Monday, December 26, 2022

Hidden and revealed. . .

Sermon for Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols, preached on the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord, December 24, 2022.

The Christmas story begins with a king – Caesar Augustus.  But he is no real king – only a pretender to a throne that is not worth the trouble.  Hidden in the Christmas story is the true King – the King who would give up His only Son to be our Savior and Redeemer.  This King forgives instead condemns and pays the very cost of that forgiveness with the precious treasure of His own Son’s blood.  It may seem that Caesar is the one calling the shots – ordering the census and then requiring the people to register in their own home town.  But his words merely echo the promise of God through the prophets – so clear that even the temple authorities knew where to direct the Magi looking for Him who is born King of the Jews.  Nobody saw it coming except the Holy Spirit and those to whom the Spirit gave eyes of faith – like you and me.

A pretend King and now an impossible birth begins the story.  A virgin conceives and gives birth.  Who would have expected that?  Only those who knew and believed Isaiah.  She gives birth to the Son of God in our flesh and blood.  It is more than a miracle that God can fit in the womb of a Virgin or that He can fit in any human flesh and blood. But God hid His glory in the face of a child and delivered Him up to be the Savior and Redeemer of the whole world.

The night shone with the brightness of the One, True, Light.  Was it a wasted miracle.  Who was there to see, to witness, and to announce what God had done?  Only the Virgin Mother, Joseph the Guardian Father, and a few angels and shepherds.  We would have orchestrated a big splash but the God who comes not in thunder or lightening but in the still small voice would have done it exactly as He did.  God cloaks His kindness in the frame of humility and nothing is more humble than a dark night, a stable’s smell, a manger’s support, and some stars from heaven who come down to sing a lullaby to the Baby Jesus.

Why shepherds?  Shepherds were not exactly high up on the social ladder and their witness would not exactly have held much sway in the esteem of society.  But who better to welcome the Good Shepherd who is born to fulfill Ezekiel’s promise than shepherds who know what it is like to handle stubborn, unruly, and rebellious sheep.  The appearance of angels gave a hint of God’s power but to a very small and humble audience.  Nobody in Bethlehem noticed them or Jesus.
Oddly enough, their announcement to the shepherds promised great joy for all the people.  Was it hyperbole given the humble setting?  Maybe not.  After all, the angels did not promise that the world would be better, lives would be better, people would be happy, healthy, and wise.  They promised great joy that was not just for the chosen but was for all the people of the world.

The end of it hits on the humility – A Savior, Christ the Lord, is born, and you will find Him not in a palace but in a stable, not in a royal bed but in a manger.  There were probably other babies born on that Christmas Eve so long ago but they had houses and families to surround them.  The shepherds would find the Baby whom the angel’s announced not in a house but in a stable, lying not in comfortable bed but in a manger.   This miracle of God’s grace is hidden in humility that makes it easy to miss what God was doing then and now.

That is always the way it is.  In fact, Jesus, later in His ministry, says so.  “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and powerful and revealed them to children.”  Christmas has always been for children or those who would surrender their pride, arrogance, and self-importance to meet God where God has promised to be found.  It is true on Sunday morning as well.  God hides Himself in the obvious but surprise of water that washes us clean, of absolution that declares forgiveness on heaven and on earth, and of bread and wine that tastes of heaven with Christ’s body and blood hidden under these earthly forms.

Indeed, the manger is always the key.  You have to know where Jesus is to find Him there and you have to listen to God’s Word to know where to find Him.  It is this miracle that we stand in awe of tonight.  Not a story with pleasant details or a curious plot twist but the God who reveals Himself through His Word so that we might meet Him in the mercy of His Son, our Savior.  You think that you need to find God but God has never been lost.  Hidden, yes, but never lost. And God has always announced where He has hidden Himself – from the parting of the waters to the burning bush to the prophets who said “Thus saith the Lord.”

Now God continues to do what He has always done.  He tells you where He has hidden Himself so that you can find Him where He has promised to be.  Maybe your family hides the presents for you to find but not God.  God announces where He placed the richest treasure and greatest gift of all.  In Christ’s flesh.

In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old through the prophets but NOW He has spoken through His Son.  If you are wise, you will give up your well-intended but dead end attempts to find God and let God announce Himself and reveal Himself.  If you are wise, you will surrender your pride and hear and heed the sound of God’s voice in His Word.  If you are wise, you will show forth repentance and its fruits.  If you are wise, you will open your eyes to the Savior hidden in baptismal water and in Eucharistic bread and wine.  If you are wise, you will meet the Lord not where you want Him to be but where He has promised to be.

There you will discover the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the Savior who dies for the sins of His people and the Lord of death who offers to you the life death cannot overcome.  There you will meet the Lord not in sentiment to tear up the eye but in power to end the reign of sin, overcome the deceit of the devil, and release us from the punishment of death.  There you will learn of great joy that no circumstance of life can steal and of contentment worth so much more than happiness.  There you will find the God who comes not for the good or the holy or the rich or the powerful but for sinners to redeem and for the dying to give life and for the troubled to enjoy peace that passes understanding.

My friends, tonight is God’s invitation.  It is the night that cries out to the lonely and forgotten, to the troubled and sorrowful, and to the lost and afraid.  God meets you where you are but He will not leave you there.  He brings you family and community, the welcome of your truest friend, where there is hope and joy, where there is home and peace.  That place is here.  As you are gathered around the Word of the Lord.  As you sing the lovely carols of old.  As you hear the story of the ages.  As you meet God where He has always been and will always be – in His Word, in the face of His Son, in the cross where forgiveness was accomplished, and in the empty tomb where your hope of eternal life lives.

You need to look in the right manger.  God tells us where that is.  You need to look for the right Child.  God shows us who His Son is by what His Son has accomplished for us.  Your value lies not in you or in others around you;  your value lies in the God who gives His only Son to be born in flesh, die for your sins, and rise to give you eternal life.  This is the joy meant for all the people and this is your joy tonight.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen. 

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