The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
Friday, December 25, 2009
“Our Response to Christmas: Proclaiming, Pondering, and Praising” (Luke 2:15-20)
Last night, on Christmas Eve, we heard about “The Baby and the Birth Announcement,” the great work God did in sending us both the Savior and the angel to tell us about it. The miracle of Christmas is twofold: 1) the birth of the baby itself, and 2) the birth announcement, telling us who this child is, that he is none other than the Savior, Christ the Lord. We need both and we have both, the baby and the birth announcement. These are God’s Christmas presents to us.
Now this morning, on Christmas Day, we want to talk about “Our Response to Christmas.” In other words, now that we have heard the good news of great joy, how do we respond? Our “stand-ins” in the story today will be the shepherds and Mary, and we will see ourselves in how they respond, which is in three ways, “Proclaiming, Pondering, and Praising.”
Today we focus on the last paragraph of the Christmas Gospel, as it is printed on your bulletin. Our text begins: “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’” You see, this is how faith works. The Lord makes known to us what he has done, “this thing that has happened,” and we want to find out more. That’s why you came here this morning, isn’t it? You’ve already heard the good news, that your Savior is born, but you still want to find out more. This is true of a growing faith; we’re always seeking more of the things of God. “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
So that’s what the shepherds do. “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” The shepherds eagerly go to see what they heard from the angel, the baby in the manger. It says they went “with haste.” This is the eagerness that faith creates. God’s word causes us to want to go deeper; we want to go and find Jesus. Today that happens when we eagerly go to church; we want to come here to see our Savior, to find Jesus here for us. And he is! Yes, Christ is here, in his Word and Sacrament, present with his people, accessible to us. That is why we want to come here, even “with haste,” with eagerness and gladness. It’s like the psalmist says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” “Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.” So we run with haste to come here. This is where our Savior is! Now we have something to proclaim, something to ponder, something to praise God for.
Proclaiming–that’s the first of those three responses we see in our text. “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” Their mouths naturally speak what their hearts are full of, the great things they had heard and seen. The shepherds make known to others what first had been made known to them. That’s how it goes. The Lord makes known to us the good news of great joy, that there is a Savior here for us, and then we cannot help but to make known that good news to others. The news is so good we can’t keep it to ourselves; we want to share it with the people we meet.
So how do we go about this proclaiming? Well, what do you know of Jesus? Do you know him to be your Savior? What have you heard about him, what have you learned of Christ, here where God is making him known to you, through the preaching and teaching of God’s word? Then ask yourself: Who do I know that I can share this good news with? Where will I be meeting people that I can talk to? How might I speak to them? And really, it may not even be as thought-out as that. It could be more spontaneous. Something comes up in conversation, where there’s a connection point, a bridge, between that topic and the message of Christ. And you just naturally speak of the faith and the hope you have, and how this is good news of great joy for all people.
Now we don’t know how others will receive what we are sharing; that could vary. Of the shepherds’ message it says, “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” The seed was planted. Whether it took root or not, it doesn’t say. But in any case, the shepherds just naturally spoke of what was so great and exciting to them.
Proclaiming the good news: That’s what the shepherds are doing, and their response to Christmas is our response, too. The response of proclaiming is directed outward, out toward others, to people who need the same Savior we have, people to whom we can make known what first has been made known to us.
The second response, pondering, we see exemplified in Mary, the mother of our Lord. “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” This is the response that is directed inward, taking in all the awesome things we have heard and seen, and mulling them over in our mind. Mary had a lot to ponder, didn’t she? Going back nine months earlier, to when the angel Gabriel told her that as a virgin she would bear a special child, a son to be named Jesus. That he would be the Son of the Most High God. That the Lord would give him the throne of David, and that he would reign over his kingdom forever. Mary had had nine months to ponder that amazing news, as the child grew inside her. And then there was her visit to her relative Elizabeth, herself pregnant in a remarkable way, and how the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, leaped for joy when Mary came in the door. How Elizabeth could know that Mary was the mother of her Lord. And now this, the birth itself, and here come these shepherds from out of nowhere, telling of how an angel had told them this was the Savior, Christ the Lord. So as Mary is holding her little baby in her arms, she has a lot to ponder, to say the least.
