Our celebration of the Savior’s birth can become so routine that we become numb to the joy—and the horror— of it all. On the one hand, it’s really odd that the Incarnation of our Lord is one of the Church’s two chief festivals. For us, nothing could be more normal than celebrating on Christmas Eve. If we didn’t, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.
But the fact that we actually celebrate on Christmas demonstrates how foolish God’s ways are to the world. We do celebrate on Christmas—and rightly so—but not for any reason the world usually celebrates. We tend to sentimentalize the birth of our Lord, as if it were some kind of silent, holy night. It was holy, to be sure, but it was anything but silent.
Consider Mary’s experience with childbirth. Mothers are instructed by their doctors to take it easy during the final trimester of pregnancy. During her 40th week, Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4), somewhere around 70 miles (without the conveniences of modern technology). She didn’t exactly have the best medical care, either. Her attending physicians were curious barnyard animals (Luke 2:7, 16), who would have only become more interested in what was going on when they heard the anguished screams of an epidural-free childbirth.
Then the angels show up singing “glory to God in the highest and on earth peace,” (Luke 2:14). Now that all sounds very lovely, but they weren’t singing just because they wanted to spread some holiday cheer. They were singing because Christ, the Savior is born— and it is that word, “Savior”, that points to the horror of Christmas. In order to have a Savior, you need a crucifixion.
Celebrating Christmas would be sort of like celebrating Daniel in the lion’s den had the Lord not intervened. Could you imagine the gory mess King Darius would have found had God not sent His angel to shut the lions’ mouths? We delight in the Lord’s miraculous deliverance of Daniel, but there would be no such rescue for Jesus. The Father did not spare the flesh of His own Son from the teeth of Satan.
That’s why Jesus was born. That’s why the angels sing. The Gloria in Excelsis is a hymn of great praise and joy, but only because Jesus will exchange His manger for a cross. In this respect, the Gloria isn’t so different from what the crowds might have sung at the Roman Coliseum while gladiators were torn to shreds.
The violent death of the innocent isn’t the sort of thing we usually celebrate. There are people who celebrate death and destruction, things like September 11th—we call them terrorists. But Christmas is also about delighting in death and destruction. We celebrate tonight because 33 years later, this innocent child was brutally executed for crimes He didn’t commit.
So why did Jesus take on human flesh and enter into this mess? Life can be so dark and suffocating that about every 13 minutes someone commits suicide. And even if you never try to kill yourself, you will almost certainly have days when you wish you’d never been born.
This is why the Psalm describes this life as “the valley of the death-shadow” (Psalm 23:4). St. Peter compared life in this world to being in exile (1 Peter 1:17), and Luther calls the world a “valley of sorrow.” Whether it’s extreme physical ailments, the unbearable side effects of some drug, the agony of a loved one’s death, or any of the tragic, senseless things that go on every day in this world, it’s a wonder that joy is possible in this world at all.
These aren’t things we like to think about, especially on Christmas Eve. But it’s especially important to think about these things tonight, because this is precisely the reason our Lord took on human flesh. In order to understand redemption, we first need to come to terms with the problem.
In one respect, it’s hard to understand why Jesus would choose to be born into this mess. He didn’t have to, and even if He did, He could have lived in luxury, or at the very least pain-free. Certainly we would avoid suffering if we could. Jesus had that option, but He didn’t choose it. As profound as our suffering can be at times, Jesus knew His would be so much greater than anything we could ever experience—and He went through with it anyway.
That’s how much Jesus loves you. He was born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried—all because He loves you. That’s the reason for the Incarnation. Jesus died for the sin of all: terrorist, atheist, devout Christian, Peter, Paul, and even Judas. He even died for those who only come to church every once in a great while for the wrong reasons.
In Christ, you have a Savior, one who abides with His people and promises eternal healing and joy to all who abide in Him. That’s why it’s vital to be nurtured on a steady diet of preaching and the Sacrament, so that you might continue to abide in Christ. His love for you is why you can have silent, peaceful nights even when you feel like you’ve been thrown to the lions. Happiness may be fleeting, but Christ’s love for you—and the peace that He gives—is not.
To the world, there could be nothing more than inappropriate than celebrating Christmas (and not just the fun holiday things), because Christmas is a celebration of death and destruction. We celebrate because this precious Christ child grew up to be devoured by lions. We rejoice in the cross because it means the destruction of sin and the death of death. It should come as no surprise that the world is offended by the phrase “merry Christmas.” But for we who rejoice in the folly of the cross, there could be nothing more appropriate to celebrate than Christmas. After all, it is the night when the Savior was born.
Soli Deo Gloria
 See Luther’s explanation of the Seventh Petition in The Small Catechism.