This weekend we celebrate the arrival of God’s Son, Jesus the Christ, in the flesh.
Leading up to Christmas, we tend to create lists of what we want for Christmas. We ask for things like toys, games, electronics, and various other things we want (I’m the worst; my list could practically be my son’s!). But, we don’t often put down things we need, like clothing necessities or food. I know that when I was growing up I never really appreciated the gifts of clothing that I was given, even though I needed those. I’m sure my face visibly sank whenever I opened up a new pack of socks.
But the miracle and joy of Christmas is that the Lord has given us the one thing we actually need, rather than what we thought we wanted. He’s given us the humble-looking baby in the manger, born to the virgin Mary, sleeping in a feeding trough for animals, and surrounded by animals and shepherds. This is a gift that didn’t look very valuable to the eyes of the world. The baby Jesus wasn’t glorious or shiny. He didn’t look like the savior of mankind. He didn’t look like the Almighty Lord God. And yet he was, and is.
Jesus Christ is the heir of all things, the Word through whom the Father spoke the world into existence (Hebrews 1:2; John 1:1ff). He is God in the flesh, given to us in the form of a baby. This baby would grow up to die on the cross for our sins before rising from the dead and ascending back into the presence of the Father to re-take his rightful seat at the Father’s right hand in order to send us the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith in what he has done for us.
If left up to us, none of this would have happened. We would have tried to fill the world with more seemingly glorious and shiny things to make up for the void we feel inside, trying to mask and postpone the problems we face. We live in a world with sin, and suffering, and decay and death. We are fallen creatures, fallen from the image in which God originally created humanity. Things are not as they are meant to be. And we as people have an instinctive feeling that things are not as they should be. Something seems wrong. We should not be living in fear of each other and in a state of separation from God. We should not be turning on the news to hear about the latest violence and disorder in the world. These things ought not to be so, and we know it.
But, most often our response to this broken world is to try to fix the fallenness of our humanity and the evils of the world with “stuff” or with more rules. We as fallen creatures try to fill the longing and void we feel with other elements of God’s creation. “If only we have enough things, if only we have enough laws, then maybe we will feel fulfilled and safe.”
But, all these things cannot restore us to full humanity and they cannot fill the void and sense of longing that we feel, because they are not the true God, they are not the Creator, they are only parts of creation, like us. These can certainly be good things and good laws, yet they can never give us true peace and rest. For that we need just one thing (Luke 10:41-42).
Thankfully, the Lord our God, as our Heavenly Father who loves us and who knows what we need, actually sent us the One thing needful.
God sent His Son down to us on that first Christmas morning, because His Son is what we need. As fallen creatures, we need God to restore us to Him. We can not ascend to God, so God descended to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. For he is the true light, which enlightens everyone, who came into the world to enlighten a fallen, darkened world (John 1:9). And “… to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:1ff).
This is the heart of the Christmas mercy that God has bestowed upon us. He gave us what we need, which is salvation from sin and death and restoration to Him through His Son. And so we are God’s children not because of our ancestors, nor because of our parents, nor because of our own will, but because of the will of God. God has chosen us as His own, just as He chose to send His Son to save us.
This is the true Gospel, then, and why it is called “Good News.” For God, out of His pure grace and mercy sent His Son to save us from our sins and thereby restore us to communion with Him and with each other, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ which is the Church. God sent His Son to restore and reconcile us and all creation to Himself. And it is truly good news, because it depends not on our blood or on our will, but on the will of God and the blood of His Son.
This Son was born of a virgin as a humble baby. He lived a humble life, and then he died on a humble, wooden, shameful cross. This was not what tend to want. We want power, we want might, we want glory, but God gave us His Son instead, because all of our own power and might and glory cannot save us. Only that first Christmas gift of Jesus Christ, whose body was given up for our salvation and whose blood was poured out for our sins, can save us. He is the One thing needful.
In fact, the Lord has given us all that we need through His actions at Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter; these three holidays that we often celebrate as if they were disconnected from each other are actually intimately connected in God’s plan of salvation for us. For Christ came in the flesh to die on the cross and then to rise again on the third day; he gave us what we needed and accomplished it for us.
Yet, as great as Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are, there’s still yet one final day which is coming. We look forward to the Last Day, when Christ manifests himself in his final Advent. This is because the fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption and restoration is not yet fully realized. We still live in a fallen creation; we still sin, suffer, and die.
But, the day is coming when Christ is returning for us to finish what he started with his incarnation, death, and resurrection. He is returning in order to raise our bodies from wherever they are (graves, urns, fields, sea) and join us together with the saints still living and those who have gone before us.
And then we will all together stand before the Lord, in the flesh – body and soul – and we will no longer behold the Lord veiled through Word and Sacrament, but will behold Him directly. And those blessings of God and His reign and power that we sing about in the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” will be fully realized as both heaven and nature sing and rejoice at the Lord’s return to finish his restoration of us and all creation.
So, this Christmas, we celebrate what God has done and is doing for us through this baby in the manger, Jesus Christ, this “Immanuel” – the God who is with us. For the Lord has given us what we truly need, and we have seen the salvation of our God through His Son, and so we are witnesses to what the Lord has done. And He has done it for us as a free gift through Jesus Christ, the One thing needful. Amen.
(Image is of Michelangelo’s La Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It depicts Mary holding her son after his crucifixion. Photo by Juan M Romero – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46153417)