The Sunday after Christmas December 27, 2020
102, 87, 90 (Lutheran Service Book alt. #621), 97
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
Oh holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel!
Dear fellow worshipers of the Newborn King, who have once again come with haste to see those things which the Lord has made known unto us, may the peace of Christ’s birth be with you all.
Everyone has a reaction to Christmas—it can’t be avoided. The glimmer in a child’s eye tells of their excitement for Christmas. As a 10 year old, I was embarrassed by Christmas because it meant my buddies would ask me what I got for Christmas and I would have to tell them a Cabbage Patch Doll. Perhaps Christmas makes Mom sighs a bit, thinking of all she has to get done for her family before the in-laws arrive this noon. Those first couple of Christmas’ after a loved one dies can be a bit melancholy as you miss one who was so dear to you. Of course, we know how Ebenezer Scrooge felt about this time of year. Whether it was his clerk, Bob Cratchit, or his nephew Fred wishing Ebenezer a very merry Christmas, his reaction was the same, “Bah! Humbug!”
Even at the first Christmas, there were different reactions. After the shepherds saw the Christ-child, they made widely known all that they had heard and seen that night. Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. However, when King Herod found out about it, he sent soldiers to Bethlehem to try and kill the newborn King.
Depending on what Christmas means to you affects how you react to it—especially in this year of a quarantine Christmas in isolation. On this Sunday after Christmas, we hear of two different reactions to the coming of God coming—both singing for joy and silently marveling that God has come to us.
Now, you may not know much about the Prophet Zechariah. Zechariah was a prophet of the LORD at the close of the Babylonian captivity, about 500 years before the first Christmas. In his day, the Israelite people had been in Babylon for 70 years and some were wondering “how long?” “How long” would Jerusalem and Judah remain empty and abandoned? “How long” before the LORD would “ransom captive Israel?” “How long” before the LORD would rebuild His temple in Jerusalem? Maybe as COVID “surges” around you, you have been asking that same question.
The LORD’s message through Zechariah was that He was coming to dwell among them, which makes it so fitting for Christmas time. Hear the Word of the LORD spoken by the mouth of His prophet Zechariah as we consider “Christmas Reactions:”
“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the LORD. Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. And the LORD will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!”
So far the Word of God.
When we think of Christmas reactions, certainly one of them has to be what the LORD urges in the first verse of our text. “Sing and rejoice!” Our Christmas hymns contain those very words: “Now sing we now rejoice, now raise to heaven our voice.” (TLH #92:1) Or another favorite: “On Christmas night all Christians sing to hear the news the angels bring, news of great joy, news of great mirth. News of our merciful King’s birth.” (LSB #377:1)
Our Christmas songs are not some empty tavern songs nor some performance to impress listeners. No, our singing and rejoicing at Christmas has purpose. The LORD Himself tells us why. We, the Church (here called the daughter of Zion), are to sing and rejoice, “For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst.” Now, if the LORD Almighty, the God of Angel Armies is going to come and dwell in your midst, that could be good thing or a bad thing. After all, the LORD is described as a “consuming fire” who has righteous wrath over sin. Just look at what the LORD did to Jerusalem and His own temple when the people were unrepentant and ignored His word.
But when the LORD comes to dwell in our midst at Christmas, it is not as an angry Judge to punish, but as the Word become flesh. He comes not as a consuming fire, but as a little Baby. These are the good tidings of great joy that the angels came to tell the shepherds about. The LORD came to dwell in our midst as our Savior. He came to dwell in our midst to be our Brother and rescue us from our lost condition. He came to bear our burden of sin and free us from our sin-debt to God.
And these good tidings of great joy are for ALL people. Verse 11, “Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst.” This Christmas gift from God is for ALL people—Jews and Gentiles alike. Who was it that followed His star? Who was it that made the trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem with their expensive gifts? It wasn’t the Jewish scribes. Even though they knew from the Prophet Micah that the King of the Jews was to be born in Bethlehem, only the Gentile Wise Men went to worship Him. Many nations are joined to the LORD who has come—including you! Sing and rejoice! Unto you is born a Savior!
Then we find a truly remarkable statement in the second half of verse 11. First of all, who is speaking in these verses? Verse 10 tells us that it is the LORD. This is “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” This is the “I AM” God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. This is the One True God, the Triune God. So the LORD is speaking in these verses. And what does He say in the second half of verse 11? Take a look at it. “And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.” Did you catch that? The LORD is speaking and the LORD says that when He dwells in your midst, then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent ME (the LORD) to you!
This is remarkable! God is sent by God to become man, but never ceases to be God. This is Immanuel, God with us. The death of the Son of God would be the only sacrifice great enough to cancel our debt of sin. God is the only one powerful enough to overcome death. God Himself would have the make the sacrifice to reconcile us to God. This is the only way we could be saved and live eternally with the LORD of hosts. Yes, sing and rejoice for the LORD has come to us! Let us do just that with the hymn “Joy to the World”—number #97.
Singing and rejoicing seems to go hand in hand with the birth of Jesus. One Christmas, in fact, I got in trouble with a member because “Joy to the World” was not sung during the service (so we sang it after church). The multitude of heavenly host were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest!” The shepherd returned “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.”
But, have you ever been to the maternity ward or birthing unit of the hospital? What is the volume level like there? Though there is a lot of excitement and joy, it’s pretty quiet. As visitors come to see the new baby, choir members are not swelling in volume singing “NOEL” in double forte. The volume is usually a low whisper as they look at the new baby.
The LORD gives us another reaction to Christmas in our text. Verse 13, “Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for He is aroused from His holy habitation.” The picture of the LORD being roused is that of “an animal rising suddenly from his hidden liar and shaking himself. He looks around. …The hackles on his neck rise. Someone has challenged his holy place and lions don’t back down.” (People’s Bible Commentary, Hartzell, pg 48) God is roused. He is doing something. Let all flesh be silent before the LORD.
Let’s do just that. Let’s take a moment to imagine you are one of the shepherds approaching the stable in Bethlehem to see the Savior who has been born to you who is Christ the Lord. As you do, think about everything you know about WHO God is and everything God can do. Marvel as you now behold Him in the manger as a newborn baby, only a few hours old. Let’s take a minute to silently marvel.
As we view the Christ-child in the manger, it is fitting for us to silently marvel at the sight before us. While the sight of any newborn fills us with awe and wonder, here in the manger, the Babe of Bethlehem is the eternal, almighty God who took on flesh. And He has come to us! The One who wraps Himself in light like a garment, is now wrapped in strips of cloth to stay warm. The One who holds the entire creation together, now has to be held by His mother. That Baby in the manger is God of God, Light of lights, very God of very God, who is of one substance with the Father. This is the Holy One of Israel. God Himself has come to dwell among US.
Keep silent as you consider WHY He came to us. The LORD who rightly should be roused from His holy habitation to consume us in His righteous wrath over our sin, instead is roused from His holy habitation to rescue us. He comes knowing all that is prophesied about Him. He comes knowing about the piercing, the stripes, the wounds, the cross, the hellish abandonment by God. The Lord of Life comes knowing He must die.
And yet He comes. He doesn’t run in the opposite direction like Jonah did. He doesn’t stay on His rightful throne in heaven, where angels worship Him. No. The LORD comes to take on flesh and dwell among us. He does it for you. He does it to rescue you from your sin and earn for you the gift of eternal life. Yes, sing and rejoice, but also silently marvel at this great wonder. Praise be to the LORD who comes to us! Hallelujah! 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.