Christmas Eve, Vigil of the Nativity, 2018

The Epistle – Titus 2:11-15

The Gospel – St. Luke 2:1-14

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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Some might say that there are two sides or two parts to the belief system of the Christian Church. You have the story of Jesus. You have his birth narrative such as we heard read a minute ago.

 

And then you have the higher-level deeper theological elements of the faith. This is where the bigger words are used and the more difficult concepts begin to be employed.

 

Many times we see this in our weekly lessons on Sundays.  We get a narrative or an account of something Jesus said or did for the Gospel and then a more technical application from St. Paul or St. Peter or John or something.

 

Both of course have their place and both are important and it has to be said, that though one might be more interesting to hear and easier to understand, the two are really inseparable.

 

In fact you cannot have one without the other. We have to challenge ourselves at times to not just stop at the story we hear, but go further and understand what it means.

 

We have to know why we are being told this and what implications it has for us.

 

What does this mean on a deeper level?  Why is Jesus healing a bling man or raising Lazarus from the dead? 

 

Is he doing it simply because he is being nice?  That might be a part of it, but there is a greater reason why He does what He does and says what He says.

 

The birth narrative that we hear each year at this time gives us the basic facts of the birth of Jesus.

 

Luke says in chapter 1, “…it seemed good to me…having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (ESV)

 

Luke understands the importance of us getting this event not only understood on the surface, but that in reading his account, we might have certainty concerning the things we have been taught….

 

Because there are important things we must know and believe beyond this that will give us certainty.

 

Luke was careful to write an orderly account of the Christmas story. But he knows that we must move beyond just hearing the story.

 

We must see what this story means for our lives. We have to see what this birth of Jesus says about how we live from now on….from the time we accept it's accuracy and truth, we inevitably must go deeper to learn how it will now form and shape us for the rest of our lives.

This is that second level or that deeper part of the Christian faith that not many are exposed to …or what many people shy away from.

 

So tonight we will attempt to do a bit of both. …because we should not just be satisfied with the surface story, but we should desire to have certainty concerning the things we are taught.

 

Luke writes for us tonight, “In those days…  Those days are the days when an angel had visited Mary and announced that she would bear a son, who would come from the power of God. Also those days were when John the Baptist was born to Elizabeth.

 

 

In those days, “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. [2] This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” 

 

These two men can easily be looked up because they are historical figures.

 

So as we know, Joseph takes Mary and goes to Bethlehem because that is where his lineage comes from. While there, Mary gives birth to Jesus.

 

Because of this registration process, the region is crowded. Many people are there to follow Caesar’s orders for this census. Places to stay have become scarce.

 

 

 

Joseph and Mary end up in someone's barn or stable area where they use an animal feeding trough to double as a bed or a crib for their newly born son…..because none of the local inns have any more rooms left to rent.

 

In the same region, out in some field somewhere near by, there are some shepherds going about their usual business of tending flocks.

 

It is night time now.

An angel suddenly appears to them. They are afraid. But the angel says, “Fear not. Don't be afraid. I have something to tell you of great importance. I have an announcement to make.

 

In the city of David, in Bethlehem, a child has been born. This child is your savior. This child is Christ the Lord…..your long awaited Messiah…anointed by God.

 

“Here is where you can find him”…and the angel gives them the location.  The shepherds immediately go to see this newborn child.

 

When read like that, we can easily understand and follow what is happening. We get images in our mind of roughly what it looks like.

 

But we are here, 2000 years later and so much has changed since then.

 

The story is told year after year, but what it all means beyond what you just heard sometimes gets set aside or lost…

or obscured in some way that it loses it's impact if it's just heard like that.

Besides the angel appearing and announcing the birth of the child, all the rest seems fairly simple and insignificant.

 

This is why we must go further in the Christian faith to know not just the story of the birth of Jesus, but all of the deeper theological aspects of it as well.

 

Hear now again what St. Paul writes to Titus …part of which we heard also tonight.

 

Paul summarizes the birth of Jesus and it's meaning in one sentence.

“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”

 

God is gracious. He, out of His gracious nature, appeared, bringing salvation to all people.

 

That is what happened in that paraphrased version of the birth of Jesus read a minute ago.

