8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Where would the world be without babies, without little children? They certainly have a way of keeping life interesting, don’t they? For example, recently I came across the story of a little boy who hadn’t seen his grandmother on his mom’s side for a long time. When she finally came for a visit, the boy said, “I am so happy to see you, Grandma, because maybe now Daddy will do the trick he’s been promising us.” The grandmother was a bit confused and curious, so she asked, “And what trick is that, Sweetheart?” To which he replied, “I heard Daddy tell Mommy the other day that if you came to visit he would climb the walls.”
Well, at no other time of the year do kids, and especially babies, take center stage than at Christmas time. I mean, they’re barely out the womb and when that first Christmas rolls around we dress them up in these cute frilly outfits or put Santa Claus hats on their head and little elf shoes on their feet while they get their picture taken. In a few years they’ll be wanting a nose ring and a tattoo and we’ll tell them no. But if they’re smart, they’ll pull out some of those wacky baby pictures and say, “Look how you had me looking 16 years ago! A nose ring and tattoo are nothing compared to this!”
And what about the gifts we give those little ones? Junior can hardly get out of the crib and Dad’s giving him a Louisville Slugger baseball bat or a catcher’s mitt. Or little Jenny is herself still a baby and yet her parents are giving her a doll that talks and does other unmentionable things. And the pictures we take of that first Christmas – “Baby teething on an ornament;” “Baby snoozing under the tree;” “Baby screaming on Santa’s lap.” Let’s face it, babies just steal the show at Christmas, don’t they?
Maybe the reason for that is because it was one very special Baby that stole the show that first Christmas. You remember the story. How some shepherds were tending their flocks outside the village of Bethlehem when all of a sudden, the dull, dark night was interrupted by a brilliant angel who at first scared the living daylights out of those shepherds. But the angel calmed them with these words: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Don’t you just know that when the shepherds heard that, one of them must have said: “Did that angel say what I think it said? The Messiah has come as a baby – in a manger? Are you sure he didn’t say he’s come as a soldier on a steed or a king on a throne or a prophet in radiant light? Did he really say a baby? I mean, babies can’t talk. Babies can’t walk. Their tiny hand can barely wrap around an adult’s finger. A few minutes nursing at their mother’s breast and they’re ready for another nap. Babies burp and spit up and cry and do other disgusting things. And you’re trying to tell me that the Ruler of the universe and the Artist of sunsets and the Sculptor of mountains and canyons has just shown up in our world as a baby?”
But there was no mistaking what the angel said. “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Which brings up a very important question that I want to consider with you on this Christmas Eve and that question is this: “Why would God become a baby?” Of all the things he could have become, why did he choose to become a baby? I can think of a few of reasons.
To begin with, he became a baby in order to reach us. He came to do what we could not do. And the only way he could do that from heaven’s perspective was for him to become one of us – our heaven-sent, God-anointed, God-appointed Substitute. If we were to summarize what Jesus did for us, we might put it this way: He came to live a sinless life and to die a sinless death so that we who are sinners could have his sinless life and thereby ultimately die a sinless death. Let me unpack that statement a little more for you so that you are absolutely clear about what I just said.
The Bible makes it very clear to us that when we receive by faith, when we trust what Jesus has done for us, from that point on we appear perfectly righteous and holy in the eyes of God, not because we are perfectly righteous and holy in and of ourselves, but because he clothes, he robes us, he covers us with the perfect righteousness and holiness of Jesus. Listen to how the Apostle Paul puts it in Rom. 3:22: “We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”
I don’t know about you, my friends, but I can’t think of a greater Christmas gift than that. To know that in spite of all the times in my life when I have blown it with God, all the times I’ve hurt and offended and disappointed him, he has provided a way whereby I can wipe the slate clean, a way whereby I can appear as righteous and holy in his sight as Jesus himself. Please note, we cannot earn this righteousness. We cannot merit it. We cannot buy it. We can only receive it as a gift just as you’ll receive all kinds of other gifts this holiday season.
