Sermon for Christmas Eve 2006
“The Lord Comes to His Temple: The Temple of God is Born” (Luke 2:10-18)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On this holy night and in this holy place we are blessed to join the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven to be in the gracious Presence of the LORD God Almighty and to celebrate the moment when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born...the moment when the Incarnate God came forth from his mother's womb. Celebrations like this are taking place all over the world tonight...just like the celebration of that little congregation assembled around a manger's guest in the little town of Bethlehem. The Birth of our Redeemer has happened. The Temple of God is born.
Now this may sound a bit strange. We think of a temple as being something that is built, not born. Solomon built the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem based upon God's design revealed in His Word. Though Solomon's Temple was destroyed, it was replaced by another that took forty-six years to build, (John 2:20) and that one was eventually destroyed, too. Those are temples were fashioned from stone, wood, and fabric by human hands according to the God's design and in which was the Presence of the Lord in cloud and fire and glory.
But the “temple” that was born in the City of David is the Son of God and the Son of Man. At the moment of His conception, the divine and human natures came together, never to be separated again. The Temple of God was, at that instant, a single cell...very God of very God and also true man. Nine months later the Temple of God was born. In that Temple the whole fullness of God dwells bodily. (Colossians 2:9) Bethlehem's Babe is God Incarnate...Immanuel...God with us.
Take a look, for a moment, at this tiny infant in the manger. Do you love Him? Of course, you do. Who doesn't love a baby...especially this one? But do you love Him above all others...more than mommy or daddy?...more than husband or wife?...more than son or daughter?...more than you love yourself? Not likely.
Do you trust Him? Well, what does that mean? How does one trust a newborn infant? What is a tiny baby capable of doing that would cause anyone to trust Him? Still the question remains, Do you trust Him above all others? Again, not likely.
Do you fear Him? Don't be silly, right? No one is afraid of a baby. A baby can't hurt anyone. But you were not asked if you were afraid of Him. You were asked whether or not you fear Him.
You see, this is First Commandment stuff. And if this Baby "is Christ the Lord"...and He is!...then He is God Who is the great "I AM" before Abraham was born. He is God Who bent down and wrote with His finger on tablets of stone on Mt. Sinai, "I AM the LORD your God ... You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:2-3) What does this mean concerning this "Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger"? Answer: You should fear, love and trust in Him above all things. That's what Martin Luther said in the Small Catechism. Here's what he said in the Large Catechism: "The meaning is: 'See to it that you let me alone be your God, and never seek another.' In other words: 'Whatever good thing you lack, look to Me for it and seek it from Me, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, come and cling to me. I am the One Who will satisfy you and help you out of every need. Only let your heart cling to no one else." The purpose of the First Commandment is to require true faith and confidence of the heart, and these fly straight to the one true God and cling to Him alone.
Now we feel uncomfortable. We know that our hearts have not always clung to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our words and deeds have only produced fruit that comes from such unclean hearts. What are we going to do with this Temple of God recently born and now sleeping in a manger? Is He a threat? King Herod thought so and sought to kill him. Or is the Christmas Jesus a manageable threat...a Baby Who is kept at arm's length, approached on the first day of Christmas, and then left in His cradle in the same way as we pack away our Nativity Sets and Christmas decorations until next year?
The Babe held in the arms of Mary and entrusted to the care of Joseph is the Temple of God. When you stand before his manger, you are standing in the very presence of the Lord God Almighty. When people realize this, they wonder what this means. Why was He conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary? What has He come to do?
Well, boys and girls...the Lord has NOT come to put check marks on the blackboard behind your name every time you've been bad, or to find out if you've been naughty or nice. Listen up, young people...the advent of the One True God in Bethlehem did not come to be a dictator that requires you to wear a "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet. Now hear this, grown-ups, the Lord God Almighty was not born in order to give you eleven steps to God-pleasing parenting, or nine ways to be a good spouse, or ten Christian things to do when you're retired. In short, the Incarnation of the Son of God was not to help you become a good person...or even a better person.
Listen to the Christmas Angel announce to the shepherds the reason for the Incarnation: "Fear not, for behold, I bring you Good News of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Christ the Lord was born to be the Savior of the world. He came to save you from yourself and your sins. He came because you were naughty...because you have, every day, broken His Commandments...because you have not been a God-pleasing parent, or because you've not been a good spouse, or because your retirement years are filled with sloth and pride and complacency or complaint.
His name is Jesus, which means "Savior." That's what God came to do. He was also
circumcised on the eighth day and shed His first Blood in fulfilling the Law. At the Jordan River, Jesus touched the water of the world and sanctified its use in baptizing infant, elderly, and all nations in between, doing so in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He was tempted as we are, yet without sin, and defeated the devil. He prepares His Table before us, even in the midst of this fallen world, and this manna from above feeds His own with His very Body born of Mary...He is the good wine of the wedding feast and His sin-atoning blood shed on the cross is given for you for the remission of sins. And knowing that all was finished, Jesus died that we might live. And don't forget what He said about himself: "Destroy this Temple and I will raise it again in three days,” which is exactly occurred on Easter morning.
All of this is to say that the Son of God became man, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born without sin, that He might become Lord over sin. He suffered, died, and was buried that He might make satisfaction for you and pay what you owed, not with silver and gold but with His own precious blood. All this in order to become your Lord. For He did none of these things for Himself, nor had He any need of them. He did it all for you. Afterward He rose again from the dead, swallowed up and devoured death, and finally ascended into heaven and assumed dominion at the right hand of the Father. The devil and all powers, therefore, must be subject to Him and lie beneath His feet until finally, at the last day, He will completely divide and separate His Church from the wicked world, the devil, death, and sin.
Until that Day, the LORD calls his undershepherds to announce forgiveness in the name of the Triune God, and to proclaim that where there is forgiveness of sins there is also eternal life and salvation. Each pastor is called to take heed to himself and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made him a guardian, "to feed the church of the Lord which He obtained with His own Blood.” (Acts 20:28)
What joy for God's messengers to declare the wonder of this Good News, both heavenly and earthly. Heaven's angels marvel at the Incarnation and proclaim their divine hymn of "Glory to God in the Highest.” The heralding angels wonder as they “long to look” into these things (1 Peter 1:12) from high above the manger and far beyond the star that announced the Birth of the Temple in Bethlehem. And faithful shepherds make haste to go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened. Later these men returned to their flocks and their vocation as shepherds. As they have opportunity, they tell the Good News of the Savior's Birth. Those who hear this Word of joy to the world and ponder it will be found in Christ; that is, in ... the Temple of God.