December 24, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Did you know that the most popular Christmas song wasn’t actually written for Christmas? Joy to the World was originally written as a hymn about the Last Day. Joy to the world, the Lord is come in the same way the disciples saw Him depart—in clouds and great glory. Joy the world, the Lord is come to judge the quick and the dead. The tune that we all know so well echoes the notes of Handel’s Messiah, which is perhaps what gave it that Christmas feel.
But it’s a good thing, as we remember that Jesus came as a baby in Bethlehem two millennia ago, to also remember that He will come again. It’s a good thing to remember that Christmas isn’t just a nice story from history, but a story that’s still unfolding. And we are part of that story—even more so than the children taking part in telling the story tonight.
St. Paul summarizes this in his letter to a pastor named Titus: For the saving grace of God appeared to all people, training us, in order that we reject ungodliness and worldly desires, and live in a self-controlled, righteous, and godly manner in this age, as we look forward to the blessed hope and the appearance of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself on our behalf in order to redeem us from every lawless deed and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
The first reason Jesus came was to be a teacher. He teaches the fullness of God’s Law—not just outward reform of the body, but also an inward reform of the heart. He expects all people not only to do good, but to reject ungodliness and worldly desires, to live self-controlled, righteously, and godly. And He didn’t just talk the talk; He walked the walk. He lived a life of humility, beginning with His humble birth, as you’ve heard this evening. He lived a life of service to His neighbors, for the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.
Christ came into this world to train you for life in this age. You can look to His example to see what this looks like. It doesn’t stop with serving your friends and doing good things for people you like. It also means loving your enemies, praying for your persecutors. It means going the way of the cross. It means when people say horrible things about you, keeping your mouth shut. It means suffering for the sake of the name of Jesus. It means being willing to say of your enemies, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
But I know most of you well enough to know that the lessons of Jesus have not stuck. You still speak evil not only of your enemies, but also of your friends and your family. And you repay evil for evil. You live according to your own desires and don’t reject them. You think your life is godly because you come to church and present yourself as a Christian, but the old sin still drags you down into the muck of sin. You live as if your hope is that Christ would not return, that He would remain safely as a nice story of history to give you some holiday cheer once a year, while the rest of your life belongs to you.
No more let sin and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground / He comes to make His blessings flow / Far as the curse is found. If Jesus only came as an example of how to live a godly life, then there would be no blessed hope to look forward to. Thorns still infest the ground in this age, and the curse of sin still death. But Christ came as a baby two millennia ago to be more than a teacher and an example of godly living; we could never hope to match the example of the Son of God.
Jesus also came to be the Christmas gift. His appearance in Bethlehem’s manger was the appearance of the saving grace of God, because He is our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself on our behalf in order to redeem us from every lawless deed. The shed blood of Christ Jesus is a currency more that can purchase more than your life’s savings of work. For Jesus was born to be your Lord, to purchase you from all sins, from death, and from the devil’s power, something that gold or silver or cash money could never do. So He gave His own life, He shed His own blood. And the blood that Christ shed cleanses us from all sin.
Martin Luther wrote in his preface to the Old Testament, Here [in the Scriptures] you will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds. Simple and lowly are these swaddling cloths, but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them (AE 35). In a sense, Jesus is born anew every time God’s Word is read and proclaimed, as the Christmas carol sings: be born in us today. Jesus was once born here below so that we could obtain a birth from above. The new creation that is from Christ and the Holy Spirit does something that Jesus’ example could never do. It give the zeal for good works, the works of God. And the work of God is this: to believe on Jesus Christ, whom God has sent.
It is this faith that raises you from the muck of sin and lifts your eyes heavenward. This is the faith that gives you hope to look forward to His return, to await the promised redemption. This is the Christmas joy that is yours today.
The World’s Joy Is Christ’s Return
In the name of + Jesus.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard