Dear friends in Christ! What a great, tremendous miracle lies before us in the manger at Bethlehem. What lies before us is not something that one can look at and right away know what’s happening. It’s a mystery—it must be revealed! That’s why the angel had to announce to the shepherds—because otherwise they wouldn’t have known [Lk 2.11]—There is born for you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And the angel had to tell them how they would know that Savior, Christ the Lord: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. Also before Jesus was born everything had to be revealed. The angel came to Mary and announced to her that she would be the mother of our Lord. In our text today, the angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him the same thing.
That means that the true significance of Christmas is not something that can be gathered just by looking at things. The true meaning and significance of Christmas is not readily evident. It is really a mystery; it must be revealed. That’s why we’re here today: to gather around our Lord’s holy word so that He may tell us once again what happened that first Christmas. We can have a truly blessed Christmas celebration when we hear from the Lord Himself in His holy word, when He Himself reveals to us the great mystery of that most glorious event. In fact, the holy Triune God reveals Himself in Christmas.
1. As we in spirit stand before the manger in Bethlehem, there we see a simple newborn Baby. That’s how we meet Jesus in our text. From the beginning of his Gospel until our text, Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy all the way from Abraham, showing that Jesus is a true descendant of Abraham, a true man. Our text teaches us that Jesus was actually born of a woman, Mary. Our text: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with Child… She will bring forth a Son… So as we see that Baby lying in the manger we see a normal Baby boy. But at the same time, we are also seeing God Himself. In our text we also read that Mary was found with child of the Holy Spirit, that which is conceived in [Mary] is of the Holy Spirit…He will save His people from their sins…they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated “God with us.”
What we see in the Baby born in Bethlehem is any ordinary Baby because Jesus is true man; but as we look in the manger we see no ordinary Baby but the very God Himself. And as we take to heart and ponder the Christmas miracle of God becoming man, we look more closely in the manger and see not only the Son, but we see Him pointing us to the Father and the Holy Spirit as well. Christmas, then, is a revelation of the Triune God.
Of course, looking at the newborn Baby there’s Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who took on human flesh and blood and was born that first Christmas. He is the God-man; that is, He is God who is one of us; He is God who is a part of our humanity; He is God in our flesh and blood; from His conception on into all eternity, He is God and man in one undivided Person.
He is God, as God most fully revealed Himself to us. Paul puts it this way [Col. 2.9]: In [Christ], that is, in His body lives all the fullness of the Deity. Everything that is of God is in Jesus because He is true God. The only way we know God rightly, how He really and truly is, is in Jesus.
We know what God is like when we see Jesus. As we hear Jesus condemning sin and unrepentant sinners, as in His wrath He drives out from the temple those selling things, we see He is a holy God who is angry over sin and must punish sin; as we see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, we know that God is one who weeps over our sin; as we see Jesus welcoming and eating with sinners, we know that God wants to forgive us our sin; as we see Jesus healing the sick, we know that God is a God of mercy; as we see Jesus dying on the cross there we see His great love for us sinners and how He wants to save us from our sin. Everything that Scripture tells us about God, we see most clearly and concretely in the person of Jesus, born that first Christmas, true man and true God.
2. As we look into the manger and we see the true God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, what does that mean? If there’s the Son, there’s also the Father. In other words, through Jesus we now come to know also the Father, the First Person of the Holy Trinity. The very fact that there was that first Christmas, that the Son was sent, means that there was One who sent Him. The Father was working all things and sent the Son at right time, all according to His plan and governance. St. Paul writes [Gal. 4.4]: When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Not only was the Father working all things and at the right time sent the Son, but also He was acting in grace, kindness, love in order to bring us salvation. Looking into that manger and seeing there the Baby Jesus, the love, grace and mercy of the Father, who sent Him, is also revealed to us. At Christmas we come to know what God the Father’s mind, intention is toward us.
In the Christmas epistles, St. Paul puts it this way [Titus 2.11; 3.4]: For the grace of God that brings salvation to all people has appeared…and when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward people appeared. Jesus is that grace of God that was made visible on that first Christmas and appeared; Jesus is that kindness and love of God toward all people made visible and appeared that first Christmas.
