Christmas Readings and Hymns
Bethany Lutheran Church
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson
Hymn 77:1-6 All My Heart This Night Rejoices 2.25
The First Gospel
Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
KJV Isaiah 40:1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins. 3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. 6 The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: 7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. 8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. 9 O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
The Place of Jesus’ Birth
KJV Micah 5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
#102 O Come All Ye Faithful 1:7
KJV Isaiah 9:2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
KJV Isaiah 7:10 Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD. 13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
KJV Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
#109 While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks 1:35
KJV Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
Sermon – Angels We Have Heard
Dusting off classic movies is one of the good things about Christmas. We saw The Bishop’s Wife with David Niven, Loretta Young, and Cary Grant. That movie has the expected Hollywood treatment of angels, but far more Christian content than any movie today would attempt.
People understand two basic concepts about angels –
1. They are messengers of God.
2. They have divine power delegated to them.
When I was at Notre Dame, one of the doctoral students, Charlie Caldwell, an Episcopalian, was known for his interest in angels. In fact, I took the Time cover for the TV show, Charlie’s Angels, and put it on his carrel door at the library. Someone else tore it off.
Charlie and I had disabled daughters, and we were the only traditional Christians in the entire doctoral program, as far as I knew. Two of our cohorts were deeply offended when I said I believed in the Virgin Birth of Christ and His actual resurrection. Both of them teach theology at Roman Catholic colleges, one of them being the president.
God’s created angels accomplish His work in many different ways, often among those who appreciate it the least. The most obvious cases are those where babies have accidents where they survive unharmed. In one case, a fall from a highrise. The diaper exploded but the baby was fine. In another, babies were trapped from a Mexican earthquake. They were trapped, unfed and lacking any fluids. But they were fine. If a skeptic could prove to me how this was done according to “nature,” without divine intervention, I would still ask about many other cases, among people of all ages.
Angels exist and do God’s work, but their work is not seen or understood or appreciated.
The Birth of Christ is that turning point in time where angels are featured. But how much of this miracle is acknowledged or appreciated?
Luther had a great observation about the Virgin Birth of Christ. When the sun falls on still water, we feel its warmth, because so little is lost from movement and waves. But when the water is loudly rushing over rocks and hidden obstacles, we no longer see or feel the power of the sun in the water.
Every Christmas I hear the same story from people, a demand to keep from having any extra meetings, because of the busy-ness of Christmas. The traffic shows there is a lot more rushing around, which my wife and I avoid all year. So the irony is – the quiet that people need is often missing. The superficial details of Christmas may be noticed, but how many stop beside the road and hear the angels sing?
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heavens all gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.
O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
Each Gospel writer has a speciality, which we can appreciate in comparing one to another. The Fourth Gospel supplements the first three. Mark is the most concise and has a very important, unique passage – the seed growing secretly.
Matthew’s structure is similar to the Five Books of Moses and places great stress on fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
Luke’s Gospel is precise about historical details. 99.99% of all history is lost forever. C. S. Lewis has a great parable – all the libraries are gone. The only surviving one has burned. All the books are burned. One line of one book is readable – that is how much we know about human history. So Luke’s emphasis is very good in locating the time and details of Jesus’ birth.
There is an important theological detail noted by Luther. Jesus was born at a fixed time. Why not earlier? One reason is the Shiloh prophecy from Genesis, that the rule of Herod was not certain until 30 years of turmoil had passed. But it also took place during a census for taxation.
Jesus was born, subject to governmental rules, even the rules of a pagan government – Rome’s. This tells us that the Christian faith exists and expands in the midst of unbelief. Pagan governments were united with the religion of the era, because they saw government and religion united in official acts and public piety.
The Christian faith transcends culture, so we should not be so upset that our culture despises the faith. That is another sign of the end, which must come sooner or later. The Apostles did not ask why all religions were tolerated except theirs. They knew why. Only one religion was true, so it had to be persecuted and driven, spreading its influence across the known world.
Jesus was born subject to Rome, but not united with the culture of the time. He was not born near the Temple or the palace, but away from the center and the important people.
Joseph and Mary’s journey was uphill all the way, from Galilee to Jerusalem, to get to Bethlehem. Luther thought that the couple might have gone toward Bethlehem without realizing that the baby would be born so soon. The trip there is something we would not even think to start, with a birth so near. To travel uphill is another hardship, yet those details are imagined by us rather than emphasized in the concise text, with so few words given to this great moment in time.
