4th Sunday in Advent December 23, 2018
1 John 4:7-19
69, 74, 245, 81
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
In the previous meditations, we considered three often-missed miracles of Christmas. They are easy to miss because they don’t jump out at a person as he reads through the Christmas account in the Gospels. They are miracles nonetheless inasmuch as for each of them to occur took a special working of God to bring them about. The first miracle was the miracle of the moment, which reminded us that God was not just casually observing the history of the world waiting for the perfect time to send forth His Son. Rather, He was always intimately involved in the affairs of mankind so as to bring about the fullness of time to send Jesus to us. The second miracle was the miracle of the message. There we were reminded that the Christmas message is not just a bit of news, it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who hears it and believes it. It actually creates the faith by which one benefits from the blessings which the Gospel promises. The last miracle we considered was the miracle of the method. God, in His infinite wisdom and grace, knew that the only way for mankind to have the hope of eternal life was for God Himself to enter into our human existence and to become our substitute under His own righteous wrath.
In this sermon, as we draw closer to the day we celebrate the birth of the Son of God, we have the opportunity to meditate on one final miracle—the miracle in the manger. This is the miracle of miracles. It holds before us both the height, depth, width, and breadth of the love of God as well as the great mystery of what it is that we are celebrating in two days. Our text is John 1:1-14:
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 was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
For the past couple of weeks, you may have received various greetings from family and friends scattered around the United States and maybe even in other places of the world. Some of those Christmas greetings included only a card with pictures printed on them along with a brief message that relates to Christmas. Others contained more detailed information about the individual family members. I’m sure that many of you have received similar greetings from family and friends. We call them “Christmas letters.”
Some years ago, I wrote a Christmas letter to send out to some of our friends and acquaintances. In more recent years, I kind of loathe the idea of doing so. Part of the reason for my personal apprehension of writing Christmas letters is that I find such letters to be a bit contrived. I have to ignore all the struggles, trials, and failures of our family and just write about the “good stuff” that happened in the last year. I mean, who would want to read a letter like this:
Dear family and friends,
Here we are at the end of another year and it’s a good thing, too. The year 2018 was an awful year. Our kids bickered incessantly and made us wonder if we aren’t raising a bunch of hypocrites. My wife and I made it through another year of marriage, but I’m not sure how exactly because pride often keeps us from saying and doing the loving thing toward one another. She sometimes doesn’t submit to my headship as the Church does to Christ, and I fall far short of loving her as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her. Home-schooling is as much of a struggle as it ever has been and we often are overcome by our own inadequacies. My work as a pastor reveals repeatedly my own ineptitudes and weaknesses. I’ve often allowed my own busy-ness to crowd out family devotions. I can’t help but think that my children would benefit from a better father and my wife would benefit from a better husband. If all that weren’t enough, we struggled throughout the year with issues such as depression, anger, and, from time to time, a sense of hopelessness. Based on an honest review of history, 2019 doesn’t seem to hold much promise for anything better from our household.
Seriously, though, the first word that comes to mind when I think about this past year is sin, and you just can’t put that kind of stuff into a Christmas letter. Or, then again, can you? Isn’t that the real reason that Christ was born? Isn’t it because our lives are filled with precisely such faithlessness on our parts that the Son of God united Himself to our human nature? Isn’t the true message of Christmas that Christ came to save sinners by washing us clean of all our sin in His own blood and thereby to set us right with God? This is the central message of the Bible and it is the foundation of the Christmas faith.
Christmas should be a time for brutal honesty. Apart from such honesty we would miss out on the great joy that this holy day holds before us. This isn’t a time to boast about our accomplishments. Rather, it is a time to rejoice in the great love of our Savior God who loved us so dearly that He came to be one of us and to give His life a ransom for us all.
This is the great miracle of Christmas. God didn’t wait for us to come to Him by all of our imagined and made up accomplishments. Instead, God, in the person of the Son of God, came to us in our misery to rescue us from our misery brought on by sin. He experienced all of the hardships that come with living in a world that has been corrupted by sin. He who cannot be contained, was content to be localized in a frail human body. The one who has the earth for a footstool became a little baby who had no conveniences afforded to even those of modest means. He who is the very source of life laid down His own that He might save us from the sin which so easily ensnares each one of us. He became sin for us, though He Himself is completely righteous.
Don’t underestimate what this means for you personally. As we said, Christmas is a time for brutal honesty, but not just about our sin but also about the boundless grace of God as well. If sin is the word that comes to mind when we reflect upon the past year of our lives, the word that comes to mind when we reflect upon the miracle in the manger is grace—pure, unbounded, undeserved love from God to us. This grace is inextinguishable. Where sin abounds, this grace abounds much more. It continues on and on and gives us hope for something better. It is this grace that gives us the right to be children of God, not because we live holy lives, but because the Christ-child is full of grace and truth, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.
Let’s, then, apply that grace to the prior Christmas letter and ponder the implications of the miracle in the manger:
Dear Family and Friends,
Here we are at the end of another year, carried each day by a loving Father who forgives all our sins for Jesus’ sake. Two thousand eighteen was an amazing year as our children continued to grow in the grace and knowledge of their Savior, Jesus Christ. My wife and I celebrated another year of marriage as the Spirit of God taught us to apply the forgiveness that Christ obtained for us from God toward one another. Through the Word of Christ, our hearts were filled with the joy of being in a right relationship with God for Jesus’ sake. This joy demonstrated itself in the way we responded to one another’s faults and trials. He loved us and we love one another in Christ. His faithfulness toward us throughout the year gives us confidence going forward into the new year. We are especially thankful that we have His Word and the certain promises which it speaks to our hearts. Whatever 2019 brings, we rest securely knowing that the Baby that was born to the virgin Mary has already overcome the world, even as He has overcome our sin, death, and hell for us.
Is that not a miracle of the grandest scale? Our lives go from darkness to light, from sin to righteousness, from death to life—all made possible by that little Baby that was laid in the manger. That’s because He isn’t just another little baby. He is the God from all eternity, full of grace and truth. In Him is life and that life is the light of men. He became flesh and dwelt among us and in Him we see the glory of God, full of grace and truth.
May God grant you all the grace to rejoice at the miracle that has been born for you—the miracle in the manger. 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.
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.