Sermon on St. Luke 2:1-14
25 December 2008
+ Jesu Juva +
And the Word was made Flesh
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we
beheld His glory, the glory of the only-begotten from the
Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14
Truth arose from the earth
and justice watched from heaven. — Psalm 85:11
Of all the Evangelists, St. Luke has the most detailed Christmas story, and no doubt the best known. From the census to the manger, from the shepherds to the angels, St. Luke is the stuff of Christmas pageants, living nativities, and seasonal cheer. However, I would suggest that St. John has the best summary of the Christmas Gospel in this theologically-laden statement: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). So also the following words from Psalm 85: “Truth arose from the earth and justice watched from heaven” (85:11). And so today, our Gospel lesson from St. Luke will give us the historical details. And our choral voluntary from St. John and the Psalmist will tell us what it all means as we discuss the Word made flesh.
The first half of our Gospel lesson from St. Luke describes the human side of the Christmas story, anchored in world history. Fairy tales begin with the words “Once upon a time.” The life of Christ begins with the words “And it came to pass.” See how human and how real the Christmas story is! Secular rulers, like Caesar, the ruler of the Roman Empire, and Quirinius, the local governor. A census, just like we take them every ten years, both for taxation purposes and for measuring goods and services. A pregnant woman from Nazareth, forced to do the unthinkable: to travel 90 miles, probably sitting on a donkey, just as she was about to give birth. A crowded city, for David’s descendants far outnumbered the capacity of lodging in this tiny suburb of Jerusalem. An unsuspecting innkeeper, a “no vacancy” sign in Bethlehem, and the birth of baby in what probably amounted to little more than a cow shed. The story has the word “human” written over it, for here are the basic elements of human life itself, all transpiring for us and for our salvation. No wonder St. Paul says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law” (Gal 4:4). It’s all coming to pass in the fullness of time, i.e., the time that God appointed to break nearly 400 years of silence by the prophets and introduce the One they all foretold, Jesus Christ. So in the fullness of time, “[Mary] brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (2:7). The Word became flesh and dwelt among us in the human nature of Jesus Christ.
If the first half of our Gospel lesson describes the human side of Christmas, then the second half describes the Divine aspect of the story. The birth of Jesus Christ is too good to be contained in a cattle stall with just a few faithful. It must be proclaimed to the ends of the earth! And so there were shepherds, abiding in their fields keeping watch over their flock by night. According to the custom of the day, they might have passed the night by playing tunes on their pipes and talking of many things. But this night, there would be a new level of pastoral theology and sacred music. The angel descended from heaven, the glory of the Lord came upon them, and they were greatly afraid. But the angel did not come to judge, but to bless: “For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior.” Yes, Christ is born to you. Heaven has descended to earth for you and for your salvation! But the word that really got their attention that night was probably “Lord.” This was the OT name of Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth, the One who causes to be. Yes, God, the One was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, has clothed Himself with flesh and blood. He is the baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in the manger. No wonder the angels rejoiced, saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, good will toward men!” God is glorified by the birth of His Son in human flesh. There is peace on earth, for Christ Himself is our peace with God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us in the Divine nature of Christ Jesus.
Taken together, the earthly and heavenly sides of Christmas remind us the second half of our choral voluntary from Psalm 85[:11]: “Truth arose from the earth and justice watched from heaven.” Psalm 85 is a prayer that the Lord would restore favor to the land of Israel. The only way to restore favor is for God to be present with His people, thereby uniting heaven and earth, especially as the Word is made flesh to live among God’s people. And so Israel prayed, “Truth arose from the earth and justice watched from heaven.” The truth that arose from the earth is the human nature of Christ – born of the Virgin Mary, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in the manger. This baby, doing all that terribly human baby stuff, is the truth from above, yes, He is truth incarnate. And the justice that watched from heaven is the Divine nature of Christ – conceived by the Holy Spirit, proclaimed as “Lord” by the angels, and worshiped by shepherds. This child is God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Hence this Psalm verse, one of the traditional entrance Psalms for Christmas Day, preaches the good news that the Word made flesh to dwell among us is Truth arising from the earth and justice watching from heaven.
So the One proclaimed by the angels is fully God. See, Dearly Beloved, how He uses the powers of His Godhead for you and for your salvation! When He is born, it is the birth of God, born to give you the second birth of baptism. When He is circumcised, it is the circumcision of God, the first bloodshed of Him whose blood would purify you from your sin. When He preaches, He is preaching in the stead and by the command of God the Father, calling you to repentance and offering the word of forgiveness to all who believe. When He works His miracles, He is showing you that He is God, for God has come to earth to bless you with the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. When He dies on the cross, it is the death of God, that you might have life in His name. When He is buried, He enters your tomb with your sins on His shoulders and leaves them there forever. When He rises from the dead, He conquers death for your, that you may share in His resurrection victory. When He ascends into heaven, He goes to pray for you in your deepest need, and to pray for justice from heaven, i.e., the vindication of God’s elect in the final judgment. In short, everything He does is God at work to redeem you.
And the God who works for you is also fully man. See, Dearly Beloved, how He uses His humanity for you and for your salvation, even to this very day! For after his resurrection and ascension, He still brings you all the gifts of His humanity in the means of grace: baptism, preaching, and the Lord’s Supper. If your experience with Christmas celebrations has been anything like mine, you’ve probably noticed that there are at least two Christian Christmases competing for our attention: the protestant, “sweet baby Jesus” Christmas and the Lutheran, “Word made flesh” Christmas. To be sure, both Christmas celebrations rejoice that Christ was born for us. The Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols, for instance, was made famous by King’s College Cambridge, hardly a Lutheran entity, but an appropriate service for all Christians. The difference between Protestant and Lutheran is evident not in the lessons and carols, but in the Lord’s Supper. Our Protestant friends do not believe that the Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of Christ because they believe that God has locked Jesus’ body in the chambers of heaven. We believe, however, that the Divine and human natures of Christ are at work in the Lord’s Supper. As man, He is here in His true body and blood. As God, He is present around the world, whenever and wherever the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. Word and flesh, God and man, truth and justice dwell together in the Blessed Sacrament. For here is the truth of His real presence and the justice that penitent sinners receive life in His name.
And so this Christmas Day, the good news that the Word was made flesh to dwell among us fulfills the church’s longing prayer of the final Sunday in Advent: “Drop down, ye heavens, from above: and let the skies pour down righteousness.” In the person of Christ, heaven has quite literally dropped down to earth. And in His work for us, the skies have poured down righteousness or forgiveness upon us. “Drop down, ye heavens” – and they are dropping down to us even now, in His true body and blood. Blessed Christ-mass! + INJ + Amen.
Rev. Brian Hamer
Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY