I begin tonight, with words not my own, to speak about the most wondrous gift given to us all on this most holy night. I invite you to hear these words from Martin Luther’s sermon on the afternoon of Christmas Day, 1530, as he preaches about the angel’s message: To you is born this day, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Luther says: “it is a high article to believe that this infant, born of Mary, is true God;… But for whom was he born and whose Lord and Savior is he?… Mary bore the child, took it to her breast and nursed it, and the Father in heaven has his Son, lying in the manger and in the mother’s lap… And yet, Mary, you did not bear this child for yourself alone. The child is not yours; you did not bring him forth for yourself, but for me, even though you are his mother, even though you held him in your arms and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and picked him up and laid him down… If one could put out of one’s mind all that one is and has except this child, and if for that one everything— money, goods, power, or honor— fades into darkness and that one despises everything on earth compared with this child, so that heaven with its stars and earth with all its power and all its treasures becomes nothing compared to that one, that one would have the true gain and fruit of this message of the angel… “I bring to you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior” [Luke 2:10-11]. One must not deny what is written here: “To you is born this day the Savior.”… if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father… Greater words than these I cannot speak.”
That’s Luther. Now me.
These words made all the difference for our brother Martin and they ought to be held at the center of our faith, as well. These are words we hear whenever Christ Jesus comes to us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Take and eat. This is my body given for you. Take and drink. This is my blood shed for you. The fact that this gift – the fact that the coming of the Christ as our Savior and Lord – is for us, changes everything.
In Luther’s day it was surely true, but still in our own, how many people are tormented by the fear of punishment – by the fear that God’s coming is something to be feared, because God will come in judgment? But look – behold! Hear the angel’s message and believe it to be true! The angel comes from God bringing God’s word to the shepherds, and through them to us: I bring you tidings of great joy that will be for all the people, for to you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Messiah, the Lord!
Not one coming with condemnation! Not one coming with retribution! Not one coming to fill you with fear, or guilt, or suffering, or torment because you are less than you could be in some way or another, or because you fail to live fully into the life God in Christ has called you to in and through the covenant of Holy Baptism.
No! Unto you is born, not a judge, but a Savior!
That’s the good news of great joy that comes to us in God’s message through the angels. It’s good news of great joy because it announces our freedom from all that is dark and deadly in the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem.
It’s good news of great joy because this holy child will grow to live a life like ours in all ways but without sin.
It’s good news of great joy because this sinless one will be condemned for us and will suffer and die at the hands of sinful humanity.
It’s good news of great joy because his death is not the end of the story as on the third day he will rise again to conquer sin and death once and for all.
In his holy birth, in his living and dying, in his resurrection, this child born for us, this son given to us brings the ultimate gift of peace in and through God’s saving love for all the world. And this good news of great joy continues to come to us in water and the word in Holy Baptism.
In grace and forgiveness proclaimed in and through the Word read and spoken and sung as we gather in worship; in bread and cup, Christ’s own body and blood given and shed for you, and received at Christ’s own command: Do this in remembrance of me; and in the community gathered, enlightened, empowered, and sent out into the world as those who continue to announce, together with the angelic hosts: Behold! I bring you good news of great joy. To you is born a savior who is Messiah the Lord.