Everyone was celebrating, with their grand reunions and celebrations. Joseph and Mary were nothing to the great and wise. For that reason, the great and wise were omitted from that one great event. The ones blessed by the event were Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, and the wise men (whose arrival time is debated).
This is the ultimate paradox – what the world esteems, God despises. What the world despises, God esteems and praises. If you want to be despised, especially by nominal Christians, just express complete faith in the Word of God. These learned people, laity and clergy alike, will carefully explain how the obvious is not true.
God created, but through evolution, they say. The Bible is a fine book, one of the best, but it is a book written by men, they explain. And on they go. Anyone who believes the Word of God to be what it is will find himself treated like the village idiot, while many praise the obvious apostates and crypto-atheists.
But that does not matter, because God takes care of the faithful, as He did with Joseph and Mary, who braved many more dangers and insults to their honor than most face in a lifetime. No room was there for a young woman at full term. Could they not see it? They let Joseph and Mary have a few square feet in the stable, not in the warmth and security of the inn itself.
How could anything worthwhile happen in a rented room? Yet there is no word of protest. How does a young woman give birth alone? We are not told the details, except that Mary gave birth and wrapped up her baby in swaddling clothes, as they still do today. A new mother recently asked about how to help her baby sleep better. The mothers told her, on Facebook, “Swaddle the baby.” And he slept well, wound up like a mummy.
The paradox continues with the shepherds being given the first birth announcement. The wise men were on their way, but the shepherds were the first to see the baby. The angelic choir appear before the shepherds and terrified them. We would love to see the same wonder, but it would be scary. People become frightened over things they do not see, let alone what is placed right before them, completely out of the ordinary – beyond their imagination.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses and pagans have spread doubt about Jesus being born on December 25th, which should make people wonder why the early church was wrong, being so close to the actual event. All those debates and explanations are quite silly and only detract from the account.
Fear comes from not trusting in God, not trusting in His Word.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
The opposite of fear is faith. To overcome fear, we should trust in the good news of great joy, the Savior sent to all people. This is a clear message for the entire world, yet it is also received in joy only among believers. The false teachers want this to apply to everyone without faith, which is quite absurd and contrary to the Word. They choose to pick up on some verses while ignoring the rest.
The importance of faith is clearly stated in the following verses:
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
I see three examples in two verses.
For unto you is born…
This has happened for individuals of faith. While Jesus is the Savior of the world, those without faith cannot comprehend this. His righteousness only comes to us through God-created faith, that is, the Holy Spirit working through the Word.
One of the worst fathers I have known said this about Christmas pageants, “No offense, pastor. But it means more when children say those words. You do it for a living. I always come to the Christmas pageant.” And he did. I do not know what problems kept him in his addictions, but he came and listened to the Word of God, spoken by the small children, including his own. What little faith he had was enough to grasp and receive the blessings of the Gospel, no less than rows of clergy dressed in their finest.
That is the dividing line, Without faith, the Gospel remains true for all people, but the benefits are not received apart from the Word, divorced from faith. On the other hand, the believer, no matter how weak that faith, receives all the blessings of the righteousness of Christ. A small child receives as much as an elderly theologian, but the child has the benefit of the child-like faith. Jesus never said, “You must have the explanations of a theologian to enter the Kingdom,” but “you must have the faith of a child.”
12 And this shall be a sign unto you
A sign is another way of saying – a miracle. This is a miraculous event to see, miraculous for you. So strange – to find people starting on the birth of Christ and ending with rationalism. A favorite story in The Lutheran (LCA) magazine was the birth of Christ, by Paul Tillich, a notoriously unbelieving “theologian.” He began with the Nativity and ended with talking about babies and how everyone loves them. It was not a sign for him, but something to decorate his pagan philosophy.
One believer heard him lecture and went to him afterwards, saying, “I hope you find Christ some day.”
The Nativity is a constant sign, a miracle for all believers, because it happened for each and every one of us.
Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Babies were being born that night, but one was lying in the feed trough for cattle or sheep, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
This is the Christ-child, born for you and for me.
KJV Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
#646 Silent Night 4:38
Luke 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
The Prayers and Benediction
#87 Joy to the World 1:20