It says that Mary did two things: She “treasured up” these things, and she “pondered” them in her heart. Two words essentially saying the same thing, but each with its own shade of meaning. First, she “treasured up” all these things. That is, she stored them up, safeguarded them, preserved them in her memory. You know how that goes. Something happens, something comes into your mind or experience, that you know you don’t want to forget, ever. So you “lock it in,” so to speak. You imprint it deeply in your mind and soul. That’s what Mary is doing, and she carries this wonderful treasure around inside her for the rest of her life.
The other thing Mary does is to “ponder.” She ponders these things in her heart. She rolls them around, mulls them over, considers them carefully, looking at these things from every angle. She puts all of these marvelous events and sayings together, laying them side by side, and considers what it all means. That’s what it means to “ponder.”
Do we have things to treasure up and ponder? You bet we do! All the treasures of the gospel, these we safeguard deep inside us. All the teachings of God’s word, these we roll around in our mind and heart, coming to an ever deeper faith and understanding. This is the life of the Christian disciple, this treasuring up and pondering.
Proclaiming. Pondering. And now the third response to Christmas, praising. If our proclaiming is directed outward, and our pondering is directed inward, the response of praising is directed upward. We see it once again in the shepherds. “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Remember what the angels had been singing, just hours earlier? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Well, now the shepherds are doing the same thing the angels did. They too are glorifying God, that is, putting to voice how wonderful it is what God has done in sending the one who would make peace between heaven and earth. This is most praiseworthy! It is excellent and needs to be sung about! What greater thing has ever happened in the world? Nothing. By far, this is the most glorious and praiseworthy thing that has ever happened. And that this good news of great joy should come to us? Wow! Just what we need, and God brings it to our doorstep!
Think about it: Just what you need, a Savior, a Savior sent from God who will make peace on this earth, peace between God and you and all men, purely out of God’s good pleasure and will. If that doesn’t merit a Gloria, I don’t know what does! God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to do this saving work, this peacemaking work. That’s what Christmas is all about, the arrival in the flesh of the heaven-sent Savior. Christ would make peace, in his body, by going to the cross, to take away the enmity, the hostility, the alienation and separation, between God and man, and consequently, among men. Jesus is the peacemaker, and blessed is his name. He suffered the wrath we deserve for our sins, removing the barrier between us and God. Peace is established. We are forgiven. Death loses its hold on us. We are free. Life, eternal life, awaits us forevermore, as sure as Christ’s resurrection and return. And now, secure in this salvation, now we know what love is; we have received it and experienced it and even have enough to share with others. All because of this little child who comes on Christmas Day. When you ponder this, as you proclaim it to others, praise wells up in your heart, praise and thanksgiving to God, and you begin to glorify God with your lips.
One of the things I love about Christmas is all the great Christmas hymns. Oh, I don’t mean Rudolph and Frosty and those songs. Those are OK, but they’re not really Christmas. No, the real Christmas hymns are all the ones we’re singing last night, and today, and this Sunday, and the Sunday after that. “Angels We Have Heard on High.” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” “Joy to the World.” “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” And so on, and so on, and so on. So many beautiful, uplifting hymns. The challenge is that we have only four services to sing them in, over the twelve days of Christmas. But this is a real joy, isn’t it? These hymns help us to glorify and praise God with our voice, putting into exalted words and melody all the glorious, praiseworthy things God has done for us in the birth of Christ.
Today we see, and today we will share in, three responses to Christmas: Proclaiming, pondering, and praising. Outward, inward, and upward! The shepherds and Mary lead the way for us in these things, and we follow for the same reason: It is the good news of great joy for all people. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”