SERMON TEXT BELOW
Christmas Eve 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 24, 2023
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The little town is just bursting at the seams with all the visitors from out of town. Normally families need to plan for a big get together, but this huge family reunion is ordered by Caesar Augustus in Rome. Everyone must go to the place of their ancestry. All the descendants of King David are back in Bethlehem to be registered by the Romans. No one thinks registering is a good idea, but it is not wise to go against the Romans. And it will be nice to have generations of David’s family gathered together for a time.
Over the years, traditions have developed that Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn due to an evil innkeeper. Luke 2:7 (ESV) 7 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.”
The word for “inn” here, however, more likely means “guest room” and that Jesus was born in the family area at a relative’s house in Bethlehem and was laid in a manger where animals were brought in at night for safekeeping.
Imagine you are one of the relatives staying in the same house and witnessing all that is taking place. People keep arriving for the registration. The upper guest room is full and now the lower family area is packed. One couple, your cousin Joseph and his wife Mary, arrived from Nazareth 90 miles north. Mary is very pregnant and about to give birth. There will not be much privacy, but at least there will be plenty of help.
The time comes for Mary to give birth and everything goes as smoothly as giving birth can go. The baby is swaddled in strips of cloth and now a bed must be found. Since the guest room is full, one of the stone mangers is cleaned out and fresh straw is put in and the baby is laid on the straw to sleep. What a joyous event. Mary gives birth to her first born son and Joseph’s whole family is there to celebrate.
That evening, as things are winding down and people are starting to get ready for bed, there is a knock at the door. Who is this? Are we expecting more family? There really isn’t any more room, but something will be figured out. When the door is opened it is not family traveling from out of town, instead local shepherds are standing at the door. How strange. What are these guys doing here?
The shepherd in front says, “We have been all over town searching for the Savior, Christ the Lord. Is there a baby here wrapped up in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger?” An unnerving hush falls over everyone in the house. Whoa…..how did they know that?
The father of the house responds, “Yes, indeed, there is a baby here as you describe, but how could you possibly have known?”
“An angel appeared to us tonight in the field, glowing with the glory of God, scaring us half to death, and the angel said, “Luke 2:10–12 (ESV) 10 … “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” “The angels told us, and it is true. Here He is, the Savior; Christ the Lord.”
Mary and Joseph go over to talk to the shepherds by the door. Just then the baby wakes up and starts to fuss. You go over and pick Him up to comfort Him amidst all the excitement. You hold the baby Jesus in your arms and gently rock Him and try to quiet Him, “shhhh, shhhh, shhhh,” as Mary brings the shepherds over to see the baby.
Christmas is a hugely popular holiday for people from many different backgrounds. It is a fascinating phenomenon because Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation of God. We rejoice at God taking on human flesh and being born in Bethlehem. We celebrate the Son of God becoming Immanuel; God with us.
Non-Christians celebrate Christmas while rejecting Christ. A lot of folks who claim to be Christian but reject the teachings of Christianity, still love Christmas. There are many who get really offended by Jesus’ teachings, but then celebrate His birth.
I wonder if maybe folks think that “Christmas Jesus” is “safe Jesus.” A Jesus you can hold in your arms and shush; a Jesus who is not telling you to love your enemy, not telling you to forgive others, not warning you about lust and anger and greed, not teaching you about sin and forgiveness, not calling you to repent and take up your cross and follow Him, not telling you that He has to die for your sins. Christmas Jesus is just lying there, helpless, seemingly under your control. Baby Jesus seems like a safe Jesus.
For so many, Christmas has been reduced to nothing more than a sentimental holiday all about colored lights and trees and food and family and ugly sweaters and gifts and memories of Christmas’s past. It is a sentimental Christmas with a safe Jesus lying silently in the nativity scene not making anyone uncomfortable.
Now, baby Jesus is small, but he is not safe. His birth is announced by an army of angels and a star appears in the heavens to mark His arrival. From His infancy He brings division and death as the devil tries to kill Him. As C.S. Lewis says of Aslan the Lion, in the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Jesus is not safe, but He is good.
Jesus is not safe. He is the Savior. The little Lamb of God lying in a manger has come to defeat the devil by being the sacrifice for the sin of the world. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) 21 For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
You cannot shush Jesus because He is God and you are not. He is Lord and you are His servant. In the battle against the devil, the world and your own sinful nature, Jesus is in charge and yet He comes to serve you and save you and lay down His life for you. Jesus is the light who takes into Himself the darkness of your sin and pays the price on the cross. Afterwards, His Body is swaddled in cloth and laid on a stone slab. A safe Jesus would have stayed dead, but Jesus is not safe. He rises from the dead on the third day to conquer death forever. And because Jesus rose from the dead, you will rise from the dead. Thank God, Jesus is not safe.
The light of Christ comes into the world in the little town of Bethlehem. The light spreads from the manger in Bethlehem to those in the house and the shepherds and the magi, to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and Galilee and to the surrounding nations and out to the farthest reaches of the world. The light spreads from one person to another to another, generation after generation. The light of Christ has been on the move, spreading person to person for 2,000 years. The saving light of Christ has come to you.
The Advent wreath is all lit up tonight. The four candles for each of the Sundays of Advent and now the center Christ candle also. The Christ candle represents the light of Christ which comes into the world as the baby in Bethlehem. As we near the end of the service tonight I will take light from the Christ candle and share it with everyone here. As you receive the light, remember you are baptized. At your baptism you received Christ who is the light of the world. As we share the light from the Christ candle, picture the light of Jesus bringing light in the darkness throughout the centuries as it spreads all around the world.
Tonight you celebrate Christ’s arrival in Bethlehem. Tonight you rejoice in Jesus coming to be “God with you” to save you from your sins. Tonight you celebrate the birth of the Savior who is not safe, but is good. Merry Christmas! Amen.