Fourth Sunday in Advent

~ Rorate Coeli ~

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-19 | Philippians 4:4-7 | Luke 1:39-56

Text: Philippians 4:4-7

“The Lord is at Hand For You”

Intro: It formed the theme for last Sunday, and now here it is again: Rejoice in the Lord always. Today focuses heavily on the reason for rejoicing in all circumstances: The Lord is at hand.

1. The Lord is at hand…to judge.

a. His nearness is not good news in and of itself: 32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” (Matt. 24:32-33) The Lord’s imminent return is not good news for the unbelieving.

b. Jesus was near to Peter when he denied his Lord and Jesus’ gaze caused Peter to weep. (Luke 22:58-62) The Word that Jesus had spoken caused bitter tears.

c. He is near even when you are purposely overriding your conscience and doing what you know isn’t right. In these moments, we put on a mockery of the life of faith, using the Lord’s patience as an excuse to gratify our flesh. Remember the bitter tears of Peter, and repent.

> The nearness of His condemnation of our unbelief isn’t His ultimate goal. His desire is to put our Old Adam, with all his rebellion and wickedness to death. Instead of judgment, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) The Lord is at hand.

II. The Lord is at hand…for His people.

a. The Lord’s nearness had caused the people to tremble at the foot of Sinai. “Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.” (Deut. 18:16) So the Lord sent Moses and Aaron as His representatives. He promised to once again draw near in the Prophet who would bear His Word (Old Testament reading, Deut. 18:15-19).

b. Elizabeth and Mary recognized the nearness of the Lord. Even the infant John recognized it and rejoiced inside Elizabeth! It was not just a thoughtful reminder, but it was embodied in the infant in Mary’s womb.

c. This is the comfort of the Lord being at hand for you, bringing His mercy and salvation. The Israelites hoped for this Prophet, Elizabeth and her baby leapt, Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior.

The Lord is at hand with His Word and in His flesh.

III. The Lord is at hand…for you.

a. Though we rightly deserve His displeasure for our denials, our weakness, and our unfaithfulness, the Lord Jesus Christ was born to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:23). The Lord is at hand to save you.

b. The nearness of the Lord is not just a cognitive device to calm our minds. It’s a truth which our faith clings to, and a peace which is delivered by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word. The Lord is at hand to give you peace.

c. And it’s a reality that as often as we forget or push away the nearness of the Lord, we look for peace in the wrong place. We try to find it in our understanding and how well we manage our life and relationships. This can only give us a passing, human peace.

d. In that false belief, we think the Lord is far away. I’m suffering, and He’s somewhere else. His congregation is hurting and He is idly looking on. Our world is wandering into darkness, and He must just be fed up with us.

e. But our Lord does not simply stand by waiting for us to “figure out the right thing to do.” He is active in our lives, to break our confidence in our understanding, our own proud accomplishments. And that illusion of self-made peace we give up in repentance, God fills us with peace that no man could ever dream of.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Because it is true the Lord is at hand, cast your cares on Him; seek His help in prayer; praise Him for the abundant good He does for you, and enjoy a peace which surpasses that of our thoughts. Rejoice in the Lord at all times, for “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:1, 11) In the Name + of Jesus.


Fourth Sunday in Advent (Rorate Coeli)

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15–19 | Philippians 4:4–7 | John 1:19-28

Text: John 1:19-28

There is something diabolical in us that fears that John the Baptist will ruin Christmas. He disrupts things. John is not here to help you have fun. Rather, he is trying to help you prepare for the Last Day and the Lord’s return.

(c) Penrhyn Castle; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In that office, he is prone to notice inconvenient things, such as when people are living together outside of marriage. In fact, this is what Herod Antipas would behead him for. He tried to warn Herod, but Herod didn’t want to be warned. He wanted to live with his brother’s wife as though she were his wife. It would have been fine if John had secretly disapproved but not spoken against it out loud.  He could have remained silent, saying to others that even though he personally disapproved of Herod’s lifestyle, it was sadly what people do these days, and the main thing was to keep up appearances, to not make waves because he loved Herod no matter what. It would have been fine if John disliked what they were doing deep in his heart, secretly, because he preferred the old ways, but at the same time if he would do everything he could to pretend as though Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother, was a legitimate wife to Herod. If he would have just avoided making them uncomfortable. Then he could have lived and probably even been rewarded.

