Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on Christmas Eve, 12/24/2022. The service was broadcast live on the FLC youtube channel at 7pm. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: ChristmasEve Bulletin

The texts for the sermon were the day’s lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Nativity of Our Lord (Midnight), click here. 

You might remember a scene near the beginning of A Charlie Brown Christmas. In it, our hero drags himself to see Lucy in her “Psychiatric Help” stand; which really just seems to be the Christmastime version of a lemonade stand. Both forms of relief cost five cents. 

Upon arrival, Charlie Brown shares that he is in “sad shape.” After first surrendering his copay, and after Lucy finishes celebrating the sound of clinking nickels, with elation that would warm John Tetzel’s heart, Charlie Brown reveals his dilemma. 

He is, quite simply, depressed. He knows he’s supposed to be happy, but he isn’t. He knows that something is wrong. And He’s pretty sure that something is him. 

It’s at this point that Lucy becomes astonishingly perceptive. Charlie Brown is presenting with depression; but really, he is sick with fear. 

“I think we’d better pinpoint your fears,” she says. “If we can figure out what you’re afraid of, we can label it.” 

(The first Christmas marked the birth of our Lord. That Christmas marked the birth of modern psychiatry.) 

After ruling out the acute fear of: responsibility, cats, staircases, the ocean, and crossing bridges, Lucy proposes the diagnosis of pantaphobia. Which is the fear of everything. That, for Charlie Brown, pretty much sums it up. He’s more or less afraid of everything. 

But he doesn’t leave it there. He immediately connects this fear to Christmas. His complaint is that he just doesn’t understand it. And wouldn’t things be better if he did? 

It’s not just Charlie Brown who is perplexed, of course. When it comes to truly understanding, the shepherds don’t quite get it either. After all, they’d never heard of a Christmas before. 

Theirs is a hard world; one of darkness and cold; and wolves and thankless sheep; of long, sleepless nights, pondering the same black sky. Until,  

[Lo], the angel of the Lord came upon them,

 and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:

and they were sore afraid.

If we are pinpointing their fears so we can label them, this one isn’t too difficult. The shepherds are suffering from doxaphobia. What they fear is glory, and the light by which glory shines round about them. 

There is good reason for this, of course. God’s glory, and God’s light – these things are so alien, so powerful, so bright, and so strange, that even men like Isaiah simply come undone when exposed to them. 

The scariest thing about God’s glory is that it is His and not yours; an imbalance that places you in great danger. It’s why the first part of every angel’s message in Luke’s Gospel is to not be afraid. 

[For] the angel said unto them,

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

“That,” Linus explains to Charlie Brown, “is what Christmas is all about.” It is good tidings. It is great joy. But only because the Child is born unto you. For unto you is born, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 

Like the reign of Caesar Augustus, and all the carefully counted years you heard in the Christmas Proclamation, the birth of Jesus is a matter of historical fact. But that is not sufficient. It is not enough to know that Jesus was born. The thrust of the angel’s proclamation is that Jesus was born unto you. 

He has come to make Himself your family. He has come to make you His own little brothers and sisters, and fellow children of His Father. 

“All people,” includes you. Christ is born unto you. That is the good tiding. That is the great joy. That God is not some far-away, disinterested Monarch. He is yours. He is for you, and all His gifts are for you. His life, His death, His resurrection; His Baptism, His Body, His Blood, and His glory. 

In Jesus, the glory of God, so terrifying and so dangerous, is as safe to behold and to grasp as a newborn child. 

And this shall be a sign unto you;

Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

“You shall find Him,” the angel says. He is not hiding. He has marked out where He will be. Because in so many ways, He’s like every other baby. He wants to stay with you, and for you to stay with Him. He wants you to look at Him, to consider Him, to pick Him uppy, to love Him. He wants to be the center of your life, because you are the center of His. This is not a challenge or a dare. Like the birth of any child, it is the summons to a greater kind of life. 

But while the shepherds were pondering such greetings, mysteries, and invitations, they were interrupted. 

[For] suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

When the angels sing “Glory to God,” it is from a relatively safe distance. That’s what “in the highest,” means. It means the angels praise God in the heavenly realms. But what they praise Him for is the peace He brings to earth. 

So, if you are struggling to get your heart and mind into the heavenly spheres tonight, you will find a joy that is fleeting, because salvation isn’t in heaven. Christmas means that salvation has come to earth. It is here where Jesus gives Himself to you: then in the manger and on the cross, now at font, pulpit, and altar. 

The shepherds will understand this soon, when they make haste even unto Bethlehem, to see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to them. 

When they saw the Baby. When they held Him. When the smelled Him. When they beheld His glory; glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. They understood what Christmas meant, and what it was all about. Suddenly, glory didn’t seem so scary anymore. 

They could hold the glory of God in their arms, and bounce Him on their laps. Glory was now so safe and so lovely, that they could sing that glory back to God. 

And the shepherds returned,

glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen,

as it was told unto them. (Lk 2:20)

The shepherds had learned that Isaiah wasn’t only talking about other people. He was talking about them when He prophesied: 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…

In those fields they had walked in darkness, keeping watch over their flocks by night. In those lands they were abiding, dwelling; when the light shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. 

But unto them a child was born. Unto them a son was given. 

Dear Christians, Jesus is born unto you. Unto you a Son is given. This is a birth that makes you more than you were before. For now, you are brothers and sisters of the Son of God. 

If God merely wanted us to fear His glory, that was always easy enough. But on Christmas God shows that He wants to give you His glory. That glory, St. Paul tells Pastor Titus, is not to be feared, but embraced and held.  

Because the grace of God has appeared, to shepherds and to us, because the peace He brings really is for all the people; because it is for you, we await our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Merry Christmas.

First Lutheran Church Sermon Archive


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