Friday, December 24, 2010

Sermon for December 24, 2010

The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
December 24, 2010
Text: Isaiah 7:10-17

Dear Friends in Christ,
Christmas. The word is literally Christ’s Mass. It is the celebration of the incarnation of God the Son. We are celebrating the fact that God became flesh and dwelt among men. December 25th is not Christ’s birthday. We don’t know the day that He was born. The date of someone’s birth was rarely recorded in the ancient world. We only know that Christ was born shortly before the death of Herod the Great, which occurred in March of 4 B.C. Some scholars have suggested late January as the time of Christ’s birth - the time when lambs are born. This would account for the shepherds in the fields. But that is just a guess. December 25th was chosen by the western church in ancient times as the day to celebrate the incarnation of Christ. The Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 6.

There are many prophecies regarding the birth of Christ. Isaiah gives us what is perhaps the most curious. First, it doesn’t even appear to be talking about Christ at all. The prophecy was given in 740 B.C. when Judah was going to war against Israel and Syria. King Ahaz, a faithless man, was preparing the defenses of his kingdom. Isaiah was sent to give King Ahaz a sign to show that he need not fear these enemies. Their power would be broken by the Assyrians. And it would happen in the time it takes for a woman to conceive, bear a son, and that son to be weaned - say about four years. Dr. Luther, in his lectures on Isaiah explains how this prophecy was fulfilled at that time. And this would make a great discussion in a Bible class, but that is of little concern for us today/tonight. For while this prophecy was fulfilled at that time, it also had a second and greater fulfillment, which Dr. Luther was also quick to point out. And how do we know that this is talking about Christ? Because St. Matthew in Chapter 1 of his Gospel tells us that this prophecy points to Christ. As we say, Scripture interprets Scripture.

The ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s words would come when Mary conceived apart from the will of a man. Mary, a virgin, was carrying a Son. This is simply not humanly possible. Yet, this is what Isaiah had foretold. And this is what Matthew and Luke tell us happened.

Who were Mary and Joseph, that this should happen to them? They were common people of the age. They were neither rich nor poor. They were young, probably just getting started in life. There was nothing special that they did that caused this to happen. This was all God’s doing. There are two things however, about them that must be considered. The promise of the Messiah was not just given to the world in general. The promise was given to Adam and Eve. Okay, everyone is a descendant of Adam and Eve. That doesn’t narrow it much. The promise was given to Noah. But then we are also all descended from Noah. The promise was given to Abraham. So now we have a narrowing of the promise. It would be fulfilled through the descendants of Abraham. The promise narrowed again when it is given to Jacob’s son Judah. Well, Mary and Joseph were Jews. In the fact the word Jew means of the tribe of Judah. But it was narrowed again. Within the tribe of Judah, the Messiah would be born from the descendants of King David. And Isaiah narrowed it even more. It would be a virgin of the House of David who would bear the Messiah or Christ. And indeed what do we read in the Gospels? Mary and Joseph are both of the House of David. Micah prophesied that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem, and Hosea that He would be raised in Nazareth. Daniel prophesied that the Christ would be born in the time the of the Roman empire.

God’s plan was all laid out when the Angel Gabriel appeared to a Virgin in the little Jewish village of Nazareth. She would bear a Son, who would be the Son of God. How do we know? Because she was a virgin. This was no ordinary child. This Child was born of the will of God. God alone is His Father. Luther explained that Mary conceived through her ear. She heard the words of the Angel and it happened just as he had said. One presumes that this is the only child in the history of world conceived through the ear. All other children in the history of the world were conceived through organs a bit lower on the body. But that’s the point. This Child is God. And yes, He was already God in the Virgin’s womb. The ancient Church gave Mary the title of the Blessed Theoktos. That is a Greek word that means the “bearer of God.” Sometimes it is rendered “mother of God”. The Child she carried is God. And how do we know this? Because Mary was virgin. It has only happened once in all of history. It’s bound to be pretty important.

In fact, these events are so important, our eternal fate hangs upon them. God didn’t come into this world show off His power. Look’ee what I can do, I can even make a virgin have a baby. No, no, it’s nothing like that all. God had a far greater and more serious purpose for this. Christ, at the moment of His conception in the womb of the Virgin, became a man. He became one of us. He became a fully, flesh and blood, human being. He didn’t just appear to be man. He was a man. But He’s also still God. He’s still God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. God became one of us. He does this to make peace between God and man. He becomes one of us, so that He can bear our sins and free us from sin and death. He was born without sin, and thus could not die. Yet, He was born to die. He was born to die for our sins upon the cross. This was not an academic exercise. This was real. God really was in the womb of a virgin, for us. He was in that manger, for us. He was on the cross, for us.

God became flesh and dwelt among us? How do we know that this is true? Because He was born of a virgin, as Isaiah had foretold. This is the mystery of the ages. God came down from heaven, to save us sinners. He came to bear our punishment, and our humiliation. He came to give us life, with Him, that would never end. He came to be one of us.

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