Beloved. There is something special about Christmas Eve. We have spent the season of Advent preparing our hearts and minds for tonight; we have gathered here at night, when all around is dark—but inside we have candles lit, the tree is on and the church is festively decorated. We know and sense something special is happening—and then we hear the announcement, the one that we know is coming and the one we want to hear again this year, the Christmas Gospel: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord.
The church and its festive decoration, our evening service when all is dark outside but beautifully lit inside is a wonderful image for us of the words St. John uses at the beginning of His Gospel as He describes Jesus as the light [John 1. 5,9]. The light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The real light that shines on everyone was coming into the world. The light drives away the darkness. Jesus—the Light of the world—came that first Christmas into the world’s darkness of sin and death. Even though all is dark, there is light—Jesus. He has come to be our Savior: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. Let the lights on the tree, let our light filled church on this dark night remind us of this. This is a special, wondrous night as we celebrate Jesus’ birth—the Light has come.
Tonight, let us hear the angel preach the Christmas Gospel and receive it with joy: “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord”. But let us not stop there with this beautiful preaching. Instead, let us ponder a few moments tonight what the angel says next: And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” What is that sign?
The Christmas miracle makes Christmas, Christmas. And what is that miracle? God became man. The true God, the Son, the Second Person of the blessed and holy and eternal Trinity, became also true man, truly became also one of us. The Creator entered the Creation and became a Creature. The Son of God took on human flesh and blood; He assumed humanity into divinity and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary that first Christmas. From the moment in time of His incarnation and into all eternity, the Son of God is also true man. Jesus will never stop being the God-man.
What is happening in this great miracle, inwardly, is also pictured for us in our text visibly, outwardly. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified! But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people.” What do we see here? Heaven and earth and mingled. The heavenly angels have come down to earth. The barrier between heaven and earth is gone. It is no surprise that the shepherds are afraid. They very much know and feel and are aware of their sin, sinfulness and frailty as they are in the presence of these heavenly beings, as heaven and earth are combined/ mingled on that field. We see and hear the heavenly praise of the angels praising God: Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude from the heavenly army, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind.” As they praised the Son of God in heaven, they now do so earth. Heaven had come down to earth.
That’s exactly what happened in the manger in Bethlehem. The holy eternal God had come down to earth. What was happening outwardly, visibly, in great glory in that shepherds’ field, happened quietly, almost unnoticed in Bethlehem as St. Mary, the Mother of God, gave birth to Jesus—true God and true man.
When the angel preaches the Christmas Gospel, he tells the shepherds and us: For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. Notice what the angel calls the newborn Baby: Savior, Christ, the Lord. By calling the newborn Baby Jesus “Lord” the angel is saying that Jesus is the true God, the Lord, the God of the OT people. The very God of the OT people who not only created all things, but who talked with and led and gave promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the very God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea, the very God who established the temple and His worship, the Lord, He is the One who was born that holy night. And as the Lord, He is also the Christ, the long awaited Messiah. He is the One who was prophesied to come. It was He who was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem. And here notice He is Christ the Lord, not will be, but is Christ the Lord, the true God. The true God was born. Not only does the angel say that He, the true God was born, become true man, but that He was born for you. He wasn’t born for the angels but for us, lost, condemned, sinful mankind.
But why was He born for us? –To be our Savior. Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. A Savior implies danger—to us. We are in danger and have to be rescued. That’s why we need a Savior. And what is the danger we are in? –Sin, death, devil and hell. Because we sin and can do nothing but sin, that’s why death, devil and hell await us and we cannot save ourselves. That’s why God became man and was born that first Christmas, to rescue us, to be our Savior from sin, death, devil and hell. And He would and did rescue us by His holy and sinless life and His innocent, bitter sufferings and death. That He did so perfectly and completely, we see in His glorious resurrection and ascension.
What would be the proof for the shepherds that all this good news is true that Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord? Was it some grand, spectacular sight? Something that they couldn’t miss? You would think it would be—after all, the very God, the Lord was born; after all the shepherds are blessed to see and hear this spectacular sight of heaven on earth. So what is the proof, the sign? And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” A baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger is certainly the last thing one would expect as proof of the announcement of the birth of God, of the Savior who is Christ the Lord.
