were or what they believed. By the time of Isaiah’s prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, there were few left who continued to hope, only a remnant, for Israel was barren and dry from her apostasy and from the ravaging of godless kings. The tree of Jesse had been cut down, reduced to a fruitless stump. But, that was when God acted. That is when God always acts – when there is no human reason for hope, no human wisdom that could imagine even a chance. A shoot sprang forth from the burned-out stump of Jesse, even a fruit-bearing branch, and the Spirit of the Lord returned and rested upon a man, Jesus.
These past four weeks of Advent, you have been exhorted to be prepared for His coming. You have heard about John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord, preaching “Prepare ye the way for the Lord,” baptizing repentant sinners for the forgiveness of their sins. However, all of that was well after Jesus’ birth, when He began His ministry as a young man at approximately thirty years of age. Who was it then that prepared the way for the coming of the Lord prior to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem? Well, the Prophets, of course – men like Isaiah, Malachi, Hosea, Micah, and Jeremiah. The prophets lived and prophesied during the times of exile and captivity, when all of Israel repented of their sins and cried out to God for mercy. The prophets delivered God’s Word of promise and comfort to them: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
Why do you have to be prepared? Well, because you’re too much like that proverbial frog in a pot of lukewarm water. The water’s getting hotter, all the while, but you don’t acknowledge it, often you don’t want to acknowledge it, because you’re comfortable. Even when the water gets hot to the point that it’s a little uncomfortable, you’re willing to hold out a little longer in the hope that it will cool down again. But, the truth is, your goose is already cooked. For, even when the water was warm and comfortable, you were still in a pot of death with no escape. And, by the time you’re ready to confess that you’re in trouble, it’s too late. But the truth is, it was too late even at the beginning. For, darkness is darkness, and sin is sin, and death is death. And, there’s no way out unless help comes to you from outside of you. Yes, you need help. You need light. You need life. You need a Savior. And that is precisely what God has sent to you, even while you walked in darkness, even while your goose was being cooked. When you had no hope for salvation, when life was death and you had grown content with it, when all was still and it was midnight, God sent forth His Son, your Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lord, to save you from your sin and death.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. While you were still in darkness, God gave His Son for you. While you were still sinners, Jesus gave His life for you. John preached to you because you needed to be prepared for His coming when He would step into your pot of water, which was coming to boil, so that you could step out again and live. And I, and preachers of the Gospel all over the world, preach to you now so that you will be prepared when He comes again as King and Judge on the Last Day. Yes, you still need to be prepared for, though you walk in darkness no longer, but are children of the light by the grace of God, the prince of darkness still tempts you to forsake the light and to choose to dwell in darkness. And, truth be told, he makes it feel pretty comfortable so that you are content. But, the truth hasn’t changed. You know that He’s coming again on a day and an hour you cannot know. Therefore, you must be prepared. But don’t be afraid, for you are not like those who have no hope. And, further, being prepared is not something that you do, but it is something that is done to you, it is something that you receive and that you are.
You are prepared when you hear God’s Word and when you ponder it in your heart. You are prepared when you receive God’s gifts given to you in His Word and Sacraments. You are prepared when you are baptized and when you return to your baptismal purity in repentance, receiving God’s holy absolution for the sake of Jesus the Christ. In other words, you are prepared when God prepares you. And, He has prepared you. And, He prepares you even now. Indeed, the only way to not be prepared is to refuse His gifts and to say, “No thank you, God. I’m all right. This pot’s not so uncomfortable. I’ll get by. Surely there are other folks out there that need your gifts more than me.”
No, you see, it’s that kind of thinking that’s gotten you into this predicament in the first place. You’re not ok, at least, not on your own. You’re always a day late and a dollar short. Your best-laid plans seldom turn out right. Your best intentions don’t keep you from hurting and disappointing others. Can you go a single day without breaking God’s commandments in thought, word, and deed? Can you cease the continual decline of your body and your mind as you age a little more each day? Can you avoid or prevent your own inevitable death, or the death of those you love? No, of course you cannot. The pot is getting hotter each day. There’s no use in denying it. But, take heart. Your Savior has come. Your Savior has come to die in your place so that you may live in His.
Indeed, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth in so many ways mirror your circumstances today. People were simply doing the day-in, day-out things they had to do to get by: Shepherds were guarding their flocks by night. People were traveling to their hometowns to register for a census issued by a bureaucrat in a capital city far, far away. Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem for that same purpose. And, while they were there, Mary gave birth to a child, like so many women do. She wrapped him in swaddling cloths as was common at the time, and laid him in a manger, which likely wasn’t nearly as unusual or shocking then as it might sound to you today. Indeed, no one, save Mary and Joseph, who had both been visited by angels earlier, thought that there was anything special or unique about that night. And, even for Mary and Joseph, despite the angel’s annunciation nine months ago, surely the circumstances of Jesus’ birth were decidedly mundane.
But, the world was changed that night, permanently. And, over the years, the centuries, and the millennia, what began unnoticed by most, in lowliness and humility, has grown and has broadened. The first light that pierced the darkness of that Bethlehem night has filled the world so that no one need walk or live in the dark. Your Creator and God, who is life and light, has made His dwelling with men as a man. No, it wasn’t glorious and awe-inspiring, as men count such things, in the beginning, and the Christian faith and life still isn’t today. But, to those who believe, both then and now, it is the glory and the gracious power of God to save His people from their sins and death. No one was inclined to believe that the burned-out stump of Jesse had sprouted new life. You would’ve had to have forced someone to go out into the wilderness to even look! But, it was true: A shoot was brought forth from the stump of Jesse, a fruitful branch of new life and salvation for the entire world.
The prophets prepared God’s people to receive Him when He was born. John the Baptist prepared them to receive Him when He began His ministry and His reigning as King. Today, you are prepared to receive Him as your King through Word and Sacrament, that you will be well prepared to receive Him when He comes again on the Last Day. Though you cannot know the day or the hour, there is no need for that day to find you unprepared. Indeed, all has been prepared for you. All you need to do is receive it, as a gift. Jesus is the gift that God gave, gives, and keeps on giving. In Him, the LORD blesses you and keeps you until He comes. In Him, the LORD makes you a rich blessing to others. Yes, part of being prepared is being a gift yourself, to others, even as you have received this gift – to give to others as you have been given to. Let this be the spirit of your Christmas giving. And, let it be a gift that you continue to give when this season has passed. And, as you have known the mysteries of the LORD’s Light on earth, so will you come to know the fullness of His joys in heaven.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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