How often through the years I’ve imagined the scene of Christ’s birth – the dingy stable, the lowly manger, the swaddling clothes, Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. It is all quite a sight. But I must confess that seldom, if ever have I tried to picture the scene from the Christ-child’s point of view. Oh, I know, he was only a baby. But imagine his eyes opening for the first time that Christmas morning to see a world so different than the heaven he had left – no emerald courts, no sapphire skies, no Jerusalem the Golden. No, he had traded it all for a stable in the little town of Bethlehem. And that’s not the half of it. He awoke that morning in a world that he himself had created to be a paradise. But the people he had made to live here had scorned him and his loving gift. By their rebellion they had ruined everything—themselves, their children and the beautiful world God entrusted to them. Their sin had turned this earth into a war zone and its inhabitants into the living dead – spiritual corpses by nature—all of them.
So what in heaven would possess the Lord Jesus to come here as a baby no less? The answer is right in front us: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world…” (1 John 4:9). This is essence of Christmas – for love’s sake God sent us his Son, not on a lark or an adventure, but on a rescue mission – “…that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
You might think that a world of people dead in sin would welcome such happy news, but that’s not the way sin works. Jesus would one day explain it this way: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:31). Sin is a silent killer. Those who suffer from it don’t know it, don’t want to hear about it and sure don’t think they need a sin-doctor. Instead they embrace sin, even celebrate it. No surprise, then, that the mere suggestion that they somehow need to be “saved,” makes sinners angry and brings to the surface the hatred that fills their hearts. I say, “no surprise” because isn’t that our own reaction when someone calls attention to our sin? Be honest. When’s the last time you thanked your spouse, your parents or friends for pointing out one of your sins? How did that conversation go? Did you say to your wife: “You’re right, dear. I sinned. I appreciate the fact that you called me to repentance. Please don’t hesitate to do the same thing the next time I am in the wrong.” Is that the way it played out? Or did you get angry and defensive. Did you excuse your sin or maybe defend it? Such reactions on our part are vivid and constant reminders of the fact that we still possess the sinful nature we were born with—a nature that hates anyone and everyone who calls out our sin, even God.
Would it shock you to learn that the feeling was mutual? God hated sin and sinners—not just those out there who mock and despise Christmas but also the ones in here who celebrate it. Paul
explains in Ephesians: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1,3). As one who is perfectly holy God must hate sinners. I’m guessing this isn’t news to us. In fact, we might be thinking that this explains some of the things that are going on in our lives right now. God must be angry at me—why else would I be sick? Why else would I be so alone? Why else would I be struggling in school or feel like such a failure at work? God hates me. And I know why. This is the hard part, hard to admit and hard to say: He hates me because I’m not the person I should be or even the person I pretend to be. God sees through me. He sees my selfishness. He sees that I don’t love him and all of you as I should. And because he is a just God, a God who carries out justice, what choice have I given him? He has to settle the score, doesn’t he? He has to punish me now and forever, right?
My friends, the answer to that question would be a terrifying, “Yes,” if not for Christmas. Christ’s birth changes everything. Christmas shows us that there is more to God than holiness and justice. “God is love” (1 John 4:16). My tiny brain struggles to understand this – how God can be all these things and more all at once. So rather than explain himself, God simply shows us. Rather than talk about his feelings, God takes action. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Isn’t that the best news ever? My relationship, your relationship with God doesn’t depend on our claim to love him or our ability to prove it. It’s all about God and what his love does for us. His love has sent us his own Son—not to be our example so we could live like him. He came to be our substitute so that we could live through him.
Christmas is Jesus, God’s Son taking our place, giving to God everything we owe him from a child’s obedience to an adult’s devotion. Christmas is Jesus living life in our name—his selfless love in trade for our self-serving conceit. I suppose someone might say, “Wait a minute. You’re getting ahead of yourself. Christmas by itself isn’t all these things.” I’ll give you that. But I’ll also point out that Christmas isn’t by itself. If it were, it would be nothing more than a human interest story about a baby born in a barn. But that’s not how God tells it. Christmas is our salvation story, because in one sentence God links Christmas to Good Friday and ultimately to Easter Sunday, assuring us that he sent us his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins by bearing in his body the punishment we deserve, by suffering in hell God’s hatred for us sinners and by rising from the grave to prove that God’s wrath is all spent and sin’s wages all paid. This is God’s Christmas gift to the world – peace through Jesus between God and sinners.
God’s Christmas gift became yours on the day of your baptism. John explains: “We know that we live in [God] and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). You came to the baptismal font dead in your sins. There God’s Spirit met you in his Gospel. There he breathed new life into you. There he performed spiritual CPR on you, so that your heart now beats with the love of Christ. God’s Spirit has given you faith to trust that God loves you in Christ. He’s not angry with you. He’s not punishing you. He’s with you always to see you through life’s troubles. Christian, thanks to Christmas, you have this new lease on life. So what are doing with it?
Over the years I’ve taken any number of First Aid courses. Without fail, the instructor always tells us that the first thing to do when coming upon someone in need of help is to look for signs of life. Where there is a pulse, there will be movement. The same is true of spiritual life says St. John: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us…Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him” (1 John 4:11,12,16).
Where God dwells in people there is spiritual life and where there is spiritual life there is Christian love. God sent us his Son so that we might love one another with the love of Christ.
Remember what we said about Christ’s kind of love? Rather than talk about feelings, he took action. So it is with us whose hearts now beat with the love of Jesus. Christian love does not concern itself so much with the way we feel about each other as it does with the loving things we are willing to do for one another. This special love allows us to see the people around us through the eyes of Jesus. That means we see them as sinners like us, sinners for whom Jesus lived and died, people that Jesus bought with his blood and wants in his heaven. Can you see the people around you in this way? It’s a challenge, isn’t it? Feelings often get in the way. There is an old adage: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” How true this is in our families, in our friendships and in our congregation. Satan is working overtime to use the hurts and pain caused by things said and done to keep us from loving each other in the way that Christ loves us all. Satan’s ultimate goal is not just to limit our love but to destroy our new life. Anger and hatred, grudges and feuds can choke the faith right out of us, until finally we are lost all over again.
Our Lord doesn’t want that to happen to any of us. So what should we do? There is only one thing to do. We gather up the grudges and the hurt, we take the anger and the hatred and lay it all at the feet of our newborn Savior, trusting that where we have sinned we have the forgiveness of God, bought and paid for with the blood of his Son. And where we have been sinned against, we have our Savior’s promise that his love is still at work in our lives, making all things serve our good, even the hurts and pains caused by those around us. The world doesn’t know this so it clings to bitterness. We, on the other hand, cling by faith to God’s truth, powerful truth that melts animosity, gets rid of grudges, heals hurts and best of all, moves us to forgive every sin, not because we always feel like it, but because we always have a reason to forgive in Christ. This is not something any of us can do on our own. This is God’s work within us. This is his love being made complete in us, reaching its goal as it continues to proclaim forgiveness to us and through us. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16).
My friends, now you know what the little Lord Jesus saw on that first Christmas morning – he saw you and me. He saw all that he his love would accomplish for us and all believers. He a saw a day when you and I would celebrate Christmas with him in the glories of heaven. Until then his promises for the present together with his vision of your future will fill your hearts and minds with peace and joy today and always. Amen