Let me illustrate this for you going back to my childhood years when I used to love to play baseball with the neighborhood guys over at our Lutheran school playground. The only problem was there were homes across the street with windows that were just waiting to be broken by hard hit balls. Because of that, most of the time we played with a softball because none of us could hit a softball that far. But one day we didn’t have one so we played with a hard ball. And that’s when it happened. I got a hold of a pitch and sent it flying across the street and on to Mrs. Ficker’s’ porch where it took one bounce and crashed through the window that was part of her front door. The way I remember it, everyone else took off running when Mrs. Ficker appeared on the porch. But there I was holding the evidence, namely, the bat. And though my feet wanted to carry me as far and as fast away from that place as possible, I’d had enough of a Christian upbringing to know that wouldn’t be right. So I owned up to what I had done and told Mrs. Ficker that we’d have her door repaired. Well, I probably wasn’t but 10 or 11 years old at the time, which meant that I didn’t have any income. So guess who was going to have to pay for it? My dad, which meant I’d have to tell him what I’d done, which I did. And though he wasn’t too happy about it, he did what he had to do. He paid the price. Now why did he do that? I mean, he didn’t hit that ball. He didn’t break that window. Why then did he pay the price? Simple – he knew I couldn’t. He knew my pockets were empty. He knew I didn’t have the resources to pay for my mistake. So he did for me what I could not do for myself.
Now you may have never broken a window in an old lady’s house, but you have broken other things, haven’t you? Perhaps you’ve broken some promises and in the process maybe you’ve broken some relationships. You’ve definitely broken commandments and in the process you’ve broken your relationship with God for Rom. 3:23 says: “…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And you need to understand that you do not have the resources it takes to pay for those sins. But guess what? Jesus does. And that’s why he became a baby. That’s why he became one of us. So that he could become our substitute and do for us what we could not do for ourselves. So that he could live the perfect life we could never live and die the perfect death we deserved to die and thus make his perfect resources available to those of us who have made a perfect mess of our lives.
So Jesus became a baby, first of all, to reach us, and then secondly, he came as a baby to teach us. What if God had chosen not to come as a baby, but rather as God? What if he chose to descend from heaven to earth in all his full-blown blinding, blazing glory and power and majesty? Now we may sit here tonight and think that would have really been cool. But if we had the opportunity to speak to any of the Israelites who had witnessed something similar to that at Mt. Sinai, they would tell you a different story. In Ex. 19:16 we read: “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning. A thick cloud covered the mountain, a loud trumpet blast was heard, and everyone in camp trembled with fear.” If God were to come to earth and reveal himself as he appears in heaven, no human being would be able to survive such a sight. Remember Moses wanted to see God like that, but in Ex. 33:20 he was clearly told by God: “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
So God came not as the all-powerful, all-consuming, unapproachable Creator and Ruler of the universe, but rather as a tiny, helpless, humble baby. And he came that way so that he could teach us. So that he could teach us about himself and how far he would go to rescue us from our sins and to demonstrate his love for us. Think of it, my friends. He left the glory and perfection of heaven behind where he was worshiped and adored by countless throngs of angels as the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity and entered the dirt and filth of this sinful world all so that we could leave the dirt and filth of this sinful world and enter the glory and perfection of heaven. Let me tell you, there is no greater sacrifice than that.
But he came to teach us other things as well. He came to teach us the way of humility. As the Apostle Paul puts it in Phil. 2:5-8: “Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.” And when he died that criminal’s death on the cross he taught us the way of forgiveness as the very first words out of his mouth consisted of a prayer for his enemies: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” He taught us the way of servanthood when he said of himself, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He taught us the way of love when he said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” which is exactly what he did for us.
So he came to reach us and he came to teach us. And oh yes, one more thing. He came to invite us. He came to invite us to join him for a celebration that will far outlast, far outshine, and far outdo the best of Christmas celebrations we have ever been a part of. All we have to do is accept the invitation. And if, by chance, you have not yet done that, if you have not yet trusted Christ as your Savior, what better time to do so than right now. Or if you have done that but you’ve been neglecting him lately, kind of keeping him on the back burner of your life, what better time to get back on track with him than tonight as we celebrate his birth? Perhaps God brought you here for that very purpose. And you can leave here this evening carrying the greatest Christmas gift of all, not in your arms, but in your heart, the Christmas gift of a Savior who can definitely change your life for the better, both for now and especially for all eternity. Amen.