But not John. John wouldn’t do that. He was more concerned with Herod and Herodias’ eternal fate, with the damage and pain that their infidelity was causing, than he was with being liked by him or even living.

Now, if your goal this Christmas is to create warm, life-long memories for your family, then don’t be like John. The secret to a Christmas without controversy or pain is to avoid all topics of any weight or seriousness and certainly don’t warn sinners of the danger of their sins. Don’t talk about anything that matters. Stick to clichés about how much you love your family and how special they are. Make sure that no one feels judged. Encourage people in their defilements and they will like you. And then you’ll never be accused of the most unforgivable of all sins: taking yourself too seriously. Agree with their blasphemy, their perverse and uninformed opinions, and they might even call you wise.

To create life-long, warm family memories, focus on the food and gifts and sentimentality. You can say it is Jesus’ birthday if you want, but keep Him in the manger and on the greeting card; off the cross and off the altar. Hide Him under a Christmas tree. Make sure the real focus is presents, fun, and family. By all means, don’t let Jesus speak. Don’t contemplate His sorrows and self-giving on the cross. For warm family memories, keep Jesus and the Prophets silent and nothing like John.  Go the church, but do it for the candles, the nostalgia, and the “time together.”  Then drown your conflicted conscience with an extra helping of egg nog.

The problem with those sorts of memories is they don’t bring any comfort in Hell. The good memories of having the good opinion of your loved ones and friends is nice while it lasts. It is not fun to be thought a bigot or arrogant by your family at Christmas time, and certainly to lose access to your grandchildren. But those things, at worst or best, only lasts as long as this life.

Can you imagine knowing the truth about our children and not warning them because we feared they would withdraw from us and then have them curse us from Hell because we cared more about a moment’s pleasure or a conflict-free Christmas than we did for their eternal fate? May God protect us from such cowardice!  And may God preserve us from losing the opportunity to speak to them!

Despite the discomfort it might bring, invite John the Baptist to your Christmas dinner. Let him speak the truth in love—to say what hurts, what is inconvenient, but necessary. Let him say it with compassion and kindness. Not just because it is right but also because in the long run it is worth it.

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

But, of course, John himself is not coming back from the dead.  As we heard him, say, he is not Elijah the Tishbite come back.  So, you’re going to have to do this yourself. You are going to have to “confess, and not deny, but confess.”  Maybe your kids will be outraged and go crazy if you warn them about the dangers of fornication or homosexuality or the necessity to be in Church more regularly than they change the batteries in their smoke detector. But will they really be surprised by these ideas?

Is this a change from what you used to think? Is it different from how you raised them? If so, then repent to them and tell them you were wrong and you’re sorry for that, and want to do better from here on out. I know there is risk, but will they not love you even if they disagree with you? I certainly hope they will. I hope they are not so petty and manipulative, or that you are not so desperate, that you must bribe them with your silence and pretend approval or that you must placate them with lies for the sake of a pretend peace even if it is harmful to them.

I think we can do better – by grace, in humility, for the sake of love. Every family is different. We all have baggage and dysfunction. But it is possible to speak civility and to actually talk about things that matter because they matter. This isn’t to cast stones for unfaithfulness. There is risk in speaking the truth to anyone who is caught up in his or her sin.

But sometimes Dad needs to be told to put down his phone and pay attention to his children, or Mom needs to be told that no one needs a third glass of wine, or your friend needs to be told that he is not being fair to his parents. If you love people, the risk is worth it. If we were talking about how to please customers because we want their money, how to win friends and influence people this would be a different conversation, but we are talking about how to live together in love according to God’s Word. This is about actually looking out for one another, not trying to manipulate one another.

Who hasn’t been afraid of the outburst a drunk friend will make if you suggest that he not drive or that you will look judgmental? But at the same time, who wants to go to that friend’s funeral and face his widow having made no attempt at all to stop him? None of us. We speak the truth because we think we are better than others. We do it because we love others.

