2nd Sunday in Advent December 9, 2018
62, 65, 74, 245
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
This year our Advent meditations focus our attention on the miracles of Christmas. Last week, we considered the miracle of the moment. We heard how God was working throughout history to bring about the perfect time for the Savior of the world to be born. This evening our focus will be upon the miracle of the message.
Perhaps these are not the kinds of miracles one would have in mind when he thinks about miracles. Normally, a miracle is either some grand occurrence or some unexplainable event. There are certainly those kinds of miracles in the Christmas account—a virgin conceiving, a host of angels appearing to the shepherds, a star pointing the wise men to the precise location of the King of the Jews. However, not all miracles are extraordinary events. Some of the greatest miracles recorded in the Bible occur through rather ordinary means. Today, as we consider the miracle of the message, we will be reminded that the message of a Savior born is indeed one of the great miracles of Holy Scripture that continues to be one of the great miracles in our own day. We do so by turning to the clearest presentation of that message, which is John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Those words have been translated into more languages than any other words in earth’s history. From the middle east, where Christianity began and barely survives to this day, to the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea which were steeped in polytheism, to the dark forests of northern Europe and the British Isles in which superstitions held sway on men’s hearts. From Africa, North and South America where inhabitants were enslaved by mysticism, to Central and Western Asia where each family worshipped their own ancestors, this Gospel message has sounded forth bringing untold numbers of sinners into the Kingdom of God where there is forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. There must be something special about this message.
Indeed, there is! It’s a miraculous message, first of all, because it is so very different than the message of the religions invented by man. In every religion that man has invented, man must figure out a way to get to God. Some believe they can get to God by behaving better and better each day. Some believe they do that by going through strange rituals and ceremonies. Some believe they do that through their own mindless meditations. Some even believe they do that by blowing themselves up and killing as many as possible. In other words, if man is to have a relationship with God and have some good in the afterlife, then man has to do something for himself. The message of Christmas is the only one that recognizes that sinful man will only further alienate himself from God by his works because he is sinful. We are sinners and what do sinners do? We sin. Even while we worship God we do so only imperfectly, and every imperfection is truly sin. There is no getting back to God on the basis of what we do.
This message is miraculous because it tells us that we didn’t have to work our way back to God, but God came to us. Why? Because He loved us. That’s right! He loved us even though we have not obeyed Him and even though we have, in many ways, replaced Him in our hearts and lives with silly stuff—carved rocks and wood, created objects like the sun, moon, and stars, trinkets and gadgets that need a power source that comes from outside of themselves, and ultimately we replace Him with our selves.
Still, He loved us. He knew that our idolatry in its various forms would lead us all to hell and that was not something He desired for anyone. So, to rescue us from our miserable plight, He sent His only-begotten Son to take on our frail human nature and to suffer and die in our place. Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, is that Son of God who was wrapped, not just in swaddling clothes, but also in human flesh and blood, the flesh which was nailed to a cross and the blood which He poured out to make atonement for our sin. We are saved, not by what we do, but by what He did—what God did.
“Wait a minute!” some will say. “Your religion says you must do something, too. It says plainly right there that ‘whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.’ You still have to believe.” Here’s where the miracle of the message is seen to be even more extraordinary.
It is true that the Gospel is meant to be believed. It is a promise of salvation and the only way to receive and benefit from a promise is by believing that promise. I mean, we can’t see forgiveness of sins. We can’t see peace with God. We can’t see heaven or eternal life. But this is what the Christmas message promises. By believing the promise we become recipients of the promises. But, this is not some work we do. We don’t go home and decide whether or not we are going to believe it. The message itself creates the faith by which we trust what the message says. This is the miracle of the message, that as you hear it, God works through it to cause you to believe it so that you shall not perish but have eternal life.
The message of Christmas has always had this miraculous affect. After Adam and Eve first heard the promise that God would send the Seed of the woman to crush the devil’s head, we are told that Eve conceived and had a son and said, “I have received a man, the Lord.” She was wrong in that Cain did not turn out to be the fulfillment of God’s promise, but the promise God made did work in her the faith to believe that God would do what He said.
When God told Abraham that through his Seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed, even though he and his wife were very old and had no children, we are told that Abraham believed God. The message which God spoke worked faith in his heart to trust the message.
When God sent His angel to Mary telling her that she would conceive and bear a Son and will call His name Jesus, though she was a virgin, Mary responded, “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) The message created faith in her heart to trust the message.
When God sent another angel to some lowly shepherds, telling them that the Savior of the world had been born, they quickly went to Bethlehem and found the Baby Jesus and spread the news of His birth. The message they heard worked faith in their hearts to believe the message.
God’s Christmas message still has that same miraculous power. It is working in your hearts even as you hear it again in this sermon, just as it has been working in the hearts of men, women, and children down through the ages throughout the world. The miracle of the message is that it delivers what it calls for so that it can deliver what it promises. It gives you the faith to believe it so that you will receive the forgiveness it offers. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. AMEN!
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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.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.