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December 24, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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Luke 2:1-14

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

The text for our meditation this night is from our Gospel text, wherein St. Luke records the events surrounding the birth of our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem. That is the primary focus of our meditation this evening, dear Christian friends…

When a child is born, there are questions we typically ask. Parents ask, “Is he healthy?” “How much does she weigh?” Grandparents ask, “What did you name her?” “Who does he look like?” Nurses and doctors closely examine the child and want to know, “Is he alert?” “Are her lungs clear?” We expect these kinds of questions.

But there are some questions we never expect to hear at the birth of a healthy child. Who would ever ask, “Do you think he’s going to be a drug addict or a wife beater?” Or, “What cemetery do you think she’ll be buried in?” Or, “What will cause his death?” For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven, the book of Ecclesiastes says. And the season for asking about a person’s sin and death is usually not at his or her birth.

I bring this up because our last hymn did ask a bit of an odd question about a Child, newly born, in Bethlehem: What Child Is This? If you don’t know the story, it sounds kinda rude, actually. However, upon closer examination, it is a fitting question to ask because this Child is born in a most unusual way. His mother is a virgin. His birth is announced by heavenly hosts praising God. There are signs in the heavens indicating His birth which will, in the course of time, draw Magi from the East. So, What Child Is This? The glorious answer is proclaimed by an angel to shepherds who were watching over their sheep: I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

What Child Is This? This Child is no less than the YHWH Himself, the King of creation, Lord of heaven and earth. He whose voice can destroy the cedars of Lebanon … now coos softly in His mother’s arms. The same Lord who told the shepherd Moses to not come near for His presence was too holy now invites shepherds to draw near to Him as He lies in a manger, a helpless Child. Moses hid his face from the Lord, but now shepherds behold the Lord’s face in the face of a baby. The Unapproachable One is now approachable. The Intimidating One is now inviting.

That certainly is good news. But what makes God’s appearance in human flesh good news of great joy is that He came in order to redeem us. The Lord of creation became part of His creation in order to restore and recreate what man had broken. The Immortal One … was born in a specific time and place to unite Himself forever with His mortal creatures.

The reason why it is good news of great joy is that, at this Child’s birth we do ask a normally unthinkable question, “How will this Child die?” For this Child … was born … to die. This was God’s plan even before the Child was born. This is what the heavenly angels are talking about when they say His birth will bring peace on earth. This Child will die because of us, and He will die for us. “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through; the cross be bourne for me, for you.”

The prophet Isaiah said, “To us a child is born.” The angel said, “Unto you is born this day . . . a Savior.” Unto us, whose worldly passions conceive and give birth to worldly thoughts and ungodly living. Unto us, whose sinful hearts give birth to cruel words and harmful deeds, even against those who love us the most. Unto us, whose very natures hate God. Unto us—poor miserable sinners—this Child is born.

So repent humbly, for your sin and mine is great, and rejoice all the more greatly for His holy birth upon this holy night! Rejoice in His birth, yes, but also rejoice for His holy death. For already at His birth, His cross, death, and burial are foreshadowed.

What Child Is This? This is the Child who had a Mary at His birth and several Marys present at His death.

The Child who had a righteous Joseph at His birth and a righteous Joseph, from Arimathea, help Him carry His cross up Golgotha’s hill.

The Child who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger at His birth and was wrapped in a shroud and laid in a tomb.

The Child whose birth was honored by wise men bearing myrrh and whose death was honored by faithful women bearing myrrh to His tomb.

This Child is the great light that has shown on us who dwelt in a land of deep darkness.

This is a real human Child who has a real human Body. A Body which was beaten and broken, tortured and mutilated; and when death came, a Body which was wrapped up and laid in a tomb. But on the third day, His real human Body came back to life, the firstfruits of the resurrection of our own human bodies.

“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” in this Child. So let’s do something that is normal at the birth of a child. Let’s examine closely this Babe, the Son of Mary.

The prophet Isaiah said all authority would be upon those little shoulders. This Child used His authority to free you from hell and destruction.

He has the lips of the Wonderful Counselor, comforting your troubled conscience with the most wonderful counsel you could ever hear: “I forgive you all your sins.”

He has the hands of the Mighty God who created heaven and earth. He set aside that power and might to have His hands nailed to a cross, to extend mercy to you through His Holy Meal.

He has the arms of the Everlasting Father, arms that spread out on a cross to draw you to Himself, to wrap His arms around you in Holy Baptism, and to welcome you home as prodigal sons and daughters.

He has the royal head of the Prince of Peace. But His head was crowned with thorns in order to place on your heads the crown of glory.

“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” Today that salvation is again extended to you as a gift from this Child’s altar. It’s Christmas, and Jesus is giving you the best gift—His very Body and Blood, in, under, and with bread and wine, broken and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. It is a gift that renews your zeal for good works and inflames your love for Him and one another. What a wondrous gift of love!

What Child Is This? This is the Lord who has saved you. So, “Haste, haste to bring Him laud,” “Hail, hail the Word made flesh,” “Joy, joy, for Christ is born, The babe, the son of Mary.” Born for me and for you. Merry Christmas.

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