So also John the Baptist is unfairly characterized as all Law. But his fiery calls to repentance are matched by a Baptism of forgiveness. His stern words to the priests and Levites and Pharisees are balanced by his welcoming of Gentiles. He not only warns of the day of wrath, he also points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Speak the whole truth of the God’s Word to your loved ones, Law and Gospel, ethical admonition and rebuke along with encouragement and confidence in God’s love and goodness in Christ.

22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John is a voice crying in the desert: “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Making the way straight isn’t John’s job; it is theirs. He is crying out to them. He is telling them, the priests, in light of the coming day of wrath, that they are to comfort the repentant, to embrace the Messiah, to recognize Him in their midst because He has come to save them and He fulfills the Law and the prophets. He cries to the priests and to us: “You there, make straight the way of the Lord. I can’t do it for you. You need to repent and believe.” John is there not only to kill with his Baptism but also to make alive through faith by the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Messiah comes to us and join us to Himself. He comes to make atonement, to spare us the punishment of our sins, to be our God.

That sort of preaching and witness doesn’t ruin Christmas. It is Nativity of Our Lord. It will not be ruined either by angry people or ignorant, self-righteous people, or by broken families and a lifetime of regret. Christmas is not defined by our failures or our imperfect families. Despite what we are told, the traditions are not the substance of Christmas.  Christmas is not defined by us, nor is it defined by food and tradition and the making of memories. Christmas is defined by Christ who came to us and for us as the gift of the Father to be our righteousness and redemption.

The world is evil. Our flesh is weak. Our families are a mess. But in His Nativity, the Lord Jesus has joined us. He is with us as one of us. He has lived the sinless life we ought to.  It was a not a life free of conflict and betrayal. That life is a lie of the devil.  Our Savior has gone before you and I in confessing the truth.  It is His truth that He puts on our lips.  He has died and He is risen. He takes away the sins of the world. He is Christmas.

So, you who mourn beneath sorrow’s load, whose children and loved ones have not lived up their promises, whose parents have failed them, you who are fearful or lonely or ridden with guilt: The Messiah comes for you. He comes with healing in His wings [Malachi 4:2]. His Father is well-pleased, and that is what brings you peace, comfort, and joy [Romans 5:1].

Make straight the way of your heart for Him. Lift it up to Him. Ponder nothing earthly-minded. Rest in His grace in His Holy Sacrament: “Take; eat. This is My Body given for you…Take; drink. This is My Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  The Lord has prepared His way into your heart and mind.  Christ speaks in His Word and you hear His voice. He hides Himself in bread and wine, in water, and in your neighbor. You know Him and see Him by faith. These hard times and heartache won’t last. These embarrassments and worries won’t last. These jealousies and hurts won’t last. Jesus will. He lasts. He endures. He does not fade. His communion with you will last because it is everlasting. “O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing night; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.” (LSB 357:6)  Amen.

Original sermon by Rev. David Petersen, Fort Wayne, Ind. with edits

Fourth Sunday in Advent (Matthew 1:18-25)

Anton Raphael Mengs Angel Appears to Joseph in a Dream (1773-1774)

Our Gospel reading falls nearly at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel.  What comes very first is the introduction: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matt. 1:1)

Recall the promise given to Abraham: “In you and in your Offspring, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3) What is that blessing?

Prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen describe blessing as good things happening to you—good gifts abound in health, wealth, good government, good friends, and the like.  If there’s bad, it’s just a momentary setback. As long as you stay positive and hopeful you’ll make it through and then God will bless you again. This makes God no more than a vending machine for good things and a coach to encourage you to live you “best life now.”  What a bunch of malarkey!

