Christmas Eve Meditations
December 24, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
One of the most stressful parts of the Christmas holiday is choosing what to give someone as a present. You could get anything, wrap it up, and call it a present, but that’s not the way it’s done, right? You have to think about what the person needs, what they like, what you can afford. You want them to know that you bought the present just for them, just as you want to think they bought something just for you. No matter how old you get, there’s still a little bit of anticipation when you see the tag on the present and it says your name because that tag means that gift is just for you.
I love getting presents, but I can’t help but think they’re a little silly. The Savior of the world is born and what do we do? We spend too much time and money buying presents not for Jesus but for each other. Gift giving misses the whole point of Christmas which is that God is the giver of the perfect gift, and this gift is just for you. The angel proclaims to the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” He is for you! He is all yours! For unto you! Don’t ever forget that! Jesus is given to you!
Much of Christmas is trying to frighten children into behaving. Elves report your misdeeds to Santa, and Santa, who already knows if you’ve been naughty or nice, prepares lumps of coal for those who misbehave. Usually in the end though even the naughty children get presents. This is most especially true of God’s gift for you. In verse three of the hymn, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, we sing: “All you, beneath your heavy load, By care and guilt bent low, Who toil along a dreary way, With painful steps and slow: Look up, for golden is the hour, Come swiftly on the wing, The Prince was born to bring you peace; Of Him the angels sing. Christ is for you, regardless of what is going on in your life. Your sin, your past, your sorrow (which is especially real this time of year), your burdens all wear you down. Life can be a toil, a never-ending dreary road, but that doesn’t change the gift God gives to you at all; for born unto you this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
This Savior brings you the gift of peace, not peace on earth in the traditional sense, rather He brings you peace with God. Remember that you have found favor with God? This is the source of your peace! The Father’s gift of that lowly baby wrapped in swaddling cloths is what bridges the gap between you and God, a gap created by your sin. You are forgiven dear brothers and sisters in Christ! You are reconciled to God! No wonder the angels sang that glorious night!
Sometimes we give a present and the response isn’t quite what we would expect or want, that’s disappointing to say the least, right? When you hear this Christmas story is it ho-hum? Do you shrug off the greatest gift ever given – a gift that literally saves you from Sin, Death, and Hell? This is Christ the Lord who has come to you! This isn’t about Santa, presents, cookies, family, or anything else! This is about the Savior whose birth was announced when the Father tore open Heaven’s curtain and unleashed an angel choir. All of Heaven rejoiced at the announcement of the Savior’s birth!
Find once again the joy of Christmas and God’s present to you – Himself! Have the joy of the angels and the urgency and zeal of the shepherds this Christmas season. Do you think the shepherds ever forgot what they saw or stopped talking about it? Would you? Let us praise God for His incredible goodness in sending His Son and let us follow the example of the shepherds and make haste to see what God has given to us in the Babe of Bethlehem.
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (366 all stanzas)
A few years ago, I came across a Christmas song which is unlike any I had ever heard. It’s called It’s About the Cross and this Ball Brothers song instantly became one of my favorites; it’s really worth checking out on YouTube. I do have a couple of bones to pick with the theology of the song, that’s probably because we pastors tend to be nitpicky when it comes to Lutheran theology. The theme of the song is that while Christmas is incredible, it can’t be separated from Good Friday and Easter.
I know the account of Good Friday isn’t a very cheery thought for Christmas. We want to focus on the cute little baby, the reverent shepherds, the quiet animals. That’s what’s in our Nativity scenes at home. I think it’s safe to say there’s not a single nativity scene in existence which includes the crucified Jesus. We want cute baby fingers and toes, not bloody, nail pierced hands and feet. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Silent Night needs a verse about whipping and Joy to the World doesn’t need a crown of thorns and nails. Our mood at Christmastime is entirely different than the mood of Holy Week, as well as it should be. I get it, I wouldn’t want to sing Good Friday hymns this time of year either. However, we must keep the cross in view even as we focus on the manger.
