Tomorrow is Christmas morning when we, and Christians throughout the world, celebrate the coming of God’s Son in the flesh. It is the fulfillment of a promise which began in Genesis 3:15. After Adam and Eve rebelled against Him, 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 would 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 the faithful got a further glimpse of the Christ to come who would be true man and true God.
And then in Isaiah chapter 7, the prophet’s voice added greater clarity to this promise, “… 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 expanded upon 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.
God’s promise of a seed of a woman, first given in Genesis 3:15, would be fulfilled by the virgin birth of a Son who would be God Himself. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this; that is to say, 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 (Luke 2:1-14). 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.”
The shepherds feared because of the great light that had dawned, as they were used to the darkness. However, the angel comforted them, saying:
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.
The angel announces good news, declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The promised Savior, “God with us,” has been born and is in Bethlehem, the city of David, lying in a feeding trough for animals, wrapped in swaddling clothes. The promises of God of sending His Son, born of a virgin, have been fulfilled. The long-awaited for Christ, the Savior, has arrived. And it is amazing and wonderful; he has come in a veiled glory as a humble baby in a humble estate. And yet, 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 angel 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 entire heavenly host of angels praise God for fulfilling His promises. They too, as faithful servants of the Lord, want to see God’s fallen creation restored and reconciled to Himself and therefore join in the 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 hurry to Bethlehem and find Mary and Joseph and the newborn Jesus Christ just as the angel had said. And they tell Mary and Joseph and whoever else who was there all that they had heard from the angel about this child. And everyone wondered in awe, and the Virgin Mary treasured these things in her heart, pondering what it all might mean.
Mary 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 this joyous night 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. So, this night is also a cause of contemplation as we ponder in our hearts just what this Immanuel has come to do for us.
We glorify and praise God that He has fulfilled His promises and 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 look forward to the completion of all of God’s promises when Christ returns to finish what he started on that long-awaited for night in Bethlehem as he resurrects our bodies and brings us into life everlasting. Today and tomorrow, most especially, we celebrate God’s faithfulness to us in giving us the gift of salvation.
(Image: Church of the Shepherds Field, Beit Sahour, Palestine, By Tango7174 – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25491386 )