How would we know what God’s intentions are toward us poor sinful beings unless He revealed it to us in Holy Scripture, or here demonstrated so clearly that first Christmas by sending His Son? We’d forever be in doubt and we would be like all the rest of the religions of the world trying to appease God with all sorts of self-chosen works. Today let us look into the manger and see the Baby Jesus, and so come to know the Father who in His grace, kindness and love sent His Son. We can be assured that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus and nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord [Rm. 8.1, 39].
Looking at the newborn Babe in the manger, we see that this kindness and love of God is not some sort after-thought, but here revealed is the eternal plan of the Father to send the Son to save us sinners. Not only does the angel tell Joseph in our text: you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins, but through the Evangelist he adds: Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Dear Christian, seeing the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity who also became true man, lying in the manger and recognizing Him as such, namely as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, that too points us to the Father.
The fact that you are here today in true faith in Christ Jesus who was born that first Christmas, that points to the Father because it shows that the Father has worked on you, revealing to you Who exactly it was Who was born.
After Peter [Mt. 16.18-19] gave the confession of faith of a Christian as to who Jesus is, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you…for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but My Father who is in heaven”. What a great grace; here is the greatest of Christmas gifts—by God’s grace He revealed to us what we could never on our own know—that Jesus is the true God, the Son, and our Savior. When you this day celebrate the birth of your Savior, you are also celebrating the Father’s love for you since He revealed this great mystery to you.
3. However, Christmas not only reveals the Son, who was born of Mary, and the Father, who sent the Son, but Christmas also reveals to us the Holy Spirit.
How? When we see the Baby Jesus lying the manger we see that God has become man. But then that raises the question: how could the holy God become also a true man? After all we are sinners who inherit that sinful corruption from our parents. The whole chapter up to our text traces Jesus’ human ancestry, His ancestry from sinners. Wouldn’t, then, He also be a sinner, since every one of His human forefathers was a sinner? But let us look deeply into the manger where Christ points us to the Holy Spirit; here’s where Christmas reveals the Holy Spirit.
Our text: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit… and then later the angel tells Joseph: Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. God becoming man points us to/ reveals to us the Holy Spirit and His work. By the special, supernatural power and working of the Holy Spirit, without any human assistance, Mary was found with Child from the Holy Spirit. In the womb of the Virgin, the Holy Spirit formed from Mary the human nature of Jesus in a wonderful, supernatural way so that what was conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; He did a miracle; the human nature that Jesus assumed was a special creation of the Holy Spirit. This is what we confess in the Creed: Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the virgin Mary.
That’s precisely the way it had to be. For Jesus to be our Savior He had to be from conception on holy and sinless so that by His holy and pure conception and birth He could heal and purify our sinful conception. Jesus was the only person conceived and born without the taint and stain of original sin, that sinfulness, corruption and depravity we are all born with. With the birth of Jesus that first Christmas, the Holy Spirit is revealed because He prepared a perfect and sinless human nature for Him. The manger and the Baby Jesus reveal the Holy Spirit. Since there can be no Christmas without the work of the Holy Spirit, Christmas, reveals the Holy Spirit to us.
The Christmas account also reveals the Holy Spirit in another way. Our text: Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And He called His name Jesus. Through the word that the angel had spoken, the Holy Spirit brought Joseph to faith so that he believed the angel’s word that Mary was still indeed a virgin, and that the Son in her womb is the promised Savior and true God doing what only God can do—saving people from their sins. Through the Holy Spirit’s work Joseph believed that the Child is Mary’s womb is Immanuel, the God who is with us, who is one of us.
It is just as difficult and contrary to reason today to believe that Jesus is both true God and true man and our Savior. The very fact that we are here today and recognize and confess that Jesus is the Immanuel, the God with us, the God in our flesh and blood, who is also true man and like us in every way except sin; that He is our Savior; that is all the work of the Holy Spirit. When you look into the manger and there see your Savior, the Holy Spirit and His work for you and in you is also revealed.
Christmas is a glorious revelation of the Triune God for our salvation. Let us look into the manger and there see Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who became also true man and was born to be our Savior. But let the Christ-child point us also to the Father, who in grace sent Him to be our Savior; let Him also point us to the Holy Spirit who prepared that sinless human nature for Him and who now brings us to faith. Only in Christ Jesus, whose birth we celebrate today, do we know God aright. To the Holy Triune God this day and always be all praise, glory, honor and worship for His glorious saving work for us.