25. December 2016
Luke 2:(1-14) 15–20
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
“And it happened.” That’s how our Christmas Gospel begins. It’s a matter-of-fact, ordinary way of reporting something that occurred. The antiquated “And it came to pass” makes it sound so much more special. Some translations just leave the word out altogether, thinking its redundant. The Christmas story is really just a pretense for family gatherings, a roast in the oven, and gifts in stockings and under the tree. But this no pretty myth. Therefore its not redundant to hear the Evangelist report matter of factly, “It happened.”
And if it were a myth, it’d not be a very fanciful one. The story is told by St. Luke with bold simplicity and no religious overtones. The government wanted more taxes. So what is new? That sounds familiar. Caesar Augustus, while mentioned, has nothing to fear from Joseph and Mary, a woman in her third trimester. Caesar is concerned with Herod the Great, who himself was deprived of the title, “Friend of Caesar.” Caesar is only instrumental in bringing the couple and their unborn child to Bethlehem.
Bethlehem’s significance is on taxable terms, because Jospeh was of “the house and lineage of David.” He and his betrothed and the child go to pay their taxes. Again, matter-of-fact. And no room for them in their relatives’ guest housing. This, too, isn’t a surprise, since all the known world was out and about. And born in a the stable? Actually, that’s not too bad a place to give birth with all the hustle and bustle upstairs. All over the world poor women are having anxious times every day. A baby is born. A boy. Poor little guy in a manger. Who cares? Really nobody, except Mary and Jospeh, That’s it, nobody else. Nothing really much to see.
But that’s not all that happened. What happened you couldn’t see by looking. You could only know it if you were told, and you could only be told by someone who had seen it happen. All of Bethlehem slept through the whole ordeal. But outside Bethlehem there were some who were told. And they were told by those who knew, those who bring messages from God.
Now, if God has a message, you’d expect Him to give it to those who understand this sort of thing, you know, seminary theologians, church leaders, or pastors. But no, the message is given to shepherds, those likely at all. They’re a rough bunch and notorious for their bad church attendance. And they’re scared stiff. Who wouldn’t be? God was present with them, as “glory of the Lord shone around them.” (Luke 2:9) They can’t run away but they can’t stand it either. They knew what sort of men they were, and they knew that that would have to take whatever God dished out. Everything depended on Him and they were defenseless. This was likely the end of those shepherds, or so they thought.
From God through those angel-messengers comes this Word, “Μὴ φοβεῖσθε,” that is, “Fear not!” Good news, Gospel greetings! “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That’s it! That’s why Caesar Augustus and Quirinius and Joseph were where they were and did what they did. The Good News happened.
The Angel doesn’t describe God’s attributes, heady theological topics of mercy and justice, offer a way to bend God in their favor by their renewed New Year’s efforts, that they are basically decent people that just need to get their act together, or that all the things they wanted on their Christmas lists are on their way. No, the angel’s message is the bare facts of history, simply what happened—a birth—and the identification of the one born—“a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” It happened. God doesn’t wait for us to agree to it, or think it possible, or even believe it. His Word speaks the truth: A Savior born, Christ the Lord.
And again, “It happened.” “So it was.” Matter-of-factly the shepherds go to Bethlehem and find the message to be true. With the message, they are given a sign. They might have stumbled on some other baby born that night. Shepherds are no experts and babies all look about the same. There wouldn’t be the nimbus halo, no glowing aura, no eerie quiet. The only thing distinguishing about the baby was the fact He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And they found that one. That’s all we’re told and that’s all that matters. What could they say about that baby? Not much. A baby is a baby. All they could say is what they were told concerning the child (Luke 2:17). The shepherds went proclaimed what was, what happened: the birth of the Savior who is Christ the Lord.
It all seems so unlikely, even impossible. But not with God, nothing is impossible. Salvation comes from God in His way and His likes. How can the holy God love us so much—we messy, confused, and unholy mankind—to give His son for our sake, to be our Savior? “It happened,” or if you prefer, “it came to pass.”
The heart of unbelief is to refuse to be loved so much. God might be able to love others, but not me. Or we may think we deserve God’s love, which is also refusal of His love in the way He gives it… But not so with the shepherds. They feared God above all things and received from Him the Good News. The shepherds listened, followed, found, and continued telling the message they received. They took it from God. What He said had happened, they believed, and most incredible of all: the birth was for them and for all people, for them and for you. That is how much God loves you. It happened, and you have been told.
The words spoken of Mary’s baby are to spoken to you also. To you is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Fear God above all else and hear from Him this message. Nothing comes before that; and nothing is surer than that. Everything else flows from that, flows from that, is illumined by that fact. You have it on the highest authority that Christ has been born. For Chris’t sake, God is pleased with you. He loves you. If we only believed that, surely our hearts would burst for joy.
“Born to you today!” Yes, Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Help me out of refusing to be loved so much. Let Your body and blood change me so that I know and believe how you have joined to me, love me to death, and by Your death have won forgiveness for me. Help me learn that in You I am accepted, embraced, and restored to complete fellowship with God.
The shepherds went back to their sheep but they weren’t the same shepherds anymore. They heard God’s Word and went on minding the sheep, believing God’s word that told them that Christ was born for them. Jospeh went back to his carpentry and Mary back to carrying for her child and her home. We are told she pondered these things in her heart. She pondered the birth, the child, and the words that were spoken of Him.
Later, we will go back to the same tasks, but different. That is where we carry and heed the message, and in living out our calling, God will do things through us that are beyond our knowing and planning. No need to be the hero, just simply be who God has given you be and we let Him be the Lord. Through everything, hold on to the words, good words, words of the Savior who is Christ the Lord in the stable and on the cross.
You came today to hear the good words again, bringing along all the parts of you that still say, “No,” to what happened. You carried with you everything from this world of death, everything that threaten to wear you down, trivialize your life, or tear you from Christ and His church. Hold on to and ponder each day the good words that “came to pass.” They will bring you through the everything that happens, the hard things and certainly the happy things too. We can let these be the things they are—family, home, friends together, gifts, food, drink, and all the fun and warmth of Christmas—not try to find in them the antidote to despair and emptiness of our heart.
Our hearts are now fixed where true joy is found. “It happened,” and the words have carried it to you, and the bread and wine, too: “A Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And then return, proclaiming it with the shepherds and pondering it with Mary, while doing what the Lord has given you to do. And you’ll be surprised, too, when the Lord has things to do with you that you haven’t planned. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Revised from a sermon from Rev. Norman Nagel.