Christmas is one of the holidays that elicits a lot of emotion. Bing Crosby croons about the white Christmases he used to know. Elvis sings about his “blue Christmas without you.” A little closer to home, Brian d’Arcy James sings his desire for a “Michigan Christmas, with Michigan snow on the Saginaw trees.” And we’re bombarded with images of the perfect Christmas, a picture print by Currier and Ives of a family filling a church pew, kids rushing down the stairs to see what presents await them, the happy family sitting around the table with the soft glow of candlelight. But then there’s reality. We only had a 50/50 shot of getting a white Christmas this year, and it didn’t come true. Many of us are celebrating blue Christmases without loved ones by our side because of death or any number of family changes. And while all of us here are getting the “Michigan Christmas,” not all of us want to be in Michigan. Some of you have family miles and time zones away other states, maybe even deployed by the military, and everyone will home for Christmas, but only in their dreams. Light and darkness. Good and bad. Happiness and sadness. As St. John begins to explain the mystery of Christmas he uses that theme. Christ, the Light of the World comes to scatter the darkness. What does that mean for you and me, people who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death?
In the year 5,199 from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created heaven and earth;
In the year 2,957 from the Flood;
In the year 2,015 from the birth of Abraham;
In the year 1,510 from Moses and the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt;
In the year 1,032 from David’s being anointed king;
In the sixty-fifth week of years according to the prophecy of Daniel;
In the 194th Olympiad;
In the year 752 from the building of the city of Rome;
In the 42nd year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
The whole world being in peace;
In the sixth age of the world;
Jesus Christ, the eternal God, and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify this world by His most merciful coming, being conceived of the Holy Ghost, and nine months since His conception having passed, in Bethlehem of Juda is born of the Virgin Mary, being made man.
The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
In what we have just heard, both Scriptural and secular history find their apex in the birth of Jesus Christ. At His birth, eternal Word was made flesh and bone so we could be restored. Last night St. Luke gave us the details. He gives us the Nativity Scene, the picturesque tableau of Joseph staring into the Bethlehem night, guarding his fiancée and step-son, Mary’s eyes closed in serene prayer, and the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay while shepherds gaze in awe.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.