Christmas Eve Candlelight Service
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Bethany Lutheran Church
Christmas Eve Service, 7 PM Central Time, 2021
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson
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.
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.
KJV Luke 2 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. 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.
God Honors What the World Despises
KJV Luke 2 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.
The Roman Empire was very good at taxing people, and forcing those taxes. This may have been the first such census for taxation. America does the same thing, and the count makes a difference about how many Congressmen we have in each state. The Scriptures had many predictions about this happening, and it is important to point out that the birth of our Savior at this time and place meant He would be under man's law. That birth could have been earlier, the travel not necessary. This was the first sign that Jesus would be an ordinary man in the sight of man, since all went to be taxed and that put a great burden on Joseph and Mary.
Thus began a turning point in human history, and the world was groaning over their sins and cruelty, wondering about salvation and the forgiveness of sin. The divine solution would begin with the Holy Child turned away from proper lodging before His birth, and the couple forced to endure this in the place where the animals were kept.
1. It is written in Haggai 2:6-7, that God says: “I will shake the heavens; and the precious things of all nations shall come.” This is fulfilled today, for the heavens were shaken, that is, the angels in the heavens sang praises to God. And the earth was shaken, that is, the people on the earth were agitated; one journeying to this city, another to that throughout the whole land, as the Gospel tells us. It was not a violent, bloody uprising, but rather a peaceable one awakened by God who is the God of peace.
Strangely, Rome seemed to be at the peak of its power, with Caesar Augustus as the Emperor, the baby to be born not even a rumor in the capital or in Jerusalem. Everything would be turned upside down by God's will, in spite of man's will.
Nobody thought a second about this poor family, which is entirely proper, as Luther wrote. The world loves what matters the least and goes away quickly. Not even His relatives thought to take in the family and help out. That is one reason why this holy day means so much to many but so little to most people. The Christian Faith does not give them honors, riches, and esteem from their fellow un-believers. If anything, it is a drag on their reputations so there are a series of quasi-Christian denominations that only teach the Law and have no use for the message of the Bible.
One indication is the use of Winter Break. I am instructed to tell online students about the dates of the Winter Break. Each years I write, "These are the days of the Christmas break, a term I use because no one says Merry Winter, neither do they shop for Winter presents."
The words we use make a big difference, because they represent ideas, plans, attitudes, and conclusions. So that means we should be especially alert about each phrase of the Bible, that it is properly translated and presented so that it is God's Word and not man's opinion. We do well to meditate on the meaning of this Night, because they changed the history of the earth and meaning of human life.
Moreover, the way in which the Savior was introduced is especially important, since the word Christian means following Christ. And Luther said, he was a Faithian, more precisely - a Faith-Alonist, salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ. I cannot get the learned clergy to use that term, the Chief Article of Christianity (not simply an article of one denomination).
The tax and census forced the Family to go to Bethlehem, which had already been predicted. Caesar and his counselors did not know that, but the evidence piled up when the Jewish scholars were quizzed about the Wise Men.
What kind of complexity can we imagine that puts all the predictions about Christ into human history, even the strangest ones (the bronze serpent, the atoning death of Jesus)? That is why many looked to Jesus after His resurrection, because the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament, had it completely right from many centuries before, even down to the First Gospel in Genesis 3:15.
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.
Caesar caused this to happen and never knew its final result. Jesus died during the reign of Tiberius. The pagan census brought the Family to Jerusalem because the Romans were invited earlier to keep the peace among the fighting Jewish factions. They had a moment of hope with Judas Maccabeus, but fell into turmoil again.
I tell students in Old Testament what I have learned - the most unpleasant, onerous, evil things happen, and God can still turn them into something good, as He did with the cross - a distinctly Roman form of punishment (predicted in the Psalms).
Why let go of something precious and eternal when troubles arise, when all the doors seem slammed shut against the individual, and people gloat about our difficulties?
The Christmas cards are beautiful, but they convey the beauty and holiness we acknowledge now - not the stench of a stable and the cold rejecting of the Family. The baby Jesus was born in poverty, rejection, and solitude.
See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.
9. See, this is the first picture with which Christ puts the world to shame and exposes all it does and knows. It shows that the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes. What had Bethlehem when it did not have Christ? What have they now who at that time had enough? What do Joseph and Mary lack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?
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.
As Luther wrote, this is such a beautiful moment in history, that the Word was born of a Virgin and received her care. That is a test I use when clergy are talking about the Faith. "Do you believe Jesus was actually born of a Virgin?" One future Disciples of Christ minister said, "That is not an important doctrine." She also rejected the actual resurrection of Christ. I have to use actual with these people because they want to be all symbolic as a way to avoid the issue. And it makes them angry, furious.
God is not inhibited by man's reason, so it is often true that only children can understand the Scriptures, and Jesus confirmed that. "You must believe the way a child does, or you cannot enter the Kingdom of God." That means everything revealed in the Scriptures.
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.
God chose working men, the shepherds, to experience the great revealing of the Son of God. The angels were there to express their joy at an event so earth-shaking that virtually everyone was ignoring it.
If God's holy angels gather to celebrate an event in such a way, it must be very grand - and it was scary. The glory and power of God are so great that Peter said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." The shepherds were terrified - so great is the revelation of God's light, which existed before the sun and stars were created.
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. 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.
The angelic proclamation tells us what this means. It is poetic, like a creed or hymn, and easily recited by young children. The divine sign of the Savior is a baby in a food trough for animals, wrapped up in available clothes.
12. Just imagine what kind of swaddling clothes they were in which she wrapped the child. Possibly her veil or some article of her clothing she could spare. But that she should have wrapped him in Joseph’s trousers, which are exhibited at Aix-la-Chapelle, appears entirely too false and frivolous. It is a fable, the like of which there are more in the world. Is it not strange that the birth of Christ occurs in cold winter, in a strange land, and in such a poor and despicable manner?
13. Some argue as to how this birth took place, as if Jesus was born while Mary was praying and rejoicing, without any pain, and before she was conscious of it. While I do not altogether discard that pious supposition, it was evidently invented for the sake of simple minded people. But we must abide by the Gospel, that he was born of the virgin Mary. There is no deception here, for the Word clearly states that it was an actual birth.
14. It is well known what is meant by giving birth. Mary’s experience was not different from that of other women, so that the birth of Christ was a real natural birth, Mary being his natural mother and he being her natural son. Therefore her body performed its functions of giving birth, which naturally belonged to it, except that she brought forth without sin, without shame, without pain and without injury, just as she had conceived without sin.
God's judgment against the rationalists and marketeers is to deny them the truth of the Word. I sigh as I go through the verses and see all the ways the "scholars" and growthers have misused and abused the Word of God. They do not see it and hate to hear the truths.
But we can rejoice over these treasures and contemplate them day at night. As it was said when the Bible was about to be translated into English - They should be recited by the farmer at his plow and weaver at the loom.
The Prayers and Benediction