Christmas Eve 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
December 24, 2022


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            How many times have you heard, or said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Or, “Seeing is believing.”  Or, “What you see is what you get.” When someone says your favorite football team that hasn’t won a playoff game in 30 years is going to the Super Bowl, you say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  Your son tells you that he cleaned his room and you say, “Seeing is believing.”  You’re inspecting a used car and the salesman says, “What you see is what you get.”  This philosophy can work well, at times, in this life, where a little skepticism can be healthy. 

            But there are times when what you see is not what you get…when you can’t judge a book by its cover…when first impressions are deceiving. 

With Jesus, what you see is not what you get.  The Bible teaches in Hebrews 11:1 (ESV) 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  With Jesus, seeing is not believing.  With Jesus, the promise is greater than perception.

            Shepherds are out in the field at night keeping watch over their flocks.  For shepherds in the dark there isn’t much seeing, but more hearing and smelling, trying to keep their sheep safe from wolves and bears.  The life of a shepherd is many long periods of boredom interrupted by moments of great fear and struggle.  Tonight is a boring night listening to the sounds of content sheep. It’s quiet… a light wind is blowing…millions of stars twinkle in the heavens above as the men wrap blankets around their shoulders against the cool weather. .

            Luke 2:9 (ESV) 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.”  The quiet darkness is overwhelmed by a great light with a messenger from God hovering over the shepherds who are trembling in terror.  What is going on?!?  What have we done to deserve the wrath of God?  What is this creature from heaven going to do to us because of what we have done?              Luke 2:10 (ESV) 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” 

            It is Good News.  Not good news and bad news.  Just good news.  Luke 2:11 (ESV) 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Praise God!  It is finally happening.  The Christ is here.  Here…in Bethlehem.  The long promised Messiah is here to save His people and His arrival is being announced by an angel of the Lord shining with the glory of God.  The shepherds and the sheep stand awestruck by the sight of it all. Then the angel tells them how to find the newborn Christ.  Luke 2:12 (ESV) 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  

            Luke 2:13–14 (ESV) 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  

A whole army of angels, bathed in light, declare glory to God and peace on earth. This is the most amazing thing any of the shepherds has ever seen or heard.  It is awesome.

            And then the angels leave and it is dark…and it’s quiet…a light wind is blowing…millions of stars twinkle in the heavens as the shepherd’s stare up to where the angels were just bringing them the promise of a newborn savior, the Christ. 

            Luke 2:15 (ESV) 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  

            The shepherds head to Bethlehem to search for the Christ child and as they go they must be wondering about the signs they were given to look for.  An angel…shining with the glory of God…told them to look for a baby…wrapped in strips of cloth… lying in an animal feed trough.  What kind of Christ is this?  They find the baby and they tell Mary and Joseph and the others all about the angels and the announcement and all they had seen, but as they look at the promised Christ He looks like…a normal baby except more humble. Instead of a cradle He is lying in a manger; likely a manger made by hollowing out the top of a large stone. The shepherds do not know it, but they are getting a glimpse 33 years in the future when this same Christ will lie on a stone slab wrapped in strips of cloth. 

            As the shepherds behold the baby Jesus…the Christ…the Savior…seeing is not believing.  This helpless little baby does not look like God in flesh, He does not have a shining halo, He is not shooting beams of light from His face. He looks like a normal, newborn baby boy, but the shepherds know the truth, because they have the promise from the angel.  The promise is greater than perception. 

            Mary and Joseph have been living with the promise being greater than the perception for nine months of pregnancy.  Seeing is not believing.  What you see is not what you get.  Everyone around them thinks they know what happened, but Mary and Joseph know the truth about who this baby is.

            Tonight, you have gathered here to celebrate the birth of this child.  Unlike the shepherds, you do not get to see and hear the angel and the angel choir. You do not get to see the swaddled baby lying in a manger.  You do not get to talk with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds.  But you do have the same promise.  The promise made to the shepherds; the promise made to Mary and Joseph, is the same promise made to you.  Unto you is born a savior who is Christ, the Lord.

God’s promise to you is greater than your perception.

            The baby born in Bethlehem that night is Immanuel, God with us.  The baby is the eternal Word made flesh.  The baby is the Christ.   The baby is the Savior.  God is lying in that manger wrapped in swaddling cloths.  Jesus looks like an ordinary baby and grows to look like an ordinary man, but looks can be deceiving.  The promise is greater than perception.

            God’s promise to you is greater than your perception. As you look around here tonight at everyone gathered to celebrate the birth of the King it looks like a group of normal people; older folks, younger folks, little children.  It appears to be just a collection of people trying to make their way through life, to raise their families, to make ends meet, fighting temptation, and struggling to sit still and not dose off.  You look around and you don’t really see anyone special…no one has a halo, no one is shining forth the glory of God, but know…these are no ordinary people.  These people here tonight are saints of God made holy by the waters of Baptism.  You are a saint of God cleansed by the blood of Jesus.  Colossians 1:13 (ESV) 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…”  You have been declared to be perfect because you are covered by the robe of Jesus’ righteousness.  Behold!  The saints of God.  What you see is not what you get.

Baptism does not look like much.  A bowl of water, a baby’s wet head, some words, but what you see is not what you get. The promise is greater than perception. On Noah’s Ark eight people were brought safely through the water, and we learn in 1 Peter 3:21 (ESV) 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”  Baptism is God’s promise to you, Romans 6:3–5 (ESV)  3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  Seeing is not believing.

            Holy Communion does not look like much.  An insignificant wafer of bread, a sip of wine, but what you see is not what you get.  The promise is greater than perception.  Jesus said, “this is my body; this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Seeing is not believing.  Faith clings to the promise.

            Jesus on the cross being speared by a soldier appears to be the end of Jesus.  But Jesus promised to rise from the dead and that is what He does.  And people see the resurrected Jesus, and for the disciples, in this case, seeing is believing, and they record what they see as eyewitnesses of the resurrection.  You have not seen the resurrected Jesus -- not yet -- and it is tempting to say, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but you do have the promise, and the promise is greater than your perceptions.  You have Jesus.  Luke 2:11 (ESV) 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

            A blessed Christmas to all.  Amen.