But that’s the proof that God gives and thanks be to God that it is the sign. It is the sign that He promised to give 700 years before as through St. Isaiah the prophet He said: Therefore the Lord himself will give you all a sign. Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and call his name Immanuel. The One that He promised is here. He is Immanuel, God-with-us. But again, isn’t that “beneath” God? Shouldn’t His birth be heralded with all fanfare and made great and spectacular? Certainly it was—to the shepherds by the angel. But why wasn’t the sign/ proof for the shepherds something great to behold? –Because God’s sign is humility. It is this humility that marks/ is the characteristic of Jesus’ work. Jesus Himself tells us about His work that He [Mt. 20.28] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. And the blessed apostle writes [Ph. 2. 6-8]: Though he was by nature God, he did not consider equality with God as a prize to be displayed, but he emptied himself by taking the nature of a servant. When he was born in human likeness, and his appearance was like that of any other man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. There was on the surface nothing divine about this sign—a baby, a poor baby at that—but it was a sign of contrast with human glory and what we would expect and how we would do things. So you can imagine these shepherds then going into crowded Bethlehem looking for this baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. What an image—the very God Himself comes to this earth as a lowly baby, in all lowliness. What makes this significant is that the angel has to announce the sign to the shepherds; it wouldn’t be obvious to them otherwise. Just by walking the streets and lanes on Bethlehem the shepherds couldn’t come upon the Savior, Christ the Lord by themselves, by their own figuring it out. That’s how God works even today. We do not find Him by our ways and our wisdom; we can only find Jesus and His gifts and blessing by going to where He tells us to find Him—in His holy word and sacrament. By going to find Jesus our Savior who is Christ the Lord only where He told us to find Him—in His outwardly humble and lowly word and Sacrament—He spares us from looking in all the wrong places, places that do not lead us to Him but rather away from Him.
And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Notice again God’s sign is humility. What do we see at Christmas but the humility of God. He comes and makes Himself small; He comes and makes Himself a child, a baby that can be touched and loved. There is nothing threatening about a baby. A baby is totally dependent upon its parents, weak, and defenseless. A baby as baby invites others to come and look upon it; it invites others to love it. That’s what Jesus is doing at Christmas. When He comes as that baby born of the virgin, He is inviting us to come to Him, look at Him, hold Him; He is calling on us to come to love Him; He is summoning us to faith. There is nothing in or about Him that would cause us to turn away from Him or to be frightened of Him.
What a great grace is this humility of God! Just think if He had come in all of His power and greatness. We would never go to Him—after all the shepherds were terrified at the sight of the angel, who was “only” a holy created being—just think if they or we were in the presence of the holy God Himself. But Jesus covers/ clothes His divine majesty with His humanity, with the face of a baby.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He was not coming as the holy avenger of sin to punish us, to give us our just rewards for our sin. Instead, He came to rescue us from our sin to be our Savior who is Christ the Lord. Here in the Bethlehem’s manger we see the sign of humility: And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. This is the sign and the glory of His redeeming love. The sign is Jesus’ self-chosen humility and poverty.
Again—this points to His work for us and our salvation; His work as our Savior. Look at His swaddling cloths. They are strips of cloth wrapped around Him. They point forward to His burial cloths, which too were strips of cloth wrapped around Him. So already here in the manger we get a glimpse or foreshadow of Jesus’ work as for us and our salvation, He in all humility lays down His life on the cross for our sins to pay their penalty and reconcile sinful humanity with the holy God. Here at His birth, in the manger is a foreshadow of Jesus’ work as He would enter death and the grave, but only to destroy it for us. What simple, humble clothes but what a precious treasure is in it!
Dear Christian, let us hear the word of the angel: For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. That is still the good news of great joy for us; that is still a sign for us this Christmas. May we, in faith, simply receive that sign as in faith we go with the shepherds to Bethlehem and there see that simple humble Baby, but who is the God-man, loving us and inviting us love Him. Let us see that in all humility He, Christ the Lord, came to be our Savior. God’s sign is His humility. INJ