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Just the Beginning

December 24, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this blessed Christmas night comes from our Gospel reading, where Luke records, And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

“Clothes make the man.” I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase before. It’s certainly a phrase you want to remember when you have an important meeting of some sort. You dress to impress, right? Put on your best duds, shine up your shoes or heels, fix up your hair, make yourself look better than presentable – you want to make yourself look good. Whether it’s for a job interview, meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time, or dressing up for such an occasion as tonight – coming before the Lord in His house to receive His gifts, you want to look your best. You want to dress to impress.

But the way we look … doesn’t always reflect who we are. You may look good as you are dressed to the nines … but know the ugliness in your heart, knowing that you should show your family more love than you do. You could paint your face in beautiful and majestic fashion … but all the mascara and eye liner in the world cannot hide the depression and sadness that hide behind such lovely painted eyes. Power suit, power tie, power steering … and yet you feel weak and abjectly powerless as your life crashes down around you. Sure, dress to impress, but we know that more often than not, what we wear and how we look is literally and figuratively a façade.

That’s definitely the case here tonight, as we consider this newborn child in our Gospel text. From the looks of him, He doesn’t look like anything special. Yeah, newborn babies are adorable, but you see them often enough. If anything, based on looks, you might feel pity for this child: a newborn, wrapped up in some makeshift swaddling clothes, lying in a food trough because that’s the best that His destitute parents could provide for Him. There was no other place to lay this little one, because they were in an enclosure usually reserved for a family’s livestock, and the animals are present. From all appearances, this child looks like just another unfortunate wretch, born to unremarkable parents. There’s nothing special about how He looks. But looks can be deceiving, as we all know to be true. Because this night is not like any other, and this child, however modest and humble He may look in that moment, is anything but ordinary. What we are seeing this night, in this text, is the beginning of the end.

Let’s face it, this world is broken. It has been ever since Adam and Eve, at the urging of the devil disguised as a snake, broke the singular law God had given them in primordial Eden. In the wake of the cataclysm that followed, remarkably, there was a word of hope, a promise given in the midst of the devastation. Presumably within earshot of the now-fallen Man and Woman, God tells the deceiving serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Somewhere further down the timeline, a descendant of Adam and Eve was also given a promise. At 75 years old, Abram and his wife Sarai had never had children (not for lack of trying or hoping), and yet the LORD tells him, Go from your country, and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Even further downstream, we hear prophets proclaiming promises about this offspring of woman who will crush the serpent’s head and bless all families of the earth. Nathan spoke God’s Word to King David, saying, When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. Isaiah says how this offspring of David will be born from a virgin, how His name will be “Immanuel” (meaning God with us), how He will be a shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse (David’s father). Jeremiah prophesied something similar, how God would raise up for David a righteous branch, a King who will reign and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. … And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” Micah mentions the specific city where this offspring of David would be born – there, in the same little town of Bethlehem from our Gospel text!

This ordinary-looking child, squirming and wiggling as little ones do in His makeshift cradle, is the fulfillment of all these promises, and others, from across the centuries. All appearances aside, this unassuming newborn holds within His tiny heart the blood that will be used to save us.

That’s something we often forget in the joy of Christmas. As we look into the stall, into the face of Mary’s firstborn son, we forget that this night … is only the beginning. As the shepherds return to their flocks in the field, praising God after seeing everything the angel told them to be true, life went on. This child, Jesus, grew up just like all children do, becoming a man. His words caused people to marvel at His wisdom; and the miracles He performed seemed to undo, in part, the curse of sin, but He didn’t look like anything special – certainly not like the regal son and heir of David’s throne. In fact, there were many who hated Him… despised Him … wanted to kill Him.

Tonight is the beginning, my friends, but it is only the beginning. Tonight, we see Mary’s little boy, freshly born, laying in the manger. With the shepherds who hurried to see this thing that has happened, which the Lord had made known unto them, we coo and fawn over this unassuming little one, not because of how He looks, but because of what He has come to do. We forget Jesus was born at Christmas for a reason: to save all of humanity from the curse of sin, to be the fulfillment of all those prophets’ holy words … to die for us. These tiny hands grasping for Mary’s and Joseph’s touch ... would be pierced through. His precious brow, which His parents kissed innumerable times … would bear a crown of thorns. His tiny, pulsating heart … would spill His blood out onto the ground through innumerable cuts and wounds in order to atone for, make payment for, your sins, my sins, the sins of the whole world. This is only the beginning, my friends, of a love for us wretched sinners that is so deep, so holy, so divine, that we cannot help but marvel. Unassuming as this night may seem, it is the night that the Creator of the universe was born in His creation … and was the beginning of His saving work for us.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Luke 2:1-20