1st Sunday of Christmas
Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15
December 26, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
I know Christmas is over for the rest of the world, and for many Christians as well, but does our Old Testament reading seem to have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas? We’re still in the Twelve Days of Christmas, counting down to Epiphany, so the Lord talking to Moses about breaking donkey’s necks and the death of the firstborn males in Egypt from Pharaoh on down to the lowest animal, seems truly out of place. And it is out of place if you don’t know the story, so let’s look at how a firstborn, a lamb, and the Baby Jesus truly do fit together perfectly.
Our reading from Exodus 13 takes place immediately after the Israelites had left Egypt following the first Passover. Do you remember that? Egypt had enslaved Israel for hundreds of years, and even after God had done miracles like changing water into blood, sending locusts, frogs, and gnats by the millions and blotting out the sun, Pharaoh and the Egyptians continued to harden their hearts against God’s demand to let His people go. So God decreed that the Tenth and final plague would be the worst and after that one, the Egyptians would have no choice but to relent.
The last plague is a visible reminder of God’s wrath. During the night, the Lord passed through Egypt and struck down the firstborn of both man and beast. From Pharaoh on his throne down to the slave girl toiling over dirty mop water, all of them lost their firstborn son. At midnight the Lord killed the son who was held in the most honor, the son who would have leadership over the family, the son who was expected to carry on the family name. The midnight skies throughout Egypt were filled with wailing as death touched every single home. It was the death of the firstborn that finally pushed Pharaoh into letting the children of Israel leave Egypt. When the angel of death had done His work it was clear that the God of Israel was the God of life and death. The Egyptian gods were nothing!
This was high point of the year, of their whole lives, actually. God had just brought them out of slavery in Egypt by killing the firstborn of the Egyptians and sparing their sons by the blood of the Passover lamb that had been smeared on the doorposts of their home. The Lord saw that blood, saw that the sacrificial lamb had died, and He passed over the house of the faithful. As they hurried toward the Red Sea they were filled with excitement and joy. They were finally free! Yet during their flight to the Promised Land, God stops to teach His people a lesson they were to never forget. Each time a family had a firstborn son or animal they were to offer a sacrifice. The sacrifice of a lamb would redeem the child and to dedicate it to the Lord. Throughout the Bible we see that the Lord owns all things, but the “firsts” especially belonged to Him. God received the first fruits of the harvest, He receives the first tithe of our income, He receives the firstborn son. God obviously didn’t want the people to sacrifice their sons, so a lamb was substituted in the place of their sons.
Mary and Joseph were doing that special act in our Gospel. When Jesus was forty-one days old, He was presented at the Temple and his parents offered a sacrifice in the place of their son. Because Joseph and Mary were poor they were allowed to sacrifice two pigeons instead of a lamb, but the purpose was the same, Jesus would belong to the Lord.
There’s a great irony here when Joseph and Mary present Jesus in the temple and make an offering because he’s their firstborn son. In an incredible reversal, He will be offered up on the cross to redeem Mary and Joseph—and you and me and the whole world. He will shed his blood to buy us back. This little baby, who seems to escape death because his parents sacrificed a couple of pigeons, ends up being sacrificed during the Passover on a cross and Christ’s resurrection is His passing through death and saving you.
Jesus is different because He was the Baby who came to die. He came to do the job of the lamb that was given in exchange for the life of the firstborn child. The fact is Jesus was born because God the Father chose Him to take your place. Already in the Old Testament, God wanted His people Israel to know that—and He wants us today to remember it. The first Passover Lamb, and all lambs that followed, all pointed to Jesus and what He would do for us.
So Christmas isn’t just a time to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, it’s also a time to remember the death of God’s firstborn, which sets us free from slavery to sin. That’s what redemption is. It’s a price paid to get something back. But now, not just the firstborn, but all sinners, face the prospect of death. So here comes the firstborn of God Himself, born to be the Lamb of God to take your place. His blood was smeared on the cross so yours wouldn’t be. He was killed so you are set free from your slavery. This baby is the firstborn of Mary so that He will fulfill the words of Gabriel and save God’s people from their sins.
Every year when the Jews celebrated the Passover feast it was the job of one of the youngest children to ask four questions about the feast and why it was different than all other dinners. One of the eldest members of the family would then retell the account of the Exodus and the Passover Lamb. The ensured that God’s gracious work in Egypt would always be remembered.
We don’t celebrate the Passover anymore, but we sure do celebrate what Jesus, the perfect Passover Lamb, did for us. Jewish families talk about the significance of the Matzah bread, Christian families talk about the significance, and power, of Holy Baptism. We don’t worry about eating bitter herbs to remember the tears of the Israelites when they were enslaved, we eat the body and blood of Jesus which tells us that Jesus died and rose for us so all of our sins are forgiven. When we eat the Lord’s Supper, we are eating and drinking the body and blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We’re reminded that Jesus took our place and saved us. Our sins are forgiven, and we have God’s promise that we will live forever. The redeeming of the firstborn in Israel was a reminder of what God had done and a promise of what he would later do in Christ. In the same way, the water, the Word, and the body and blood are Christ’s promise to you that He has indeed taken your place and redeemed you. You are a part of His people because blood was shed for you.
On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Mary’s firstborn Son. But He is also the only-begotten Son of God. And He came into this world for a purpose: to redeem, buy back, to take the place of and save not just the firstborn kids but everyone. To save you. It’s easy to get caught up in the world’s celebration of Christmas with its music and decorations, so we’re reminded that this Child was born for a much greater reason than to give us an excuse to exchange gifts. He came into this world to be the Lamb who is given in our place. Christ is born to be the Lamb to redeem you and rescue you from Sin and Death. This is what Christmas is really all about.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen