On Luke 2.1-14
Merry Christmas! This holy night I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people of God; for unto us was born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Let’s begin with the facts, for the Christmas gospel is not a matter of timeless truths or sentimental experiences, but rock-solid facts. We Christians do not serve the spirit of Christmas; we adore the Word made flesh. Caesar Augustus really issued his decree. Joseph and Mary, heavy with her holy Child, really made their way to Bethlehem. Mary the Virgin really gave birth to her firstborn Son in a tumbledown stable. She really wrapped the eternal Son of God in swaddling cloths, really breastfed the Word through whom she and all other creatures were made, really lay the King of men and angels in the makeshift cradle of a Holstein’s feeding trough. The historical events of the Christmas gospel are real, my friends. It all really happened! This holy night I proclaim to you the good news that some 20 centuries ago, a Jewish peasant girl gave birth to a screaming bundle of frail infant flesh who was, and is, and forever will be the eternal and almighty Son of God.
“For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That was the first Christmas sermon ever preached; and I dare say it remains the very best. Why did the angel tell the shepherds not to fear, but to rejoice? Because the Savior had been born. “And who is this Savior?” you ask. The angel replies: “Christ the Lord.” Not just the Christ, not just the Lord, but “Christ the Lord”—that’s our Savior; that’s the One to banish our fears and fill our hearts with joy.
In the first place, Mary’s little Son is “the Christ,” the Messiah—i.e., the King and Redeemer God had promised Israel long centuries before, centuries filled with darkness, suffering, and shame. That’s what we heard about in Isaiah’s prophecy: the child to be born for us, the Son to be given for us, will carry the mantle of kingship upon his shoulders, and “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom,” forevermore (Isa 9.6-7). The Savior had to be born of St Mary in the City of David, for he had to be true Man in order to be the all-conquering Messiah God had promised to raise up for St David from his own loins. That’s who this little infant at Mary’s breast really is. He’s the Shoot springing up out of the barren stump of Jesse (Isa 11.1), the promised King appointed by the Father and anointed by the Spirit to cast out darkness by his light, crush the devil by his obedience, abolish sin by his death, and bring in everlasting righteousness by his life. That’s why the angel told the shepherds: “Fear not! Rejoice!” For the true Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep, had come at last; and if David’s Son has come to fight for us poor sinners, then the Goliaths we face—be they great or small—can do us no harm. Not with this Christ on our side, to fight to the death for us and save us! So don’t be afraid: Rejoice! Christ the Savior is born.
But that’s not all! For the angel’s sermon continues: this true Son of David, this Redeemer & Christ, is “the Lord.” Do you remember later on in the gospel, during holy week, when Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees? “What about the Christ?” he asked. “Whose son is he?” They answered: “The Son of David.” Indeed! But that’s only half the angel’s sermon, now isn’t it? Jesus replied: “If the Christ is David’s Son, how is it that David calls him ‘Lord,’ saying in Psalm 110: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies beneath your feet.’ If then David calls him Lord, how is he David’s son?” (Matt 22.41-46). The Pharisees didn’t know what to say to that, and were silenced. But we Christians hear this same Psalm, and sing for joy. For Mary’s baby isn’t just the Son of David; he is also the Son of God, the LORD. In ancient prophecy, David called his son, the Messiah, his ‘Lord,’ because in the Spirit he saw that St Mary’s son, his great-great-great-grandson, is the Lord. For the little child in Mary’s arms is the mighty God.
Or do you think God the kind of god to send someone else to do his dirty work? The false gods save their own skin and send others to fight their battles for them. The true God reveals his true glory in this, that when the time to fight for his chosen people had come, he took the matter into his own bare hands. He bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations by clothing himself in our flesh, that in the nail-pierced flesh and shed blood of the Messiah all the ends of the earth might see the salvation of our God. Not the salvation of a man! The salvation of God. For unless God himself is our Savior, unless God himself shed his blood for us, unless eternal Life fought with death and prevailed, we mortal sinners have no hope at all. “On God rests my salvation,” confesses David in Ps 62. Our salvation rests securely on the infant resting in the manger, for this boy is the Lord our God: in his true humanity weak enough to suffer for our sins, in his true divinity mighty enough to vanquish death by his power. That’s the gospel of Jesus Christ, true God and Man, that the angel announced to the shepherds. And you’ll notice the one application his sermon had was to be fearless and rejoice. And he ought to know. For according to Genesis 28 and John 1, the holy angels are chiefly engaged with ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, the True Ladder who unites heaven and earth in his own Person. They can’t ascend high enough to attain the greatness of his divinity, and they can’t plummet low enough to fathom the depths of his abasement in our flesh. And whether ascending or descending, they adore Him with glad and fearless hearts, and rejoice (cf. Martin Luther, Lecture on Genesis 28).
Now perhaps you’re thinking: “Great; Jesus Christ is true God and true Man in one Person. That’s very nice for the angels, and I’m sure it made the shepherds’ day to see him, but I can’t squeeze one drop of joy out of it, and to be honest I’m still so afraid.” Then, my friend, you above all must rejoice! For the angel preached his sermon especially for you. For the angel didn’t just say, “Christ the Lord, true God and Man, is born; therefore, rejoice.” No, he said: “for unto you, for you, the Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord.” Isaiah preached the same gospel: “for unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given” (Isa 9.6). Dear friend, the Son of God didn’t go through the trouble of becoming flesh to show off his infinite power. He did it for you. He took your flesh and blood from Mary to be your Redeemer. And all that he became for you in her womb, all that he did for you in the flesh he took there, he offers to you this very night as a free gift. He offers himself to you, to become your very own personal Savior, your best and dearest Friend. God wasn’t born in our flesh for the angels, and he wasn’t just born in our flesh for the shepherds who got to see him that night with their own eyes. He was born for every poor sinner who despairs of himself and puts his trust in this Child. The Son was given as a gift on Christmas Day, and his Father wrapped him carefully in your flesh and blood to assure you that the gift is given for you. That’s the heart and soul of the true Christmas gospel, which is the gospel of God’s grace, mercy, and love. At this very moment he calls you; right now the Son of Mary brings you forgiveness and grace, the Son of God offers you the free gift of eternal life in himself. Repent, dear friend, and put your trust in Christ, and join us in sharing life together in his Church, and you shall have a merry Christmas indeed; for the true Spirit of the season pours true joy into the heart of every sinner who clings in simple faith to the flesh and blood of this Child. And if you’re already in Christ by faith and baptism, a living member of his living body and an heir of eternal life in his kingdom, come join me for the celebration of his holy Supper. For even now, through the bread and wine of our true Christmas feast, our dear Jesus is with us to pardon our sins and give us life. To this true Son of God and Mary be endless glory, now and for all eternity. Amen.