“Good News of a Great Joy” (Luke 2:1-14)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
Friday, December 24, 2021

“Good News of a Great Joy” (Luke 2:1-14)

For most of us, tonight or tomorrow everyone will be opening their Christmas presents. You’ll know which one is yours, because it will have your name on it and you’ll know where to find it: under the Christmas tree. Now suppose I got a Christmas present for you, but I didn’t tell you about it. I didn’t tell you that I had gotten a gift for you, and I didn’t tell you where you could find it. Well, it could be the greatest Christmas present in the world, but if you don’t know that it exists and you don’t know where to find it, it won’t do you much good. You need me to tell you about it.

Well, that’s the way it is with Christmas. God has given us the greatest Christmas present of all, but if it had stayed hidden, if we didn’t know about it or where to find it, it wouldn’t do us any good. But with this Christmas present, God not only gives the gift, he also tells us what it is and where to find it. And that’s what God is doing tonight. He’s bringing us “Good News of a Great Joy.”

What is the gift God gives us at Christmas? It is the birth of Mary’s son, in Bethlehem. God went to extraordinary measures to have this gift delivered in this way, at this time, and in this place. Luke chapter 1 tells us how it all came about. An angel had told Mary that she would have a son and that she was to name him Jesus. That’s extraordinary in itself, but what’s even more amazing is that this would be a miraculous virgin birth. The child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. He would be the very Son of the Most High, born in human flesh. He would be the Messiah, the great deliverer sent from heaven, the divine Davidic king, who would usher in an everlasting kingdom of blessing and salvation.

Then there’s how God arranged for this child to be born in Bethlehem. A decree went out from the most powerful man in the world, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus, in order to have some no-name couple in some far-off territory travel from Nazareth to the husband’s ancestral town of Bethlehem. This child would need to be born in Bethlehem, because that was the town where King David was from. And so the Son of David, the Messiah, the Christ, would need to be born there also. And God timed it so that the baby would be born while they were there in Bethlehem.

But even in the city of David, the divine Messiah did not exactly receive a royal welcome. Joseph and Mary couldn’t get a room, even at the Holiday Inn. So they had to make do in the garage, out back. The newborn baby was laid in a manger, an animal’s feed trough. But for the kind of king that Jesus came to be–humble and lowly, coming to serve and not to be served–that manger would fit just right. It truly was a king-sized bed.

So while the birth of this child was the most extraordinary gift God could possibly send, it didn’t come in the way you might expect. The Son of God did not come full of pomp and circumstance and out in the open for all the world to see. But that’s the way God works. His gifts come in humble, lowly means, and in out-of-the-way places.

So the baby has been born. The gift has arrived. But now, how are people going to know about it? Remember, the gift does you no good if you don’t know that it exists or where to find it. And that’s where the next part of our story comes in. An angel appears to announce the child’s birth. But he doesn’t come to the high and mighty. Instead, he appears to some shepherds out in the field–working-class guys just doing their job. I think it’s fitting that shepherds would be the first to hear about the birth of the one who is both the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

This glorious angel appears, and, as always when an angel appears to humans, the humans are frightened. The angel assures the shepherds with a “Fear not.” Then he tells them that he’s got good news for them, “good news of a great joy”: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” These words are so familiar to us that they may whiz right past our ears. But this is really quite an announcement. Just the fact that an angel appears–that’s special enough. But here we find out just what the gift is that God is giving us. It’s what Israel had been waiting for, for centuries: the arrival of the Messiah. This is the fulfillment of the prophecy made to King David a thousand years earlier, that one of his descendants would be the great deliverer, the Messiah, the Christ, who would save not only Israel but all the nations of the earth.

This is what has just happened, the angel says, and not too far from here, in Bethlehem, the city of David. The Messiah has come as a newborn baby. And the angel calls him “Christ the Lord.” This gets at the profound mystery of just who Jesus is. He is both true God and true man, this baby born this night.

So the angel tells the shepherds what God’s great gift is and that it has arrived. It’s the divine Savior who will deliver mankind. Now the angel tells them where they can find him, so they can see for themselves. He says: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Now there may have been another baby or two born in that little town of Bethlehem that day, but I’m sure there was only one you would find lying in a manger. So God gives a sure sign that will lead these shepherds to their Savior.

But before they go, the shepherds hear even more of the good news of the great joy. A multitude of heavenly angels appear in the night sky, praising God with these words: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” “Glory to God in the highest.” “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” The birth of the Savior brings glory to God in the highest places of heaven. Those angels in the sky are singing for joy when they look down on Bethlehem and see what God is doing. God’s power and glory are shown chiefly in showing mercy, and that’s what the angels are seeing in the birth of this child, Jesus.

Glory to God in the highest, “and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Or you could say, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.” But let’s be clear about this: God establishes peace on earth with men, out of his own good will, out of his good pleasure. It’s not a matter of “peace toward men of good will,” because there aren’t any. All men are sinners. We do not have a good will by nature. No, the source of our peace is in God’s good will. And God’s good will toward us is shown in the birth of God’s Son, with whom he is well pleased.

For Christ himself is our peace. He makes peace between heaven and earth. How so? Years later, Jesus, the one whom the angels hailed, the soldiers nailed. They nailed him to a cross. There the Son of God took our sins on himself and suffered the judgment we sinners deserve. This child, now wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. would then be wrapped in burial cloths and laid in a tomb. But then he arose, showing that he had done the job and made the peace. Now all who trust in him are at peace with God. There is no more condemnation. There’s no more alienation. Now God is at peace with you. He knows you and loves you and cares for you. You have peace, because of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the baby born at Bethlehem. This is God’s great Christmas present for you! This is the good news of a great joy!

Are where do you find this gift today? Not in Bethlehem. Not in a manger. Although, he is still found in humble places. You find Christ right here in his church. Jesus is here. In the preaching of the Word. In the blessed Sacrament. Forgiveness, life, and salvation–these are his Christmas presents for you. Christ brings you these presents with his presence. And Christ is here present among us.

Published in: on December 24, 2021 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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