When sin entered into the world through Adam and Eve, God said to the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” In this first Gospel promise, God said that a descendent of Eve would defeat the devil.
During our mid-week Advent services we considered how God brought this promise to fulfillment using unexpected means. He used the elderly and barren Sarah. He used the virgin Mary. Yahweh worked throughout the history of Israel in order to narrow the focus of who this descendant of Eve would be.
God called Abraham and said that in him all nations would be blessed. He extended this promise to his sons Isaac and Jacob. Jacob, whom God called Israel, became the source of the nation Israel. At the end of his life when Jacob blessed his sons, Yahweh indicated that that the tribe of Judah would be the one through whom he would work.
Then Yahweh chose David from the tribe of Judah to be king over Israel. He sent the prophet Nathan to announce about David’s son Solomon: “I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.”
Yahweh promised that a descendant of David would be the Messiah – the One who would rescue God’s people. We hear about this One in our Old Testament lesson tonight: “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. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
In the midst of this lofty rhetoric there are some puzzling descriptions. This child will rule on the throne of David, so naturally we assume that he is a descendant of King David – a human being. Yet he is also called “Mighty God, Everlasting Father.” This is language that is jarring. It does not fit with what otherwise seems to be a description of a person.
From the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke we can understand how the language of Isaiah is true. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, the child carried by Mary is more than a human being, without ceasing to be one. The child is the Son of God. He is also human. He is true God and true man at the same time.
Because Joseph has taken the child to be his own, this one is also now included in the line of King David. He is therefore a son of David. He is the Christ – the Messiah – who fulfills God’s promises about the One who will bring his end time salvation.
So many years had passed as God guided the circumstances that would fulfill the promise he made at the Fall. But now the moment had finally arrived for this child to be born. The culmination of all of God’s work in salvation history was about to take place. This was the most important thing that had ever happened in human history. This was news that had to be shared.
We hear about that announcement in our Gospel lesson. We are told, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” The announcement about the birth of the One who is the Savior and the Christ is not made to the Sanhedrin, to the Jewish leaders from the Pharisees and Sadducees. It is not announced in Jerusalem at the temple to the crowds that worshipped there. It’s not announced to the Roman governor who represented the Emperor and the Roman Empire.
Instead, it is announced to shepherds living out in the open with their animals. These men were not socially important. They were not powerful. They were not well known. They were nobodies.
Yet an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. The night sky was lit with the perceptible presence of God as an angel appeared to them and said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of 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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
These were startling and frightening events. Yet the angel told the shepherds not to fear. The reason was that he had come to share good news of great joy – good news that was for all people. The news was this: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” He announced that in Bethlehem, the city of David’s origin, a Savior had been born. This Savior was the Christ – the Messiah – promised by God in the Old Testament. He was also the Lord, a term which in the Greek Old Testament was used to translate the name of God, Yahweh. Though the shepherds could not comprehend the full significance of this, we recognize that as true God Jesus is the Lord.
A baby in Bethlehem was rather vague. So the angel added, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Swaddling clothes were the typical treatment provided to newborn babies. But a manger – a feeding trough for animals – was not. This was the sign that would identify the child for them, because it was so unusual.
After the angel had said this, he was suddenly joined by an army of angels who praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” They announced that God was to be glorified to the highest degree because of what he was doing through this child. He was giving peace on earth by showing his favor in Christ.
When the angels had departed to heaven the shepherds said, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” They hurried and found the stable with Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
The angel announces good news of great joy that is for all people. He says that in city of David a Savior has been born who is Christ the Lord. But he announces this to shepherds. And when they find the source of this good news, it is a baby lying in a stable’s manger. Nothing about this looks royal or mighty. God’s angel says it is one thing, but it looks like something else.
In this we discover that while Jesus is the Christ and the Lord, he is the Savior who saves by humbling himself to the point of death – even death on a cross. Jesus is the Savior who came to take the place of sinners and receive God’s judgment against your sin. The angel is entirely correct. But God is doing it in a way that looks like the opposite of what it really is.
Tonight we see a cute baby in a manger. But on Good Friday Jesus will hang bleeding on a Roman cross. Tonight God’s angel sends the shepherds to see Jesus, but on Good Friday Jesus will cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
God does this because we are people who fear, love and trust in everything other than God. God does this because we love ourselves far more than our neighbor. He does this because we lust, and lie, and covet. It is because of these sins – your sins – that Jesus the Son of God entered into the world in order to suffer and die on the cross.
But by his death on the cross Jesus was the seed of the woman who defeated sin and the devil. And by his resurrection he has triumphed over death itself. The angel appears to the shepherds tonight and tells them not to fear. He announces good news that a Savior has been born. After Jesus had been buried, on the third day an angel told the women at Jesus’ tomb not to fear. He announced the good news: “I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen as he said.”
Born as a helpless baby in a manger, Jesus Christ has now completed his mission for us. He reigns as the risen, ascended and exalted Lord. The Lord continues to be present at work among us, giving us the forgiveness that he has won for us and strengthening us in the faith. He does this through means that look humble and weak – like a baby in a manger; like a man on a cross.
He does this through the preaching of the Word of God, as the Gospel is proclaimed. He does this through the water and word of Holy Baptism. He does this through a pastor in the Office of the Ministry speaking absolution. He does this through bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar as he gives us his true body and blood. Yet like the baby in the manger and the man on the cross they are in fact the powerful working of God for us. We know this, because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.
In our text tonight the angel announces: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of 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.” We have received the forgiveness and salvation won by this Savior. And so now we act in love and forgiveness towards others.
The world talks about the “spirit of the Christmas season.” It is a brief time when people get caught up in the giving gifts and helping others. But we have received the Spirit of the risen Lord who leads us to forgive and support others every day of the year. The baby born in Bethlehem is the man who died on the cross and rose from the dead. He is our Savior who entered into our world and served us, so that now as we live in him we can serve others.