O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Luke 2:1-20
Preached on December 25, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, have you ever seen an angel? From what we hear in Scripture, it seems like there would be absolutely no doubt in your mind if you have. It doesn't happen very often, does it? Not even in the entire history of the Bible. Think about it for a moment. What sorts of things are happening when the overt angelic activity begins to pick up? Important things. Moments when something big in God's plan is about to take place, some sort of deliverance or salvation. Sure they are always carrying out God's will, these angels, but we don't get to see them unless something exciting is happening, like the birth of our Lord.
And how many do we normally see? One? Two? The number of angels tends to show you the importance of the event. One is enough to render man senseless, but when you see two, then we are really talking about something serious.
Then we have the Gospel reading for Christmas Morning. In a dark, quiet field just outside Bethlehem, to a seemingly random group of shepherds that we never hear about again - we hear about the largest showing of angels in all the Scriptures. Why here? Why then? Why to these shepherds? The account just makes you smile, doesn't it?
It is like the angels don't know what to do with themselves. It is like they are so overcome by what God is doing that they spill out of heaven. It is like they were making such a noise, causing such a scene in heaven, that the heavenly Father said, alright already - go tell someone else. And then these poor, unsuspecting shepherds get an unprecedented display of glory that blew the wool right out of their beards.
First, a single angel appeared to them - and the glory of the LORD shone around them and they were filled with great fear. The dark, field was suddenly filled with light brighter than the sun. Yet even as they were caught there in their fears, the scene became even more terrifying. The rest of the heavenly host were so filled with joy they all appeared together praising God as one voice - "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased." The excitement of the angels seems to go beyond description.
But is this the way we respond to this good news? Are we overcome by the radical way in which God is showing His love to us, scaring people with our zeal or has our excitement died down over the years? Are we unable to hold in how we feel, going around in large groups spreading the news, or is this just another Christmas, another year? Why are these angels showing us up so badly? Why don't we share their level of enthusiasm?
Sadly, we know the reason. We know it all too well. For it is not in our nature to trust God, but to run from Him and doubt Him. Adam has not passed down the perfect, innocent condition God created Him with. He has passed down a nature that is ruled by sin, one that opposes God, and is morally evil. We cannot respond like the holy angels because we are incapable of it by nature. We aren't born with the right parts. We are born with old Adam's parts.
Otherwise Jesus would not have been born. For this is the only reason we celebrate the virgin birth of our Lord this morning. Jesus is the only Man who has been born outside of the natural order. The only Man not conceived by the sinful flesh of a man and woman, but conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was conceived holy, sinless, pure, that He might bring second birth to those first born in sin. Christ is the new Adam, the new Man, born to accomplish for us what our nature cannot.
No wonder the angels lose their minds. For centuries they have watched mankind face the troubles of their sinful flesh. They have seen countless people die. They have watched relationships break down, because of the evil, selfish desires that live in our flesh. And yet, their Creator - their Holy King is taking it on. The Word is becoming flesh, introducing a good nature into a world of evil. Shining a bright light in a place of utter darkness. Bringing warmth to a place that is completely cold. No wonder the angels are found lighting up a dark field in the middle of the night - this moment is epic!
God, their Almighty Creator and Ruler, the one who sits on a heavenly throne and has holy angels praising Him constantly for letting them in His presence, this God has decided to become flesh. More than that, He has gone through with it. Their Creator is a Man! He has humbled His Divine Majesty to nothing and been pushed out of the birth canal of one of His creatures. The all-powerful, always existing, ever-present Son of God has subjected Himself to the mess that is birth. His umbilical cord was cut, His holy blood was shed. It spilled out onto the cursed earth. He was forced to breathe air. He drew the cold air of that dark night into His tiny little lungs.
Now, we know the holy angels experience the joy of God's presence all the time, but that night before the shepherds, we see something new. We witness a jubilation that is beyond all telling, one we will have to wait 'til heaven to experience ourselves.
Because here on earth, while we wait, we face a struggle. The old Adam that lives in our flesh has been drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism. You, too, have been born outside the natural order, by the holy birth of water and the Word. You are born anew in Christ. You have been put inside Him. Surrounded by Him. Clothed in Him. The old Adam no longer controls you, for Christ, the new Man also lives in you. But herein lies the struggle.
The old Adam is constantly trying to drag you back into sin and death. He fights against Christ, the new Man in you, working to keep you from the newness of life you have been called to. But you know what I`m talking about. You experience it every day, even every few minutes. You want to lead a holy life and walk with the Lord, but you are constantly tripping up. Even as you hear the Word of God preached to you, the old Adam is trying to distract you, trying to draw your attention away from the voice of your shepherd. You don`t want to be distracted, but the flesh is weak. Old Adam is still there. And he causes all sorts of problems for us. He is constantly bringing us down, stealing our joy, tiring out our soul. Where can we flee for rest from this restless evil?
Our text says the shepherds ran with haste to see this thing. Though filled with great fear, they trustingly ran into the town to find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The shepherds knew what to do. They ran to Jesus. And that is what all Christians do in their struggle. They flee to Jesus, to where He has promised to be. His Word and Sacrament.
When old Adam places his bony hand of death on your shoulder, remember your baptism. Push him back into Jesus. As Luther writes in the Small Catechism, "the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and again, a new Man daily come forth and arise." Push old Adam back under the waters of baptism. Tell him, "I am not you anymore. Christ has made me new." Cry out to the Lord, "I was born dead, but you have given me second birth by your Son in Holy Baptism. Comfort me with this heavenly Father. Give me what I need." Flee to your baptism. You will always emerge from it anew.
When old Adam works to rob you of God's peace, listen to the words of the angels. All you need is found in the message of those angels in the field. "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." This Jesus, your refuge, was placed in a manger. This will be the sign for you, the angels say: He will be placed where animals eat. Jesus is laid in a donkey's food box as a sign. But what is the sign? That right from His birth, He intends to become food. That He will make Himself into a meal for the sinful animals of this world, those made in the image of the old Adam, and not in the image of God. He makes Himself the meal they need to change from animals to sons. To not only be sinners, but also saints.
Like the shepherds we should run with haste - filled with fear and joy we kneel before His glory and have Him place His presence into our mouths. The very thing the angels lost their minds about is put into your mouth. The same body and blood of that little baby born to save the world. This new Man, this new nature, this holy goodness is yours to eat and drink in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is where He wants you to flee when old Adam rises up within you. Flee to the new Man, the Christ child - the crucified One. Flee to the real presence of our Lord's body and blood.
From His birth our Baptism, to the manger our Supper - Christ comes to make you new. He comes to give you His righteousness. And these precious means of grace by which He sustains and comforts His Church are amassing another multitude. A multitude standing before His throne, one dressed in white robes, waving palm branches before Him saying together with the angels and archangels, "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!" A multitude of mankind, made new by Christ, ready to live in paradise with God forever. Waiting here, for the day when our flesh will die and be raised new, raised without the old Adam. On that day, old Adam will stay in the grave for good, and Christ, the new Man in you will rise to eternity, just as our Lord has already shown. His life is truly your life. It is who you are, who He has made you in holy baptism, so fight old Adam's fleshly pull. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr