Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fourth Sunday in Advent (Rorate Coeli) + December 24, 2017
Text: Luke 1:46-55
“Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven”
This morning is the beginning of a three-part sermon series over today and tomorrow, in which we will focus on the part of the Nicene Creed where we, the Church, confess Jesus Christ, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.” So this morning, we begin with the first part, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.”
Who’s on your Christmas list? Who did you buy presents for? Your spouse, kids, extended family, and close friends? Beyond that, the rest might get a Christmas card. But do you plan to give a gift to your ex-wife who sued you for custody of the children? Are you going to get something nice for the guy who carelessly broke your daughter’s foot? Will you be thinking of what would be really nice for the person who spread lies and got you blackballed from your employer? I bet you didn’t.
But at Christmas, that’s exactly what God does. St. Paul says in Romans 5, “6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8) God’s gift was not for people who loved Him; it was for those very ones whose hearts were set against Him.
Yet it’s not that God welcomes in a bunch of His worst enemies to His proverbial Christmas party. That would amount to God being indifferent toward people who hate, slander, and ignore Him. No, the Lord is “a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6 NKJV)
This is how He does it: God showed grace to His enemies by giving His only-begotten Son so that those enemies would become friends. No! Even better than friends! That those former enemies would become members of His family for all eternity. “13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)
The Magnificat, the Song of Mary, speaks to the riches of God’s grace, making children out of those who in their hearts formerly hated Him.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:46–53)
Humble, lowly, and hungry were statements about more than Mary’s personality or material condition. These speak of her as undeserving of the least of God’s favors, and they speak of you and me. The Mighty one has shown His strength in the love incarnate in the manger at Bethlehem. So it is that God exalts those who are harassed and helpless, and lifts them up to be seated with Christ in the realms of heaven!
You see, God’s gift at Christmas gave you, a stranger and enemy, reconciliation. This is the gift which you needed beyond any money, sweater, fancy chocolate, or electronic gadget. For us men and for our salvation is the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God, out of great love for you, me, and all sinful people redeemed us from the singular most dangerous threat to our life. That threat is not terrorism, or being maimed in a car accident, or even falling prey to cancer; it’s eternal death and to suffer in hell. With this in full view, the Father sent His Son, born of woman, born under the Law to redeem us.
But His gift was not free! The gift which God gives you at Christmas came at the greatest price. The Holy One traveled from heaven to earth, walked through our sin-filled world, carried His Present up the hill of Calvary, and God paid for it with the life of His own Son. But the gift was not complete with that, because the Son rose on the third day to win resurrection and eternal life. And there’s still more to His gift because He ascended into heaven to show our return to the presence of God. What a precious Gift! Wrapped in the most glorious package!
And He delivers that gift to you in the waters of your Baptism. At various times, you may through unbelief put that gift back in the box and on a shelf in your linen closet. But He wants you to have that gift so badly, that He uses still more means to deliver it—the Word of God spoken by a godly friend or family member, an invitation to church, a message on a church sign. Through His Word and Spirit, God leads you again to see how lowly your estate truly is, and He urges you to take that gift once given out of the box, dust it off, and rejoice in it once more.
He delights to give it again and again. As often as you repent and confess your sins, He delivers His Gift again in the words of absolution. Every time you come to the Sacrament of the Altar, there He is delivering His Gift to you—the Body of Jesus, broken for you; the Blood of Christ, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
With that kind of Christmas gift, none other can compare. Enjoy your material gifts, but always in view of God’s gift to you in the manger. Amen!
 Matthew 9:36; Ephesians 2:6
 Galatians 4:4
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR