The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord

Readings: Genesis 3:8–15 | Genesis 22:15–18 | Isaiah 7:10-14 | Luke 1:26-38 | Matthew 1:18-25 | Luke 2:1-7 | Luke 2:8-14 | Luke 2:15-20

Text: Luke 1:26–38

In the first reading we heard tonight, this was what happened immediately after sin came into the world.  Sin and death are not the natural state the world should be in.  They may be so common that it’s all we’ve ever known, but they are not what God created this world for.  Sin came into this good world which God had made through the devil’s lies and the first man and woman’s disobedience.  It is God’s intention to make us aware of how the human race and the world have fallen, so that we wouldn’t just be left grasping in the dark, aware that something is wrong but never being able to put our finger on it.

Now, of all the failures that men or women have done, this is the greatest. Looking back at our own failings can bring regret, but even our worst mistakes pale in comparison to this tragic day: sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12)  Yet despite this great error, God was not hindered.

In the second reading from Genesis 22, we heard the aftermath of a very curious request that God made of Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Gen. 22:5)  God called in the greatest price.  It’s the price we most fear—perhaps even more than our own lives—that sin would cost the life of our own child.  Sin costs us our lives and that of our children, for all eternity.

But God did not exact that price.  He spared Isaac and provided a substitute: “Behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” (Gen. 22:13)  God, instead, would provide the sacrifice, the blessing through the seed of Abraham.

In the third lesson from Isaiah 7, we heard the sign from God that revealed how God would do this.  Yes, the Lord promised that it would be the “woman’s offspring” who would crush and destroy the work of the Serpent (that is, the devil).  He would do it by the son of a Virgin, but not by reordering the course of nature.  Who is that Son of the Virgin?  It is no ordinary man, but “Immanuel” – “God with us.” God saves from sin and death apart from our work.  Not even the greatest work of man or our tragic loss could lift the curse.  God saves in a way which nobody would think, and in a way no man could do.

And then we heard of that Virgin, who was visited by the Angel Gabriel.  The maiden’s name was Mary, and to this daughter of Eve the promised Seed was born, Isaac’s substitute, the Lord’s sign of grace toward man in spite of his wretched and hard-hearted state.  His name is Jesus, who truly is Immanuel, God with us.

“How will this be?” is an appropriate question.  How will our Creator rescue us from our calamity?  How will He justly answer for the inherited and all the actual sin of the world? How will He save us from the dark shadow of death that is cast like a covering over all people? [Isa. 25:7]

“Nothing will be impossible with God,” Gabriel told Mary.  Yet the way He saves is not by dramatically reordering the creation.  Within the world He has already made, even with the foul blot of sin, God works salvation for the world.  He uses the most ordinary to redeem and save the children of Adam.

The first way He does it is through the womb.  Pregnancy and childbirth are largely despised in our day.  It’s despised by those who worry about the population—whether the number of mouths to feed or the worthiness of those lives because of physical or mental ability.  It’s bemoaned for the length and hardships of parenting.  It is despised by those who grieve for their lost youthful body and think stretch marks make them look hideous.  It’s despised by those who idolize their freedom and value their own use of money and time more than concerns about next generation.  Myriad are the ways to fight against the grim fate of bearing children.  Because people would rather use each other in the pursuit of euphoria, there is very little people haven’t done to avoid pregnancy and childbirth.  We would rather be in the place of God and prevent life from being conceived and born.  Even Christians are swept away by these flesh-centered values, and this greedy love of comfort and plenty.

But God for His part takes what is disgraceful in man’s sight, and He exalts pregnancy and the bearing of children to begin His mighty saving work: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus” (v. 31)  God hallows the womb, in which Jesus received his prenatal nourishment.  God blesses the breasts where the Son of God—the One through whom the world was made—suckles.  He makes sacred a mother’s embrace, the rearing and long-suffering of parenthood, and the sleepless nights.  The Son of God hallows this path by journeying on it Himself, God with us. 

God also uses wood to save us.  Here in timber country, we think of wood as business, and crucial to life.  Some see profits or increased building costs.  Some see urban sprawl and fear destruction of natural habitats.

But God uses wood to save when He nails His Son to the tree of a Roman crucifix, by the authority of Governor Pontius Pilate acting for Tiberius Caesar.  By the wood of this tree, formed into a cross, the world’s salvation is accomplished.  In this He sanctified and repurposed the instrument of execution and made it into a symbol of God’s love, forgiveness, and refuge for the broken.

And yet one more thing God uses to save us: Water.  Water in this part of the earth we often take for granted.  After all, it falls from the sky in great abundance, flows in the waterways, comes out the tap.  Sometimes it’s obnoxious as too much of it pours over the road.  In our day, however, we don’t think of water that critically.

But God thinks very highly of water, because He uses it to deliver this salvation to you.  At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan, where He began His work to take away the sins of the world.  By the wood of the cross, He suffered and died, and then was buried.  On the Third Day, He rose again from the dead, and announces to all, “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36)  Then, God takes the water and says, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)

The gifts of Mary’s Son, nailed to the tree for your sins and raised from the dead, are delivered to you in the waters of Holy Baptism.  That’s how St. Paul is able to put it so clearly in Romans 6, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3-5)

God has seen our miserable state, and He has had mercy on us.  We rejoice that He has delivered us with His mighty hand.  Even though many will overlook these common things, by faith in what He has done, we see our salvation.  A blessed Nativity to you all!  Amen.