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.
But as we gather again on this Christmas morning, St. John gives us the behind-the-scenes look at the Nativity. He leaves the Nativity to St. Luke so that he can explain why that event matters at all. It matters because, as John shows throughout his Gospel, there is more than meets the eye. The world sees an impoverished couple giving birth in a barn. Faith sees God in flesh, dwelling among His people.
That is what Christmas is all about. Christmas continues to show how deep God’s love is for His people. It was first on display at the Fall. God promised a Savior, One who would destroy the devil and all that he had done to put an end to the goodness of creation. That love continued on through the Prophets as they called the world to repentance, promising them forgiveness through the coming Messiah. Then at the Annunciation the Word took on flesh, the Uncreated became created, Love became incarnate. Because God was joined to man, man was reunited with God. In that little Baby, wrapped in scraps of cloth and lying in a manger, is infinite God, the Creator of heaven and earth.
This is a great mystery. How can Jesus be fully man and fully God? How can He have the limitless power of God, yet refrain from using it? Our minds can never comprehend the “how,” so instead we must focus on the “why” and “what does this mean.”
The “why” is quite simple. God has made it abundantly clear that He does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that we all turn from our evil ways and live. But He knows that as long as we live here on earth we can never be free from sin. So we need One to bear our sin and be our Savior. And the only One who can fill both needs must be fully God and fully man. Only one of flesh and blood can bear our sin, can shed the blood that the Law demands. Only one who is God can declare us free of all sin. God, in Jesus Christ, took on flesh and blood and gave the same up as a sacrifice, as a fragrant offering pleasing to God. He took up His life again, defeating sin, death, and the devil, and gives His life and His righteousness to you. He gives you His perfect life, His death in your place, and His resurrection from the dead. Because Jesus Christ is your Savior, is fully God and fully man, you have a hope, a comfort, a promise that where He has come from and has returned to, you also will go.
What does this mean? What does this mean for Christmas, for your daily life? It means that everything is different. Everything is the opposite of how it looks to the dim eyes of this world. The world sees a helpless baby, a weak God; the world sees Christians who look like they have awful lives and atheists who are filled with joy and blessings. But Christmas means that is all backwards. To as many who have received Christ, who have saving faith created in them by His Word, who have been made partakers of His life, death, and resurrection by Holy Baptism, they are the sons of God. You, dear Christian, have an inheritance that is more than stables and hay, silver and gold. You have an inheritance that cannot spoil, that will not perish. You have the promise that heaven is yours, that this world is only temporary, and that the greatest joys imaginable await you.
This is what Christmas is all about. God is your brother. Jesus Christ wears your flesh. You have nothing to fear! That Baby in the manger is proof that God loves you. That Man on the cross is proof that God loves you. That bread and wine that will give the forgiving and strengthening Body and Blood of Jesus is proof that God loves you. Christmas is another day that proves just how much God loves you. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son for you. That birth is what all history—sacred and secular—waited for, and the reason all history marches on. You can leave this place today knowing that because Jesus Christ was born for you, born to save, you know what comes at the end of time: eternity with the Babe of Bethlehem, the Man of Calvary, the risen Christ of the empty tomb, and the God who will draw you to Himself.
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.