This Sunday is Christmas when we celebrate the coming of God’s Son in the flesh. Christians throughout the world will be celebrating the coming of the one promised to us for so long. It began in Genesis 3:15 when God promised the “seed of the woman” who would defeat sin, death, and the devil. This promise was reconfirmed to Abraham and David and carried throughout the Old Testament, borne in the hearts of the faithful of the Church Israel.
The Lord promised Abraham that through his offspring all the nations of the earth will be blessed. The Lord promised David that He would make David a house, an everlasting kingdom to be ruled over by God’s Son. In the promises given to Abraham and David we get a glimpse of the Christ to come who will be both true man and true God.
And then in Isaiah chapter 7, the prophet got more specific with this promise, saying:
… the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Immanuel means “God with us,” and in chapter 9, Isaiah clarified who this son born of a virgin will be and how he will be “God with us.” Isaiah said:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this (Isaiah 9:6-7).
God was promising a son born of a virgin who would be God Himself. It’s quit amazing and wonderful that God would be born of a woman and come as true God and true man to rule over an everlasting kingdom. The “zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this”; that is, Yahweh Sabaoth Himself will cause this to happen in fulfillment of His promises of salvation and restoration.
So, when this promise is fulfilled with the birth of Jesus Christ, it is truly cause to celebrate. And indeed, we see this celebration in Luke’s Gospel. Shepherds are out in the fields tending their flocks. While out there in the darkness “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around then, and they were filled with fear” (see Luke 2:1ff).
The shepherds feared due to the great light that had dawned, because they were used to the darkness. But, the angel announced:
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For 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.
So, the angel announces good news; he brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He says that a baby has been born who is Christ the Lord. He is the promised Savior, “God with us,” and is in Bethlehem, the city of David, and lying in a feeding trough for animals, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
The promises of God of sending a son born of a virgin have been fulfilled. The long-awaited for Christ has arrived. And it’s amazing and wonderful; he came in veiled glory as a humble baby, lying in an animal’s feeding trough and cared for by a lowly virgin and her husband. This little baby is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” in the flesh. He is Immanuel, “God with us.”
This is indeed cause to celebrate: that the Lord has fulfilled his promises in such a wonderful and miraculous and amazing way. And so the shepherds and the angels are then joined with “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
The angels praise God for fulfilling His promises. They too, as faithful servants of the Lord, want to see God’s fallen creation restored to Himself and so join in the heavenly chorus that proclaims the coming of the Christ who will do this.
The shepherds for their part also celebrate. They say to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” So, they go with “haste.” They hurry to Bethlehem and find Mary and Joseph and the newborn Jesus Christ lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. And they tell Mary and Joseph and whoever else who is there all that they had heard from the angels about this child. And everyone wondered in awe, and the virgin Mary treasured these things in her heart, pondering what it all means.
She had already been told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Son of God. And now it has happened. Later in Jesus’ life many more things would happen that she would treasure in her heart and ponder. Jesus came to die and rise for the sins of all people and to restore all creation to God. Mary could not have known on the joyous night of Jesus’ birth that this newly born baby, a truly innocent baby without sin – unlike the rest of us – would later die on the cross for our sins. Like her, we ponder in our hearts just what this Immanuel has come to do for us.
Also like the shepherds we too glorify and praise God for all that we have heard and seen, as it has been told to us. We have heard of the promises of God throughout the Old Testament of sending a Savior to save us. We celebrate the fulfillment of these promises in Jesus Christ.
And we continue to glorify and praise God that Jesus Christ continues to be Immanuel, “God with us.” He is with us even now in his Church, continuing to be veiled in Word and Sacrament. And we also look forward to the completion of all of God’s promises when Christ returns to complete what he started on that long-awaited for night in Bethlehem. Just as heaven and earth celebrated his incarnation, so too will all heaven and earth celebrate his return in power and glory.
We are part of the nation of God, which is the Church united with all believers of all times and places, faithfully awaiting for the return of Christ. He will come again in glory to restore all things and all the Church will praise him, along with all the heavenly host, together singing the song in Revelation 7:
Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen (Revelation 7:12).
So, Christmas is cause to celebrate, because God came to us. Jesus Christ is Immanuel, “God with us.” And we look forward to his return to raise us up to be with him and each other forever on this earth that he is restoring. Amen.
(Image of the Adoration of the Shepherds by by Gerard van Honthorst – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=153010 )