Why is it that the greatest outpouring of visual art and music the Church and the world have seen is centered on the three greatest events in the life of Christ? Because all of human history was changed when the Word was made flesh, when that flesh died, and when that flesh rose. How was human history changed? Proof was given that God’s promise was true, that He would not destroy His creation, but would redeem it.
The seventeenth-century Lutheran Pastor Paul Gerhardt sums it up perfectly in this stanza:
If our blessed Lord and Maker
Hated men, Would He then
Be of flesh partaker?
If He in our woe delighted,
Would He bear All the care
Of our race benighted? (TLH 77:5)
These three moments that changed the world are proof positive that God loves His children, that He will not forsake them, and that He will undo the destruction sin has wrought.
But while we rightly give Holy Week and Easter the greatest focus as the time when Jesus dealt the defeating blow to sin, death, and the devil, we must not do that at the expense of Christmas. We cannot preach Christ crucified unless we preach Christ in the flesh. God, as a Spirit, cannot die. He can only die when He takes on flesh. To do away with the primal curse, God has to have blood so that He can shed it to atone for sin. God’s perfect and holy Law made it clear: perfect blood had to be spilled for there to be forgiveness. So, every Word of the Old Testament made the Incarnation necessary, made Christmas necessary, made Good Friday necessary, made Easter necessary. If God simply zapped us forgiven, He would make Himself a liar because there would be no shedding of blood, and we would still be in our sin. This shows us that God intentionally set up our salvation to be difficult for Him to do. He did not establish it as something cheap or forgettable. He made it costly, far more expensive than all the precious metals and precious stones this world holds. God established your salvation at the price of Himself.
Herein is proof that God does not and cannot hate this world, that He cannot forsake this creation. He has given up His own Son, His very life, to redeem it. This is the depth of God’s love, and it is seen at Christmas, as the Incarnation, God’s taking on of human flesh, is made visible. What was hidden in Mary’s womb for nine months became visible this morning some 2,000 years ago. The One whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord appeared. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, His own, even though we did not receive Him.
At this, the whole world rejoices with joy that cannot be silenced. Artists have painted and sculpted and sketched. Musicians have composed in carefully selected notes and phrases and dynamics. Poets have penned measured words. All of these eager to add to that angelic choir, to attempt to capture in word and note and paint exactly what it is God has done for us. This depth of love, this great mystery has inspired men and women of each generation to an outpouring of thanksgiving.
And we today add our voices to that timeless choir. As we raise our alleluias and give voice to that thanks, we acknowledge the God who has freed us from sin, death, and the devil. He promises us heavenly glory with Him. He says to those who weep that He will guide you where no cross, pain, or loss can betide you. He says to those heavy-hearted over their sin that He is mighty to save and to heal, to take that sin away. He says to those who suffer want and anxiety that He gives riches without measure. He says all of this to you because He cannot possibly hate His creation, proof of which is found in His incarnation and His lowly birth.
Because of Christmas you have a God who sympathizes with your weakness. He knows your temptations, your sorrows, your agonies. He bears them with you. He knows how they sting because He endured them as well. This is the comfort and joy of having a God who is in your flesh. He has been and is in the trenches with you. So when He, in His omniscience, sees your pain, He weeps with you and He stoops low to heal and to comfort, to strengthen and to cheer.
These tidings of comfort and joy are for all the world, just as the angels sang: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. The gifts Christ has come to bring are forgiveness, eternal life, and strength in this world. These He comes to give to everyone, to give all cause for rejoicing. There is no one He can or will forsake. No one is too sinful or too evil to be forgiven, to be adopted into His family, to be given His help in time of trouble. In a world where discrimination is all too prevalent, our God does not discriminate. He gives His forgiveness and salvation freely to all.
This is why Christmas cannot be contained. The trajectory of humanity was permanently altered on this day. No more are we doomed to eternal agony, but we are destined for the courts of heaven. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, bore our sin and shame, adopted us into His family, and will receive us into His eternal glory.
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.