If you want to know what blessing is, this portion of the Gospel explains what that blessing through Abraham’s son is.  There’s a reason the Holy Spirit inspired the Evangelist Matthew to write in the way he did. But it’s not a straight line to see the blessing:

“When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”

Joseph found himself in a position not too unexpected in the world: his fiancée was pregnant and he wasn’t the father.  The most likely explanations were 1) that she had been unfaithful or 2) she was the victim of a wretched crime. Joseph, being a righteous man, didn’t want to sin to ripple into the community and bring God’s judgment and the damage from this to spread like a crack on a windshield.  So, he set his mind to do the least damage: end the betrothal quietly. This amounted to a divorce, breaking the marriage contract between the two families, and it was a shameful thing but it was the least of all the evil possibilities.

This is the world with which we’re all too familiar—broken promises, abuse, people taken advantage of, theft, and on and on.  This is all too often what our lives, our friendships, and our family’s lives look like.  

Yet, God intervenes to show that this is not business as usual: “Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”

This is God stepping into this world of sin—our sins and the sins of others—to save us from them.  The Name Jesus says what the blessing of Abraham is. The Name Jesus, or Joshua/Yeshua means “God saves.”  He will save the families of the earth from their sins.

He saves our families—our broken family ties, divorces, betrayals, what we’ve done and what we’ve failed to do.  Certainly our lives are pockmarked with betrayals which have cut us to the heart, left us in misery, robbed both of peace and property.  But notice how the angel puts it: “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Of first important is that He saves each of us from our own sins.  When you’re a pastor, the topic of sins comes up a lot in your company, but one of the most common ways is to talk about other people’s sins.  You can’t trust anybody, the government has failed us, the doctor was a quack.  What about you?  What are your sins?  You can’t have healing or peace until you start confessing your sins, and not another’s.  Jesus can’t save you from other people’s sins. But He most certainly can bring God’s blessing to you—you who have profaned God’s Name by how you’ve lived and talked, you who have defamed others by your words, you who have been unfaithful and lazy.  

He is not God far off, telling you to deal with it yourselves.  He is Immanuel, God with us; God-Who-Saves with us.  God with us to come into the midst of our chaotic and broken lives with His mercy and grace, and give us peace in heaven.

He is God with us so that we have the peace to forgive and do good to those who have sinned against us.  Think back to Joseph, who faced what was an agonizing decision. He is called a “just man” who was unwilling to put Mary to public shame.  Even though the best guess he could make was that she had betrayed him, he didn’t want to smear her reputation and see her stoned. He was ready to forgive and do good, even to the one who—in his estimation—had ruined his future by sleeping with another man.  That was all before the angel announced God’s work.

This is an example to us of God at work in the lives of His people.  Hopefully you have your own stories of God working in you, turning you from selfish desire, from spitefulness, from greed in hording your wealth, and other evils.  He is God with us, and we are blessed forever by His coming. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Fourth Sunday in Advent (Luke 1:39-56)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fourth Sunday in Advent + December 23, 2018

Text: Luke 1:39-56



Part 1 – God used two unlikely mothers to bring His Kingdom to earth.

“Thy Kingdom Come,” He taught us to pray.  But no human being would have imagined that the coming of His Kingdom would look like this: The meeting of two women, both very unlikely mothers.  Elizabeth, who was barren and had grown old.  Mary, who was a virgin betrothed to a man but remained pure.  This is where God was at work to bring His kingdom and save us.

Save us from what?  Sin had come into the world through another mother, Eve, the mother of all the living.[1]  The serpent deceived her and she rejected God’s ways, and her husband with her.  Together, they brought forth a race of humanity enslaved to sin, destined to die.  Their actions empowered the devil to set up his kingdom over men.  But a Word from the Lord gave them hope: “The Seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head”[2]  The woman’s Seed would destroy the works of the devil.[3]

God who made this promise brings us to this meeting of unlikely mothers.  They are daughters of Eve, but both have conceived in supernatural ways.  Natural conception only perpetuated the curse—sin from fathers to their children.  But there are times when God has stepped in to intervene, where He disrupted this world order to bring about something new, a greater hope.  God steps in and breaks this earthly cycle of sin and death.  Elizabeth and Mary are the final two in a line of 7 wombs which the Lord visited. [4]  Elizabeth’s conception reminds us of Sarah’s, and the future promise made to Abraham: “In you and in your offspring shall all nations of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 22:18)  The fulfillment of that promise came in the virgin womb of Mary.  And how fitting it is that the final womb that God filled is of a virgin, so that which is conceived is called Holy and the Son of God![5]

Part 2 – God brought blessing by the fruit of Mary’s womb.

