“What Christmas Is All About: God Saving Us,
in a Humble Way, to Be His People”
(Luke 2:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; Isaiah 9:2-7)
What is Christmas all about? How do people view Christmas and celebrate it? Why do they look forward to it? Or do they? Some people get burned out on Christmas and want to avoid it. But most folks still like to maintain the custom of celebrating Christmas. Why? What is it about this holiday that makes it so special? I think there is something about this holiday that is special, but it may not be the same as what most people think.
For most people, for most Americans, at least, I think it’s sort of a nostalgic glow that is the big thing about Christmas. They associate it with happy memories from days gone past. Tinsel and lights on the Christmas tree. Packages nicely wrapped and piled up under the tree. Kids eagerly awaiting the visit from Santa. Christmas cards taped to the door. Christmas stockings hung on the mantle. Christmas songs played on the radio, and Christmas specials on TV: Rudolph, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Frosty the Snowman. Happy times with Grandma and Grandpa. That special Christmas dinner, with family traveling from all over to get together, and all sitting around the table. Whether it was ham or turkey–or, in the case of us Henricksons, lutfisk and Swedish meatballs and rice pudding–Christmas dinner with the family is one of the most treasured memories of this holiday.
Now is there anything wrong with those happy associations with Christmas? No, not at all. All good things, when kept in proper perspective, and all to be enjoyed. Good stuff. But are those what Christmas really is all about? Tonight I’d like to suggest, no, those nice things, as nice as they are, are not the essence of Christmas. I think they all come out of Christmas, as a byproduct thereof, but the original connection with the essence of Christmas has become more and more loosened as the years and the centuries have gone by.
So what is Christmas all about? I’ve thought about that question, and in looking over the lessons assigned for this night, I think we can boil it down to this: “What Christmas Is All About: God Saving Us, in a Humble Way, to Be His People.”
God saving us, in a humble way, to be his people. Yes, I think that’s it. That’s what our readings tonight would tell us. First of all, Christmas is about God saving us. It’s about what God is doing. It’s not about what we’re doing. This isn’t Santa’s big scene; it’s God’s. Christmas has to do with what God does for us. And what he does for us at Christmas is to save us. He sends us a Savior. The Savior, the only one there is. Namely, our Lord Jesus Christ. You know, the one who puts the “Christ” into “Christmas.” You can’t get any more essential than that.
The angel tells us what Christmas is all about: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” A Savior. Just what we need. We need a Savior, because there are things we need saving from, things we cannot save ourselves from. Things like sin and death and the devil and hell. We would be lost, doomed and damned forever, if God had not sent a Savior who can deal with those mighty foes and deliver us from them.
And this Savior is Christ the Lord. He is the Christ, meaning, the Messiah, the anointed one, the great king descended from the line of David, as God had promised he would send a thousand years earlier. Now the promise is coming to fruition. The Christ has been born, he has arrived, fittingly, in the same city where David himself was born, in Bethlehem. Here is a king mighty enough to overcome all our foes, those enemies named sin, death, devil, and hell. For Jesus is God in the flesh, and only God can deliver us from all that evil. The sin problem is one we brought on ourselves, so how are we going to dig ourselves out of it? We can’t. But God can. And he does. He does it in the person of this Lord Jesus Christ, born as the babe of Bethlehem. And it is out of God’s good pleasure, his pure grace, that he does this.
But God does this in a humble way. That’s our second point. First was that God saves us. Second is that he does this in a humble way. Everything about Christmas comes in a lowly fashion. Joseph and Mary were no “power couple”; they were rather poor, in fact. Bethlehem was a dinky little town, not some great metropolis. Joseph and Mary couldn’t even find a hotel room in Bethlehem, so they had to go sleep out in the garage. They have to lay the newborn baby in a feed trough. Everything here screams “humble.” Then there are the shepherds out in the field. Not a very high-profile, high-prestige occupation. Working-class guys, at best. Is this any way to welcome a king?
But God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. This infant lowly would bring about the salvation of the world in the most humble manner possible: by dying on a cross. Rejected by his people, condemned as a criminal, suffering in shame and agony. It was no shiny Christmas tree, but a tree of crucifixion, where the greatest gift would be given: the forgiveness of sins. Jesus dying for our sins, for your sins–this is the gift, and this is why the Savior had to be one of us, to suffer and die in our place.
God does his saving activity in humble ways. This is still true today. In the church, which nobody seems to care about anymore–in and through the church, God is doing the most important work going on in the world today. Through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, through the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion–all very humble means–God is at work, saving sinners, creating and nurturing faith, forgiving sins, and strengthening his people for lives of love and service.
And that leads us to our third point: Christmas is all about God making us his people. Listen to that brief reading from Titus once again: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
The consequence of Christmas is that now we are God’s people, redeemed by Christ and bought with a price. This changes our lives, it changes the way we live. Christ’s first coming means that now we live with an eye toward Christ’s second coming. And while we wait, we turn away from the pull of the world, which would pull us away from God and turn us in on ourselves. And by the Spirit of Christ, we turn toward our neighbor with good works of love that proceed from a living faith. Christmas means that Christ will have for himself a people for his own possession. That is why he came.
Christmas shows that God is intent on having himself a people. That’s also what Isaiah is saying: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
The child born in the city of David is born to be a king. And this king will have his kingdom. And the good news is, we get to be a part of it! It is a kingdom of peace, peace with God established through the Prince of Peace. It is a kingdom of justice and righteousness, God justifying us, pronouncing us not guilty, by virtue of the righteousness of Christ. The kingdom Christ establishes is an everlasting kingdom, one in which we will live forever, even as Christ our risen king lives and reigns to all eternity. Yes, God is having himself a people, and it happens though the child who is born, the son who is given, on this Christmas night.
What is Christmas all about? The music and the meals, the tree and the lights, the family times, the Christmas presents, the memories shared–all of these are great. But always remember, these are not of the essence of Christmas. What Christmas is all about is so much greater. And it is this: God saving us, in a humble way, to be his people. And it all happens through Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem, lying in a manger: “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”