Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on Christmas Eve 12/24/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 7:00pm, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: ChristmasEve bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Nativity of Our Lord (Midnight), click here.
And she brought forth her firstborn son,
and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger;
because there was no room for them in the inn.
It’s the easiest part of Christmas to understand: that Mary gave birth to Jesus.
He was conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit, to be sure, but the rest of it happened for her as with other women.
Her legs swelled up, and her belly swelled up. She had food cravings. She was tired… She was pregnant. And then, she gave birth. Unto Mary was born, in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
Up to this point, God had involved plenty of men and women throughout salvation history: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Boaz and Ruth, and on and on through the ages.
Sinners though they were, God was pleased to work through them. But none of them gave birth to Jesus. That bare fact is what makes the message of the angel to the shepherds so spectacular.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
The thing is that the shepherds were not in on any of this. They weren’t pious like the priests or rich like the magi. They had no place of honor in the world. They were dirty and smelly, kind of like the sheep they cared for. But it is they who heard the good tidings first.
“Unto you,” the angel said.
There in King David’s city.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
It was more than curiosity and it was more than surprise. And it would be centuries before it would become tradition or custom. They went to Bethlehem because Christ had been born unto them.
His mother would take care of the nursing and the diapers to be sure, but what if He needed something?
Even if He didn’t. Still… The angel could not have been more clear: Jesus was born unto them. And if He is their Savior, they ought also to go unto Him. Because they needed something. They needed this Child, born unto them.
By this time, I’m sure you’ve noticed something else about the angel’s proclamation. Though they heard them first, the good tidings of great joy are not only for the shepherds. They are, in fact, for all the people.
That means everybody, everywhere. Shepherds and Caesars, wise men and fools, politicians and heretics, every anchor and producer on your least favorite news channel; the drunks, the depraved, and all the people you can’t stand to be around… Unto them… and unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. That’s how wide and broad and deep the love of Christ is.
But there is something else looming beyond the question of who Jesus came to save. It is the question: “What happens now?”
If you have had other children born unto you, then you know, they bring great joy, but also fear.
When Lucia, our firstborn, arrived, I was rejoicing, to be sure, but like those shepherds, I was sore afraid.
What do I do? What will this child need? What if I mess it all up?
What happens now with you? How can you tend to this Child, when you are tending to… yourself and your family, Caesar and taxes, fear and uncertainty, anxiety and shame, cancer, COVID, cancellation, and everything else you’ve brought here tonight.
How will you tend to this Child, whom the shepherds find wrapped in swaddling cloths?
It’s the same answer as with any baby. Just give him what He wants.
Give Him your sins.
Give Him your shame.
Give Him your fear.
Give Him your frustration.
Give Him your life.
Give Him your death.
Do not gift-wrap them in excuses or explanations. This is what the Baby wants. And this is why He came: to be your Savior.
It is He who has come to tend you. He has come to live as you live; to make right what we have made wrong; to get dirty and smelly like those shepherds who first came to see Him.
Perhaps, like the Shepherds, you got the good tidings and the great joy early. Maybe you are like the Magi and have come from far off. But you are somewhere inside that phrase “all the people.”
From the manger onward He lived for you. And at His cross, He died for you. He has traded his swaddling clothes and wrapped Himself in your sins. And He has left them all behind Him in the grave.
As all parents realize when a child is born unto them, everything is different now. Your life and your death, your hope and your joy, your peace and your righteousness, have all been made manifest.
Unto you is given this night, in the City of Boston a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And you shall find Him wrapped in bread and wine, lying on the altar.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.