The Sunday after Christmas December 27, 1998
2 Corinthians 8:9
136, 139, 92, 97
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. So far our text.
In the Name of the Christchild, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Not long ago I was visiting with an elderly Christian lady, and we got on the subject of how Christmas gift-giving has changed over the years. “These days,” she said, “parents spend hundreds of dollars on fancy presents for their children, and sometimes they’re still not satisfied!” The old lady shook her head. When she was a girl, she said, children would receive an apple or an orange on Christmas Day, or, if they were very lucky, both. The money just wasn’t there for anything more. Well, it sounded pretty depressing to me, and I said so. “Oh no!” she said. “It was wonderful! I’ll never forget those Christmases at our old home place.” And as this aged believer spoke with shining eyes of those long-ago Christmases, I began to realize that, for her, there was something precious about that day—something that had nothing to do with dollars and cents!
Once again this week we celebrated the arrival of Christmas. There was an excitement in the air. Gifts were opened, we were surrounded by our loved ones, and our tables were spread with Christmas dinners. Not even a blind man could miss the many blessings of this important holiday. But we really would be blind if we failed to consider the one great blessing that outweighs all the rest. So for right now, I’m asking you to leave the hustle and bustle behind, and stand—just for a few minutes—in a drafty stable outside Bethlehem. In the manger at your feet is a present, from God to you. Do you realize the value of that present? Our text for this morning is an urgent call:
Several years ago the city of New York was stunned when a famous newspaper reporter left his beautiful house and his money behind in order to do a story on the homeless. For a month he lived on the streets and slept in doorways, begging for handouts in order to survive. He lived with the street people and got to know them, so the resulting story was authentic and powerful. But in the end, as could be expected, he returned to his elegant lifestyle.
Every time I read the Christmas story, it amazes me again the poor conditions into which the Son of God was born. But if you think about it, even more amazing than the state He arrived in is the state he left behind. Because Jesus didn’t start out poor. He started out rich! He was the Almighty Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity from all eternity. He had been present at the founding of the world, and had taken a hand in creation, as John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”—Jn 1:1-2. Christ, the eternal Word, was equal in power and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We can only imagine the splendors of the heavenly kingdom He ruled over. And yet, all this He left behind Him when He came to earth that first Christmas. “Though He was rich,” our text says, “yet for your sakes He became poor.” That reporter I mentioned gave up a nice house and a good salary. But Jesus gave up the splendors of heaven itself. And He left them behind, not for a month, but for a lifetime!
The Son of God started out rich—but look how poor he became. He was born into a family that, for the time being at least, was homeless. When the new Baby arrived, a stable had to serve for His nursery; a cattle trough for His cradle; strips of rags for His first clothing. What a sight confronted those worshipping shepherds! This helpless Baby, lying in a manger—could this really be the Son of God? Yes! Paul says, “Christ Jesus, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men.”—Phil 2:6-7. Never in the history of the world had so much been exchanged for so little!
Why a baby? Why a human being like us? In the Rospigliosi Palace in Rome is a beautiful fresco, painted on the ceiling. Tourists come from all over to admire it. But it was very uncomfortable to stand looking straight up for very long. The viewers got dizzy, and couldn’t appreciate the artwork. So, some years ago, the owner of the palace had a huge mirror installed near the floor. People could sit down in front of it and study the beautiful fresco in comfort, as it was reflected in the mirror. That’s exactly what Christ does for us. By ourselves, no amount of searching will enable us to grasp the concept of the eternal God; the more we try, the dizzier we get. And then comes this Child in the manger! He interprets God to our dull hearts. He is the mirror of the Deity, the express image of God’s person. The Baby Jesus is God stooping down to our level, enabling our feeble thoughts to get some real hold on God Himself. A little baby is accessible to everybody. And no one could possibly be afraid of a baby. The Lord wanted to reach out to sinful mankind—and didn’t He just find the perfect way to do it!
Jesus started out rich and made Himself poor. Why? Our text tells us: “…So that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Jesus came to make us rich. -That statement presupposes something, doesn’t it? It assumes that we were poor to begin with. And that’s true. Like all human beings, you and I are by nature penniless. There is nothing we’ve got that is valuable enough to assuage God’s anger over our sins, much less pay our way into heaven! No good works, no righteousness or merit of our own could even begin to do that! That’s why we sing,
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace!
And that’s why Jesus’ painful poverty was so necessary. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”—Gal 4:4-5. We may have started out poor—but we have become rich through Him!
Jesus didn’t quit after a month or a year. He didn’t leave that straw-filled manger to move into a comfortable palace. For our sakes, He endured a lifetime in poverty and discomfort. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests,” Jesus once said, “but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He was pursued and persecuted by evil men. He overcame every temptation. He kept every commandment. He took great pains to keep His life perfectly righteous, so that He could hand over that righteousness to you as a gift. And to make sure none of your sins would bar the doors of heaven to you, He took every one of those sins on His own shoulders, and suffered the punishment they deserved on Calvary’s cross.
Consider today what God has given you in this Christmas Child. Leave the gaudy trappings of the season behind for a moment, and open your eyes to the real riches of Christmas! Today the Lord has handed you salvation as a gift—a beautiful present wrapped in swaddling clothes. Because of Christ, your Heavenly Father has adopted you as His own dear child. He promises to protect you and care for you as no earthly parent could possibly do. Has there been sorrow in your life recently? God will not allow that sorrow to crush you, but WILL grant you renewed courage and joy. Do the uncertainties of the future frighten you? The Lord forbids you to worry! Rather, says Peter, “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”—I Pet 5:7. Do your sins rise up to accuse you and burden your conscience? In Christ, God promises, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”—Is 1:18. Does the shadow of the grave haunt your thoughts and make you afraid? In Christ, there is nothing to fear, for He Himself has told us, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you…that where I am, there you may be also.”—Jn 14:2-3.
All these things—they are your true riches. They are God’s gifts to you at this Christmastide. What could ever be more important in our lives than this great wealth? Could anything take first priority over these precious gifts?
Some years ago, anthropologists made a study of a certain primitive tribe in Africa. This tribe has an interesting custom—every seven years, they elect a new chief and kill the old chief. During each seven year period, one man enjoys this high honor, and is served with every luxury by his obedient people. But at the end he dies. Every member of the tribe knows this, but there are always plenty of men who want to be the next chief. For seven years of luxury and power these men are willing to sacrifice the remainder of life’s expectation. That sounds incredible to us. And yet here in America, the most civilized and affluent country on earth, millions of people are making the same choice. Ignoring the gift of the Christchild in favor of what the world has to offer—giving up their souls in exchange for the pleasures of the moment. But Jesus asks, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” My fellow Christians, we will not make that mistake! God has opened our eyes to the riches of Christmas, and we will keep our eyes open! We will put our Savior first in our hearts and in our lives, and there He will remain, not just today, but throughout all the days and years of our life!
Now, you children—I’ll ask you a question: were there any presents under your Christmas tree this year that didn’t get opened? You remembered to open every one of them, didn’t you? Well, in that little Baby in the manger, God has given us many precious gifts. Let’s remember to open those gifts, too. As God has freely given them, let us freely and joyfully receive them. Let us all join in the hymnist’s praise, and follow his advice, as he sings:
We are rich for He was poor,
Is not this a wonder?
Therefore praise God evermore
Here on earth and yonder! AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.