“What Child Is This?” (Luke 2:1-20)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
Monday, December 24, 2018

“What Child Is This?” (Luke 2:1-20)

When a child is born, there are questions that people typically ask. Parents wonder, “Is he healthy?” “How much does he weigh?” Grandparents ask, “What did you name her?” “Who does she look like?” Nurses and doctors closely examine the child and want to know, “Is he alert?” “Are her lungs clear?” We expect those kinds of questions.

But there are other questions we never expect to hear at the birth of a child. No one would ever think to ask, “Who will handle his funeral arrangements someday?” Or, “What cemetery do you think he’ll be buried in?” Or, “What will cause his death?” The Scriptures say, “For everything there is a season.” And the season for asking about a person’s death is usually not at his or her birth.

The hymn we just sang asks a very unusual question about a child born in Bethlehem: “What Child Is This?” However, it is a fitting question, because this child is born in a most unusual way. His mother is a virgin. His birth is announced by a heavenly host of angels praising God. So, what child is this? The wonderful answer is proclaimed by the angel: “I bring you good news of a 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.”

What child is this? This child is no less than the Lord himself, the Lord of heaven and earth. The Lord whose voice breaks the cedars now coos softly in his mother’s arms. The same Lord who told the shepherd Moses not to come near his holy presence now invites shepherds to draw near to him, as he lies in a manger, a helpless child. The shepherd Moses hid his face from the Lord. Now shepherds behold the Lord in the face of a baby. The Unapproachable One is now approachable. The Intimidating One is now inviting.

This certainly is good news. But what makes God’s coming in the flesh such good news of great joy is that he came in order to redeem us. The Lord of creation became part of his creation, in order to recreate what man had broken. The Eternal and Immortal One was born in a specific time and place, to unite himself forever with his mortal creatures.

What if the Lord had taken on flesh in order to confront mankind and demand payback for all the sins committed against him? What if he had appeared among us in order to scowl his face at us for our selfishness? Thanks be to God that his incarnation is instead “good news of a great joy,” as the herald angel declared.

The reason why it’s good news of great joy is that at this child’s birth we can ask the normally unthinkable question, “How will this child die?” For this child was born to die. This was God’s plan even before the child was born. This is what the heavenly angels are talking about when they say that his birth will bring peace on earth. This child will die because of us, and he will die for us.

The prophet Isaiah said, “To us a child is born.” The angel announced, “Unto you is born this day a Savior.” Unto us, whose passions conceive and give birth to worldly ways and ungodly living. Unto us, whose sinful hearts give birth to cruel and hurtful words, even against those who are closest to us. Unto us, whose sinful nature drives us to live as though God does not matter and we matter most. Yes, unto us–even us sinners–this child is born.

So rejoice greatly on this holy night for his holy birth! But don’t forget to rejoice also for his holy death. For already at his birth, this one’s cross, death, and burial are foreshadowed. There is a path laid out for this child from the cradle to the cross.

What child is this? The one who had a Mary at his birth will have several Marys at his death.

What child is this? The one who had a righteous Joseph at his birth will have a righteous Joseph, Joseph of Arimathea, at his death.

What child is this? The one who was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger at his birth will be wrapped in burial cloths and laid in a tomb at his death.

What child is this? The one whose birth was honored by wise men bearing myrrh will be honored by faithful women bearing myrrh to his tomb.

What child is this? This child is the great light that has shined on us who dwelt in a land of deep darkness and who walked in darkness.

What child is this? This is a real human being with a real human body. His body would be wrapped up and laid in a tomb. But on the third day, his real human body came back to life again, the firstfruits of the resurrection of our human bodies also.

For in the birth of this child “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”

So now let’s look closely at this child, the son of Mary. Look at his shoulders. The prophet Isaiah said that all authority would be upon those little shoulders. This child used his authority to free you from hell and destruction.

Look closely at this child. Look at his mouth. He has the lips of the Wonderful Counselor. He comforts your troubled conscience with the most wonderful counsel you could ever hear: “I forgive you all your sins.”

Look closely at this child. He has the hands of the Mighty God. But he set aside that might to have his hands nailed to a cross. And now he extends those nail-scarred hands to you in mercy at his holy meal.

Look closely at this child. He has the arms of the Everlasting Father, arms that spread out wide on the cross to draw you to himself. Arms that he wrapped around you in Holy Baptism. Arms to embrace you and welcome you home as prodigal sons and daughters. Arms to uphold you and sustain you when you are weak and weary.

Look closely at this child. He has the royal head of the Prince of Peace. But his sacred head was wounded and crowned with thorns in order to place on your head a crown of life and glory.

What child is this? This baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger is your Savior. He is Christ the Lord. What child is this? “This, this is Christ the king, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.” “The King of kings salvation brings.” So, “Haste, haste to bring Him laud.” “Hail, hail the Word made flesh.” “Joy, joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the son of Mary.” He is born for you! Which makes this a very merry Christmas!

Published in: on December 22, 2018 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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