Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
24. December 2010
“Not just another birth story”
+ IN NOMINE JESU +
Dear Christians, who doesn’t like a good story, especially one with the birth of a baby in a picturesque setting? We never seem to tire of this story of Jesus. Each Christmas, year in and year out, we hear again of the promise and fulfillment that is the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Yet, why this story and why with such fascination?
Baby stories enthrall many. The cable networks are clogged with stories of marriages, births, and burgeoning families. Women weep with joy at the birth of another child, even lived vicariously through the window glass of television. Fascinated mothers watch the Supernanny manhandle children with discipline. Young women absorb the details of wedding preparations in hope of their marriage to come.
Even if you do not watch these programs, all of us who have been blessed with children can remember the births of our children. The memories of our own progeny are etched with detail. The sounds, the smells, and the sights will never be forgotten.
Our own birth stories echo the birth of the Nazarene but probably without the same level of drama. We hear of a truly unexpected pregnancy given to a humble lady and sympathize. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies have it rough in our society. Mary probably had it worse.
We hear of the noble husband who is persuaded by an angel to do the right thing and enter into scandal with one who seems a harlot. Never mind the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, all Nazareth will still snicker under their breath.
We hear of Christ’s birth again in a lowly cattle shed. The women wonder about such a birth: no anesthesia, no bed, no stirrups, only a bed of hay, the strong hands of the betrothed, and whatever supplies the ass could carry? The men think: that had to hurt. Risk of infection? Where’s the midwife? Did Joseph even have a clue?
Its a timeless kind of story, with familiar and shocking elements. Riveting action, fascinating characters, and a dramatic denouement. No wonder we never grow tired of hearing of this birth. From Genesis to John, the narrative is woven with great skill. Critics wonder aloud how such a work could be authored by some many yet have unified narration and plot. Some even suggest that there’s some merit to a single author theory.
Of course, we hold to such a theory. There is but one author, the Holy Spirit. The Father and the Son sends the Spirit to tell his story from the beginning of time to the dramatic finale on the last day. The Spirit inspires the authors to tell the greatest story ever told, the only story that really matters. The Spirit tells the kind of story that’s equal parts familiar and amazing.
Moses speaks with Spirit utterance of the offspring who would crush the serpent. There’s Jesus. The Seed of Mary who will slay the Dragon. The promise given in the midst of terrible woe. Adam and Eve enter into corruption, dragging all creation with them. All manner of evil, the six-feet-under, and slithering foe will haunt them all the days of their life. Life-ending consequences for breaking one little rule. Still not without promise. Jesus, the Seed, and the hero will come.
The Spirit speaks again to the anxious Abraham. The angel of the Lord says, watch for the seed, the son of the woman. Spare your son but I will not spare mine, says God. The ram in the thicket points to the lamb whose blood sets us free. Isaac is redeemed by the promised one to come.
The Lord’s Spirit spoke to comfort King Ahaz, trembling in the shadow of invasion. Don’t worry Ahaz, I give you this sign: A virgin mother bearing God himself. No ordinary son but the Son of the Most High. Amazing stuff, really. No one can see God and live. Even the burning bush was too holy for Moses’ feet. Yet, the womb of a virgin is suitable for the fullness of the Godhead to dwell, for you and your salvation.
The Spirit drops hints throughout the whole narrative of what to expect. Camels of Midian, Ephah, and all Sheba will come bearing gifts of gold and frankincense. The light of the the Lord will pierce the darkness of our mortal fears. Gates will be lifted up, the king will enter in, and people will be freed from their slavery. Crazy prophets will call out from the wilderness to make way for the Lord.
The Spirit writes the tale with deft hand. The yarn is spun and woven into a rich tapestry never before seen and never to be seen again. The Spirit told us again of the story of our savior Jesus Christ this very evening, as told by Moses, Isaiah, St. Luke, and St. John.
