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Christmas Eve – Matthew 1:18-25

by pastorjuhl ~ December 24th, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

“Ideas create idols; only wonder leads to knowing.” One look at the eyes of a child when seeing Santa Claus, looking at a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, or opening Christmas presents confirms Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s quote. All of us have an idea about what Christmas should be. Those ideas quickly become idols that are smashed to pieces when reality rears its head. The Christmas in our head and the Christmas that actually is are two different things. Perhaps you and I should thank God for smashing those idols. Every holy day should have more than a tiny bit of wonder; a surprise that leads to something deeper than any idol gives.

Consider the surprise Joseph receives while thinking through his situation. Saint Matthew writes that before they came together, Mary was found with child of the Holy Spirit. [Joseph] was minded to put her away secretly. But…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “…Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

These events are almost too much for the feeble mind to consider. An angel, a dream, perhaps a divorce, and then a promise fulfilled. Talk about bringing wonder back into Christmas! There’s enough wonder in tonight’s Gospel that even the most hard-boiled cynic has to scratch his head and think for a minute.

Joseph wants to do the right thing. These days it’s nothing for couples to have children outside of wedlock. What is now commonplace, but still scandalous, was certainly scandalous two centuries ago. Mary and Joseph were betrothed, but Mary was pregnant. Joseph had nothing to do with the pregnancy. Nevertheless, he was an upright man and a respectful spouse. Perhaps it was best to dissolve the marriage quietly so they could get on with their lives.

While thinking through what to do, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The message the angel brought to Joseph was not to end the marriage. The child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Word implanted Himself in Mary’s womb. She would bring forth the Savior of the Nations. His name would be Jesus, “God saves”, for He will save His people from their sins. The angel’s message is the same as you heard in the Old Testament reading. The Lord’s sign to Ahaz was a virgin conceiving a child whose name would be Immanuel, “God with us”.

Those two names alone bring wonder. “God saves”. “God with us”. No other so-called deity would stoop so low as to become what will be saved from eternal death. Only the eternal Son of God considers equality with His heavenly Father something not to be desired. He takes on the form of a servant to serve mankind with salvation. Though Jesus is truly man, He is also truly God. No other human being before or since can make that claim. He is perfect in order to make the perfect offering for the sin of the world. It’s a trap that Satan falls into headlong, just as Satan thinks he has trapped the Son of God. The head of the serpent is crushed, just as God promised many years before. This is the message the Spirit of God spreads throughout the world, using the mouths of men to proclaim the favorable season of the Lord.

The Christmas spirit according to Saint John is God’s love for us. Contrary to what the world believes, you do not have to try to reach into heaven hoping for a scrap of God’s love. Our Father in heaven conveniently wrapped His package of love in flesh and blood. God first loved us when He created the heavens and the earth. His love extended past Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. His love is written in every word of Holy Scripture. If God did not love us, then why would He send His beloved Son among us? Thank God you don’t have to wonder about the answer to that question!

You might wonder how God shows His love among us today. Saint John says in tonight’s Epistle: By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. You don’t have to try to build a stairway to heaven to catch a glimpse or grab a piece of paradise. God sends His love down to us even today wherever His Word is preached and taught in purity. God sends His love down to us with water and His Word in Holy Baptism. Jesus stands in the midst of the water to wash away sin and make you His precious child. God sends His love down to us with bread, wine, and His Word in the Holy Supper. Jesus is the host, the guest, and the food. As often as you eat His Body and drink His Blood, you show forth the death of Christ until He comes again.

God becomes man. The Almighty Word descends from His throne. His mother and father cannot find a room for the night in Bethlehem. They stay in a cattle shed, placing their Son in a feeding trough. Shepherds see the star and run to see the thing that has happened that the angels proclaimed. These are the first of many great and mighty wonders God does for you. We know where Christmas presents come from. We know how much they cost. The one constant every Christmas is the wonder of God’s love for us in sending His Son among us. He comes to die for our sin and rise for our justification. Jesus comes as the Great and Mighty Wonder, the full and holy Cure for sin and death. Tonight you know eternal life because you know and believe the wonder of God’s love.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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