Did you know that the celebration of Holy Week and Easter preceded Christmas by centuries? They understood that it was by His death that He lived up to His name Jesus, which means “the Lord saves.” Did you know that Jesus is the only man to ever to be born with the purpose of dying?! His birth and His death, together, is what makes Him the Savior. The events of today are beyond equal, but when the angels sing of peace on earth and goodwill toward men, they’re preparing us for the cross because that’s where His work was completed.
When Jesus was presented to the Father at forty days of age, Mary and Joseph encountered a man name Simeon. As he held the newborn Savior, he said some familiar words: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” What’s not recorded in our post-communion canticle is what he then said to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” A new mother, any mother for that matter, doesn’t want to hear about the time when her child will cause her pain, and yet that’s what Simeon is saying.
Verse three of What Child Is This gets it perfect: “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be borne for me, for you; Hail, hail the Word made flesh, The babe, the son of Mary!” To bear the cross for you could only happen if God took on human flesh and became like one of his sinful fallen creatures. Tiny baby Jesus was certainly a cutie, most babies are, but He couldn’t stay that way and accomplish what saves you from your sins. So He grew up and the woman who held Him close in birth, held Him close in death.
I love Christmas music, not all year round, but for a month or so every year. After a day or so I’ve had my fill of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Let it Snow, and Baby It’s Cold Outside so it’s good to change the channel and hear Angels We Have Heard on High, Oh Holy Night, and Do You Hear What I Hear. I think though that What Child Is This has taken on a new meaning for me. Oh, I love Jesus and the celebration of His birth, but it’s good to be reminded of His purpose – to save you from your sins at dark Gethsemane.
What Child Is This (370)
If the shepherds weren’t completely awake when the angels appeared, they certainly were when the heavenly choir ceased their singing. These fortunate few raced into Bethlehem to see “this thing that had happened, which the Lord made known to them.” I can see them racing up and down the streets looking for a new baby in a stable. I kind of wish we had more details about Bethlehem to go by. Were people up all night catching up with friends and relatives? Were there parties? Or was everyone in bed while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads? It really doesn’t matter. because whether they were literally sleeping or not, they missed the incredible events of an unprecedented night.
They didn’t know about the miracle birth in their midst. They didn’t realize who was being born. Here is the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior promised hundreds of years before, and His birth goes unnoticed. The Savior was born right under their noses, and they missed Him! There wasn’t a big blue banner announcing, “It’s a boy!”. Only Mary, Joseph, a midwife or two, the shepherds, and some curious onlookers witnessed the birth of mankind’s salvation!
God takes on human flesh, incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and virtually no one notices. Not much different than today, is it? Without Jesus, Christmas is nothing! There’s a world full of people who are celebrating nothing this weekend. Think about the Christmas songs you hear 20 times a day: White Christmas, the Christmas Song, Jingle Bells, Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, Most Wonderful Time of the Year, that one about the bullied handicapped reindeer – not one mentions Jesus! So, what are they celebrating? Family? Snow? Chestnuts? Stockings? The Savior is right here, in our midst, and He’s missed.
No ear may hear His coming, but He has come. He was unnoticed and still is, but His presence among us is real! In that little town of Bethlehem, the Son of God left the throne of heaven to lay in a manger. In that little town of Bethlehem, the world was permanently changed. In that little town of Bethlehem, the blessings of Heaven were showered down upon you! That Savior was born for you! His gifts are there for the taking, if only He is noticed. That’s why He came, right?
Would people have stopped by the stable if they knew who was being born? Maybe, maybe not; hopefully they would have. This Christmas season I invite you to stop by the stable and see what’s happening. See that what happened in the little town of Bethlehem went far beyond that small town; it went into the world. The birth of Jesus isn’t just another birth, insignificant to everybody but the family, it’s God coming to live among us – it’s our Lord Immanuel!
O Little Town of Bethlehem (361 all stanzas)