A sermon given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican) on Christmas Eve, the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, December 24, 2020.
Holy Father, grant that all who hear this gospel may receive it, and known themselves to be within it. For the sake of your Son, our Savior. Amen.
Are you celebrating the heart of Christmas this year? Has it grabbed you? We call it a feast, you know – and that with good reason. Are you nibbling on scraps or are you filled to the brim? Much of what we culturally call “Christmas” is just that – leftover scraps flung from the table of the Lord. Why not feast with him, on him, himself?
As we gather this evening, digitally speaking, that’s where I want to focus our attention: on the heart of the matter. Look with me at the angel’s announcement to the shepherds in Luke 2:10-12: “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” In these three verses, we have the heart of Christmas. And the heart of Christmas can be seen in three ways.
I. God Understands Us
First, that God understands us. Not that he ever didn’t, but now he knows us from the inside out. Look at verses 10 and 11. The angel announces good news for all people and Jesus Christ is born. Born. God, born. “He [who] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” How did he empty himself? Not by losing what was, but by taking on what he was not, namely, humanity.
St. Augustine, in his typically pithy and powerful way, describes the Incarnation like this: “The one who holds the world in being was lying in a manger; he was simultaneously speechless infant and Word. The heavens cannot contain him, a woman carried him in her bosom. She was ruling our ruler, carrying the one in whom we are, suckling our bread. O manifest infirmity and wondrous humility in which was thus concealed total divinity! Omnipotence was ruling the mother on whom infancy was depending; was nourishing on truth the mother whose breasts it was sucking. May he bring his gifts to perfection in us, since he did not shrink from making his own our tiny beginnings; and may he make us into children of God, since for our sake he was willing to be made a child of man.”
You see, without the truth of the Incarnation, Christmas loses its savor. Its very heart is wrenched out of place. With that truth at the center, Christmas is full of sweet and incomparable comfort.
Psalm 139 tells us, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.” In the Incarnation, God did one better: he became one of us. He knows you, and knows you intimately. And he has come, that he might be received by you.
Hebrews tells us that, “Therefore [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17)
II. Jesus Has Come to Rescue Us
And that brings us to the second part of the heart of Christmas. Christ did not come simply to sympathize with us. He did not come to just lay a hand on our shoulder and say, “My, how I feel for you.” He did not come merely to commiserate with us. The manger always points beyond itself to the cross. Jesus came to set the human condition right. To make satisfaction for sin. Jesus came to give his life for us. Christ in our place is not only the heart of the cross, but the heart of his entire life.
Look at the angel’s words in verse 11: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Savior, Messiah, Lord. This is the identity of Jesus.
I recently heard magician Jim Munroe share his testimony of faith in the YouTube series “I Am Second.” In the testimony, he shared how he moved from a live of skepticism, borne out of his trade as a magician, to one of committed faith in Jesus Christ. He encountered the Gospel at church, and afterward prayed that God would make himself known to him. The answer he received was not what he expected.
Soon after this time, Jim received the news that he had Leukemia. But not only Leukemia – a rare form of Leukemia with very few options for successful treatment.
The specific treatment he was given (and, which worked to cure him!), would lead him to faith in Christ. Doctors prescribed to him a method of treatment by which, another person’s blood, an exact DNA match (a singular match, found from a database of millions of potential donors), would be given him, and cure him of his blood cancer from the inside out. Another’s immune system would be entirely given to him.
Another’s blood, another’s life, imparted to him. Jim relates, “[it was] a substitution of blood of my behalf, so that I could live again, and so that the deception of my body would die.” Friends, that is what Jesus has come to do – to impose all his worthiness and health into us, the sick and unworthy.
You see, for the Christmas Gospel to be what the angel proclaimed it to be – good news – you must not only know God’s great love; you must know your great need – your need for rescue. Jim’s story helps us understand that this Christmas.
III. Christ Has Come to Be Humbly Received
Look at verses 11 and 12 again. “For unto you is born this day… And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Unto you. Does anything in the whole universe cry out to be received more than a baby? St. Jerome says, “Since we…have heard the Babe crying in the manger and have adored him there, let us continue our adoration of him today. Let us pick him up in our arms and adore him as the Son of God.”
But who can receive him? According to the biblical story, day laborers and pagans. Remember that these words were spoken to shepherds. People who were poor enough to know good news when they heard it. Do you have the spiritual poverty necessary to receive this gift?
When folks come to faith, we often hear people say that they have “given their life to the Lord.” This is well and good. But if we understand how Christ is to be received, we ought all the more to say again and again, the Lord has given his life to me.
I’d like to end this sermon and help you begin your celebration of Christmas with a poem. In the poem “Descent” by Malcom Guite, he contrasts classical ideas about god with our God, the living God. These ideas about god linger on – may these lines bless you to know and receive and rejoice today in the very heart of Christmas.
They sought to soar into the skies
Those classic gods of high renown
For lofty pride aspires to rise
But you came down
You dropped down from the mountains sheer
Forsook the eagle for the dove
The other Gods demanded fear
But you gave love
Where chiselled marble seemed to freeze
Their abstract and perfected form
Compassion brought you to your knees
Your blood was warm
They called for blood in sacrifice
Their victims on an altar bled
When no one else could pay the price
You died instead
They towered above our mortal plain,
Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,
Aloof from birth and death and pain,
But you were born.
Born to these burdens, borne by all
Born with us all ‘astride the grave’
Weak, to be with us when we fall,
And strong to save.
And so to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be all the praise, honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.