Now, when Mary came to Elizabeth, the latter makes an incredible statement: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  Mary is truly blessed among women, because not only had the Lord done great things to her, but He in fact did great things within her!  That second part of the benediction stands out though, because it recalls several other times blessings were spoken:

In Psalm 67, the faithful sing, “May God be gracious to us and bless us…that you rway may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.”[6]  Through Aaron the priest, the Lord put His threefold blessing on Israel: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”[7]  Finally, David in Psalm 29, after ascribing glory and strength to the Lord, concludes by saying, “The Lord bless His people with peace.”[8]

So, when Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” it’s true.  Every divine blessing has one Source.  Yes, the Lord, but specifically this Lord in the flesh.  He is none other than the blessed Fruit of Mary’s womb.

In Psalm 127, Solomon says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (v. 3)  This cannot be more true than of the fruit of Mary’s womb.  Through Jesus, God gives an everlasting heritage in a family of faith.  Through the fruit of Mary’s womb, the richest reward is given to all who believe: peace with God, freedom from sin, and victory over death!

Part 3 – God’s ways are disregarded, just as the fruit of the Virgin’s womb was not highly esteemed.

How incredible that God blesses and saves through a mother!  But who thinks highly of pregnancy and motherhood?  It’s so mundane! Being a mother is such a burden and inconvenient! It’s messy and babies ruin your supposedly “perfect” figure!  Just look at the teenage mothers!  If only they had avoided this terrible consequence, they wouldn’t be held back from careers and “real” success by these chains of motherhood!  “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)

This isn’t the first time that people looked down their noses at God’s ways.   The Child who was born of Mary was also despised, just as people despise the way He came to share our flesh.  Who thinks highly of the Fruit of Mary womb?  Jesus is just a historic figure, a role model to emulate, an eccentric prophet.  But a Savior?  How can the Christ be born in a nowhere town, to a young mother of no fame?  “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:42)  Yes, this is how God’s Kingdom entered the world: through the birth canal of a woman.  This is how “He has shown strength with His arm”—not with mighty thunder but with the cries of labor. 

Part 4 – All who receive the One born of woman are in fact born from above.

The Apostle Paul magnifies the Son of God’s human birth saying, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”[9]  Everyone who receives the Fruit of the Virgin’s womb, has actually themselves received a supernatural birth.  The Evangelist John writes, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”[10]

It took the intervention of God to break the cycle of sin and death in our natural birth.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, God’s Son was born.  Now that saving work of God has come to you.  Though you have human parents, you have been adopted by God the Father in heaven.  You have been “born from above” by water and the Holy Spirit.[11]  The blessings of God are yours because He has adopted you and given you His own Name.


Because of this, the song of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the song of all believers.  We are His servants in humble estate, the communion of saints is His Israel, and we are offspring of Abraham according to His great promises.  So, let’s together turn back to the Gospel reading in the bulletin and magnify our God and Father with the song of Mary:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his offspring forever.  Amen.

[1] Genesis 3:20

[2] Genesis 3:15, NKJV

[3] 1 Timothy 2:14-15, 1 John 3:8

[4] Empty wombs that God intervened in: Sarai (Gen. 11:30), Rebekah (Gen. 25:21), Rachel (Gen. 29:31), mother of Samson (Jdg. 13:2), Hannah (1 Sam. 1:2), Elizabeth (Lk. 1:7), Mary (Mt. 1:18)

[5] Luke 1:35

[6] Psalm 67:1, 2

[7] Numbers 6:24-26

[8] Psalm 29:11

[9] Galatians 4:4-5

[10] John 1:12-13

[11] John 3:5

Fourth Sunday in Advent (Luke 1:46-55)

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![1]
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.[2]
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!
[1] Matthew 9:36; Ephesians 2:6
[2] Galatians 4:4