 

The grace of God appeared. …in the form of a baby. And that baby…lying in a feeding trough is God…who took on human nature and was born to Mary and Joseph and was along for the trip to Bethlehem for the census.

 

Further, this baby, who is declared to be God by those angels to the shepherds was born for a specific reason.

 

He was born, as Paul says, and He brought with Him salvation for all people.

 

 

 

You wouldn't catch that from the story…unless you noticed that the angels specifically said, “…unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (ESV)

 

Unto you is born a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Anointed One.

 

Saviors are only called that because they have a mission… and that is obviously, to save. 

 

This can get missed or left out of our Christmas celebrations and Christmas parties and Christmas decorating and Christmas gift giving and Christmas time off of work or school.

 

Unto us is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord. God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.

 

So this means that all people need salvation. Here is where we should be thinking deeper about this event.  
All people need to be saved. Saved from what?  Saved to what?

 

Even this has greatly been diminished in our day….or the days since the event first happened…but much more in our day probably.

 

So if God appeared in the form of a child and was born on this day…to bring salvation, it means there are implications.

 

Doesn't it mean now that we should be thinking beyond the surface of this story?

What is anyone to do with this story? Now that we have been alerted to the fact that we need salvation, we need to ask, “What shall I do to be saved?” shall we not?

 

I suppose today, more than ever, we have to realize that we need saving. In times past, people lived with a constant awareness of their mortality.


They knew there was a God. They knew they were in some way separated from Him and the relationship was in jeopardy. Their lives were driven daily to right that relationship. ….or to see it made right by someone.

 

They were aware that they could not really do much to make things right. They realized that even if they tried really really really hard, their efforts would fall short.

So in their realization of this, they would either despair and seek what they needed from God. Or some would continue to work at it, thinking what they were doing was enough.

 

Some of that is what people are like today.

 

But back to this child again. Back to the facts of this event.

This child, born to Mary is lying in a feeding trough has come. He has come to be the savior of His people.

 

He has come as Paul says today, to give Himself for us….to redeem us….from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.

 

This message is for all of us who realize that we cannot be our own savior. We need saving and yet we cannot do this ourselves.

But the message of Christmas …the message buried in that story is that God has appeared….without anyone bringing Him down.

 

He came of His own grace.  He came of His own will. He came out of love and pity to bring that salvation to us.

 

He came to redeem us from this state of hopelessness which we call sin. He came to save us from our own sin.

 

He came not only to be born and live…but He came also purposely to die.

 

That is the price that must be paid for sin. Death must happen.

Our own death is not sufficient because of the immensity of our sin. It has to be corrected by another.

 

The sin may not feel like it's all that serious, but it is against an infinitely holy and righteous God. …and that is why it is so serious.

 

His appearing, growing, and then dying was for each of us. To redeem us from sin. To bring salvation to us.

 

And….to purify for himself a people for His own possession.

 

He has come to lay claim to us. He knows that in the state we are in, we cannot save ourselves.

He came to us so that He could live a life that would be acceptable to God.

And He came also to die. To lay down His life in our place….the death we deserved to die, He died for us.

 

He came to seek us, find us and make us His own. All of these things could not have happened any other way.

 

So now knowing that this event that happened in history is factual and that it also has meaning for us 2000 years later, Christmas should have a greater impact on us each time we celebrate it.

 

This Christmas event is a rescue mission, by God to helpless people…people like us.

 

“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”

 

This means that, as Paul says, by Christ coming…the knowledge of Christ’s coming, it is “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, [13] waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”…at the end of time.

 

This is what we should also be telling others when we are celebrating Christmas.

 

Paul says at the end of this section tonight, that we are to “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (ESV)

 

Declare the Christmas story whenever you get a chance or opportunity. Remember what it means for you and for all men.

Paul says that this Christmas event allows us to not only exhort….encourage…tell…impress on others, but we also are to rebuke by it.

 

This means we can use it not only as a time of celebration, but also as a way to warn those who deny the story. ..deny Christ has come or deny that there is any implications for them.

 

Because rejecting it has severe and eternal consequences.

 

When we understand the Christmas event and let it guide us in our lives, it does, as the prayer says, make us glad when we remember it.

 

 

If we joyfully receive Christ as our savior, we must pray that this joy will propel us forward so that when Christ comes again, we will joyfully and confidently receive Him when He comes to be our judge.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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