Why is the story of Jesus so dear to us? Why do we never tire of the baby in the manger, the scandal of Joseph, the virgin womb of Mary, the visit of shepherds, the angel Gabriel, sheep and cattle, the inn and innkeeper, and all the rest?
Christmas is our story. It’s the kind of story we could only hope for. We’re with our first mother who so desperately wanted to know that God would make things right. We’re with Eve who waited for the promised seed to crush our tormenting foe, who prowls around seeking to devour us night and day.
We’re with Abraham as he faithfully trusted the Lord’s word and heard the promise again, despite untenable circumstances. We’re with Ahaz, not wanting to test the Lord but still desperately wanting a sign, something to renew his trust and patience in trying times. We’re with Mary and Joseph who stand in shock and disbelief at the small child, somehow God with us in the flesh.
This story is not just a great tale. Its doesn’t just tug at our heart strings and warm our soul. This story is our wildest dreams come true, our unbelievable hopes fulfilled.
Deep within us is a longing for a better life. Our soul cries out for the savior of the nations to come. Our conscience is burdened by guilt and shame. Fear and foreboding mark our days. Our footsteps falter as we shuffle towards the grave. The Tempter and his minions prey on our weaknesses until we finally succumb.
Then, hope enters the world in the flesh. The hope of the patriarchs and the prophets. The hope of David and the poets. The hope of Hannah and Simeon. The hope of Elizabeth and Zechariah. The hope of Mary and her husband. The hope of Apostles and the Fathers. The hope of Luther and the Reformers. The hope of the Christian church. YOUR hope. That’s Jesus.
He is the message of the angels to the shepherds. The angel of the Lord appeared, with the glory of the only begotten son. The intensity blinded to the point of paralyzing fear. No one sees the glory of Lord and lives to tell the tale. But the angel said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all people.”
Good news! Gospel! Great joy for all people! That’s the Christmas we hope for. That’s the Christmas we know. Yet another pair of PJs won’t compare to this great gift. The news of a Christmas bonus is of no value to the news of great joy the herald angels sing.
Christmas is the beginning. The greatest story, your story of redemption, begins again. Christ is incarnate, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of virgin Mary. The shepherds quake at the sight of the angel host singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” They sing to greet the infant King holy born.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” There he is, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. There he is – a savior. Christ the Lord, in human flesh, like one of us. For you, born. For you, a savior. For you, Christ the Lord.
Soon, on Epiphany, the Magi from afar greet him with gifts fitting for a king and for burial. Our savior grows in stature and wisdom from a baby to boy and finally man. He proclaims the good news to the poor. He heals the sick and the infirm. He teaches and preaches for the coming of the kingdom. That’s Jesus, our savior.
The saving story doesn’t end there. Millennia of generations hoped for relief from the burden of their sin. The nations hoped for guilt to be removed conclusively. Every tribe and tongue wanted redemption. That’s Jesus. God in the flesh who will be for sinners slain.
Jesus is the man. He enters triumphant into Jerusalem. The Baby rides forward not to war but to death. He was died outside the city for us under Pontius Pilate, died, and was buried. That’s a savior, saving. Dying for your sin but murdering the grave. On the third day he rose again from the dead, ascending to heaven where he will judge the living and the dead. The baby Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father.
The child of God still comes to us. He gives us his bride, the holy Christian church, where will live in fellowship with all the saints. Here we are knit together as one holy communion, where he gives us the only thing needful – forgiveness of sins. The burden is lifted, the guilt is removed, the penalty forgotten. Good news, Gospel, great joy! We are made again holy and righteous in his own shed blood. His blood shed for you for forgiveness of sins.
Who doesn’t like a good story? How about the best story ever? How about the story that answers every fear and comforts every conscience? That’s Christmas. Jesus is the Christ. He is the Lord. He is our Savior. He’s the dramatic finale to your story. He’s the best thing coming. It’s all downhill with him, running towards heaven. Forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. For you. All from a baby, begotten of God and born of Mary. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +