Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on Christmas Eve, 12/24/2019. The text for the sermon was Luke 2:1-14.
This is a story about fear. From the prophecy first given to Zechariah to the visit of the Magi, nearly everyone we meet in the Christmas story has been afraid of something – many with the same fears you and I have brought here tonight.
Elizabeth is afraid she will never have a baby – by her age she should have been pregnant, but she wasn’t. Mary is afraid that she will never be married. At her age, she shouldn’t be pregnant, but she is – and in a place that takes a very dim view on unwed mothers. Zechariah is a pastor, struggling with his faith. Though he goes to the altar, he is afraid the LORD no longer hears his prayers. Joseph is a parishioner, struggling to trust Mary. His fiancé is pregnant by someone else, and he fears that means divorce.
Cesar Augustus is buckling under the stress that comes with managing the world’s leading economy, as well as its largest army. He is counting noses and raising taxes – trying to hold on in an empire that has a habit of assassinating weak leaders. The shepherds are afraid of the angels; the Magi are afraid of King Herod, and King Herod is afraid of losing his job – of losing control, and falling from power, and being unemployed at Christmas, when the big bills come due. Even the holy innocents of Bethlehem are afraid. A two-year old does not know much; but he knows enough to be terrified when he is being murdered. This whole story smells like fear.
There was a time, of course, when we had nothing to fear – in a garden, where God walked with Adam in the cool of the day. No fear. But ever since our first parents became afraid to let God be God, and since you and I have followed suit, we have lived in a world of our own making; a world where we are constantly in fear because we are constantly in danger.
The opposite of danger is safety. When you are in safety, it means that you have nothing left to fear. That sounds nice, but how will anyone ever make all of us safe again? How will anyone ever fix all the sin and all the fear that you and I have brought here tonight? From infertility to promiscuity, bad bosses to unemployment, from strong enemies to struggling faith, and murder – and whatever else you would like to add to the Christmas story. How will anyone fix all of that?
That is Jesus’ job.
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His Name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14
God with us – not God away from us or apart from us, but with us. That is what Emmanuel means. Emmanuel means Christ does not do His job from heaven, far away, but instead comes to be with us, to make all things new, to make them safe – all things, even you and even me.
To accomplish this saving work, He comes and lives as you and I live. Jesus takes on mouth and tongue and toes tonight, and inserts Himself into our world, to live as we do – to share in our joys, but also in our every bitter sadness. He was born poor and lived in exile in Egypt. His adopted dad died when He was young; His own people called Him crazy, and His very best friends betrayed Him to death.
To make us safe, to rescue us, He even dies our death. He takes on every one of our sins; He gobbles them up; and then, when our sins have poisoned Him, He dies innocent, murdered in our place, and is buried in a borrowed tomb. Borrowed, because Jesus does not stay there.
To make us safe, Jesus rises to our resurrection. He rouses the flesh He received from His mother as a birthday present, and moves to heaven, to the feast that has no end; in the light of holiness, with those whom you have loved, who have gone before us in the faith. Jesus is waiting there with them for us.
So if this is the case, that Jesus has come and done His job well, in flesh and blood, then why do we not feel safe tonight? Why are we still so troubled, and with so many fears? It is, I think, because over the course of another year, we have lost track of this Child.
No baby does well when ignored. You know this if you’re a parent.
Jesus comes tonight a Child. Here is God in flesh and blood, dropped into our laps, asking us to see Him, and hear Him, to receive Him as He gives Himself, with stubby arms stretched toward you, saying “up” – asking us to have Him as the center of our existence; asking us to tend Him where He lays: in the water of the font, in the pages of Scripture, and in His Holy Supper. Because if we lose track of this Child, then we will be lost for sure, in a darkness so deep, we can never find our way out.
Into that darkness this Christ has come to search you out. He comes as one of us, with two eyes, and a little nose, and a beating heart. He has everything you’ve got, except for your sin. So, if you would only let Him have that too – if you would leave all of your sin and worry and fear here tonight, He would count that as your gift to Him.
It is all He ever really wanted: to take away your sin, to rescue you, to love you, to make you safe. So to leave all of that here this evening, and not take it home with you, that would make this Child very happy.
And then if you would come to receive His gifts; His Word, His Sacraments, His Supper – where Jesus comes personally, giving the fruits of His cross; with Name and Water, with bread and wine, with Words and vocal cords – Baby Jesus here to save us.
“Fear not” says the angel to Mary. What he gives her is Jesus. Christ comes as the center of her life by arriving in the center of her womb. “Fear not”, says the angel to Joseph. Christ is here, and all is well. “Fear not” says the angel to the shepherds,
For behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. verses 10-12
“Fear not,” the angel says to you. This is Emmanuel, God with you. He is for you, and not against you; He is here to make you new, to make you His own, to make you safe again.
On a night when we recall the voyage of Christ from heaven to earth, it might not be out of order to provide also a bit of travel advice. On the edge of Bethlehem there is an astoundingly beautiful church with a very high altar. Behind that altar there is a shallow cave ornamented with small silver lamps, candles, and incense, because they want to remember what Jesus smelled like when He used the Magi’s gifts. There, on the ground there is a star embedded in the stone. That is the place where many say Jesus was born.
If you want to go inside, there is one thing to remember: you must remember to duck. The entrance is so low, that you cannot go in standing up. You can see the world in all of its glory by standing tall, and being proud, but if you would like to see and know how God has come as one of us, the safest way is on your knees, as you approach the manger.
That is how they all worship tonight, on a night so much like this one, two thousand years ago, when the black sky exploded with the brightness of uncreated light; when shepherds came face to face with angels; when God gave His all, even His extra, His only Son, for the forgiveness of mankind, for the life of the world. And the Grace arrived in Flesh, and the world has never been the same since.
What we come to know again tonight is this: how God loves us so; that He would come as Emmanuel, born this night to a virgin in the backwaters of the Roman Empire – that He would bend down so low, that He would come to us as a Gift, one so powerful, that it can forgive us, cast away our fears, and make all of us safe again. Tonight, we know once more those things we thought we had forgotten – even our neighbors still in darkness, even this Holy Child.
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this night in the city of Boston, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find Him wrapped in Bread and Wine and lying on an altar.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. verse 14