Friday, December 24, 2010

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2010

Wordle: Untitled

“To Us!” (Isaiah 9:6)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate tonight.

If you were with us during our midweek Advent services, you know our theme this year has been “Christmas Gifts in Advent.” The gifts we talked about were based on the names of the candles of the Advent wreath … the gift of Love, the gift of Hope, the gift of Joy, and the gift of Peace. Tonight, another candle was placed in the center of the Advent Wreath. This one is called the Christ Candle. All the aforementioned gifts flow from this greatest of gifts … from Christ Jesus himself.

Now let me ask you this: Have you done any snooping yet? Come on. Admit it. I know you have. Snooping around the Christmas tree is always fun and thrilling: getting down on your hands and knees, crawling under and around the Christmas tree, reaching back to those presents that are way in the back, trying to get a glimpse of the tag on each present to see who it's for … to see how many presents you have under the tree. You know those little tags ... the ones that say "To:" and then right below it "From:" with space to write the appropriate names.

God's Old Testament people had to do some snooping. Over the years, God gave glimpses of his plan along the way ... kind of like those of you who try to peel back a corner of the wrapping on your Christmas presents to see if you could figure out what's inside. So they had to kind of snoop around to figure out what God was really trying to do. They knew that he was going to do something great, that he was going to send a Savior. But exactly how this would all play out … well, that was not quite crystal clear … not yet.

God gave the prophet Isaiah a message to give to the people of Israel, and to all people, for that matter. His message was a hint about a gift that God would give in the future ... about 700 years from the time Isaiah first spoke and wrote these words: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6)

This gift was not wrapped in colorful wrapping. It was wrapped in strips of cloth. This gift was not under a Christmas tree. It was laid in a bed of hay. This gift had no tag on it. But if it did, this is what it would say: “To: Us … From: God the Father.”

The angel said a similar thing to the shepherds: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) That makes it even more personal, doesn't it? “To: You!” If the Baby Jesus had a gift label, it would have your name on it.

This gift was not just for Mary, even though it was certainly for her, and she dearly loved Jesus. This gift was not just for Joseph, even though it was certainly for him, too ... and he loved Jesus and raised him as if he was his very own child. This gift was not just for the shepherds, to whom God came in a special way to announce the birth of the baby. This gift is not just to be looked as simply a precious little baby. This gift is not just to be held gently, but then put away and forgotten, like a fragile Nativity Set that gets packed away soon after Christmas, and then forgotten about until the following December. This gift is not just to be stashed away in the closet, like a new toy you get for Christmas, but one you get bored with after a few weeks.

This gift is for you ... to be held ... to be cherished and adored ... not just tonight and tomorrow, but for a lifetime. Mary's example from our Gospel lesson is a good one to follow: “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

According to Isaiah, this gift was given to us to be our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace.

This Baby is our Wonderful Counselor. His birth was most certainly wonderful. It was miraculous, being born of a Virgin.

He is our Counselor. His wise words are recorded in the Bible, and those who heard him were amazed. After the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Matthew records, When Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching (Matt. 7:28). Jesus’ words were not just for the people who heard him at that time. They are for us, today, too, to teach us to call upon our Wonderful Counselor in every difficulty of body and soul. Even today He guides and directs us through his Word.

This Baby is our Mighty God. Jesus is God in the Flesh, True God and True Man in One Person. He had to be True Man in order to act in our place under God's Law and fulfill it for us as our substitute. He also had to be true Man to be able to suffer and die for our guilt because you and I have failed to obey God's commandments.

Jesus had to be True God in order for his death to be sufficient to pay the price for the sins of all people. And he had to be True God so that he might be able to overcome death and the devil for us ... which he did when he rose to life again that first Easter morning.

And now, as our Risen Lord, Jesus rules and reigns for our good. He is in control … even when things seem to be out of control. He is God Almighty. The government is truly upon his shoulders because he has absolute and unlimited power over all things. Even there in the manger, Jesus was in complete possession of all power and authority. To look at him it may not have seemed so. The naked eye saw only a frail newborn. The eye of faith saw God become Man. Jesus didn't always fully use or reveal his divine power when he lived here in the flesh. But he did on occasion, when it fit into his divine purposes and plan as the Savior. He healed people of their diseases. He changed water into wine. He calmed stormy seas. He walked on water. He raised people from the dead. And he himself rose to life again.

This Baby is our Everlasting Father. Now, this does not mean that he is identical with God the Father. We confess that God is Triune. God is Three-in-One and One-in Three ... not three Gods, but three persons ... Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. .. all equally divine, yet there is but One God. This is what the Bible teaches. We’re not asked to understand it … just to believe it and confess it. Calling this Baby "Everlasting Father," then, describes his character. His love for us is like that of a father. He has tender concern for all that he has created with a care that surpasses all understanding. His faithfulness surrounds all who trust in him.

And his love is everlasting. He promises that he will not take his love away from us, as St. Paul says in Romans 8, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)

And, lastly, Isaiah says that this Baby is our Prince of Peace. Through his death on the cross, he has restored a right relationship between God and man. Apart from him, there is a barrier between us and God. It’s called sin. It’s a barrier that has existed ever since Adam and Eve first disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. But because Jesus took our sins upon himself at the cross, that barrier is removed. St. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 2, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has … broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility … And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we … have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph. 2:13-18)

This is not peace between nations. It’s not peace between people who have been at odds. It’s a peace that has been made between us and God … and it’s all God’s doing. It’s a gift. We receive this gift of peace when we receive the gift of Jesus as our Savior. And then, this will have an effect on worldly peace. When we gladly receive God's love and forgiveness in Christ, we are empowered to love and forgive those who have sinned against us and live at peace with them. And we can pray that God would indeed bring worldly peace ... a lasting peace ... a true peace that comes not through simply laying down our guns and waving a white flag, but through faith in Jesus Christ as the only way to truly be at peace with God and with each other.

You don't need to go snooping around for this gift. The people of the Old Testament had to do a little bit of snooping to figure out God's plan ... like peeling back a comer of the wrapping on your presents to figure out what’s inside. But now, we don't need to do any snooping to figure out what this gift is and who it’s for. It’s in plain view ... revealed in God's Word through the mouth of the prophet some 700 years before Christ ... revealed to the Shepherds on the hillside through the choir of angels … revealed to the Wise Men as they followed the star to Bethlehem … revealed in God's Word through the pen of the Gospel writer Luke.

The gift foretold in the Old Testament and fully revealed in the New is, as St. Paul calls it, “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (Col. 1:26) … that is, to his holy people … not holy in and of themselves, but holy because they have been declared to be so through the shed blood of Christ.

We don't need to do any snooping anymore. The gift is “To Us!” The gift is “To Y ou!” Your name is on the tag. Cherish the gift. Trust in the gift. Receive the Baby in the Manger as your Wonderful Counselor, your Mighty God, your Everlasting Father, your Prince of Peace.


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