8 And in the same area there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And then an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very afraid. 10 But the angel said to them, “Listen! Do not fear. For I bring you good news of great joy, which will be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign to you: You will find the Baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly there was with the angel a company of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will toward men.” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came hurrying and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger. 17 When they had seen Him, they made widely known the word which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:8-20

When Messiah Jesus was born and laid in a manger, an angel announced His birth to shepherds living in a field nearby and keeping watch over their flock by night. The heavenly messenger brought them good tidings of great joy for all people; for that very day in Bethlehem, the city of David, a Savior was born, the Messiah, the LORD (Jehovah) Himself in human flesh.

And, as the angel choir said in its hymn of praise, this child brought about peace between God and man and God’s goodwill toward sinful man. How could this be? Christ Jesus satisfied the righteous demands of God’s holy law for us, and He suffered and died on the cross and paid in full the just punishment for the sins of the world that God might have mercy upon us and graciously forgive our sins when we look to His Son in faith for pardon and peace!

Having heard these things, the shepherds were not content to go back to their work of guarding the flock; they went to see the things of which the angel had told them. And, they found it just as the angel had said. They found Mary and Joseph and, with them, the Christ Child lying in a manger.

Nor did the shepherds keep the good news to themselves; they told everyone — they made known abroad — what the angel had told them concerning this Child born in Bethlehem. Mary herself treasured up the words of the shepherds concerning her Son and pondered them in her heart.

When the shepherds returned to their flock, they were glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, which was just as the angel had told them. They were rejoicing in God’s gift of a Savior who would redeem them and give them a place in God’s eternal kingdom.

Of course, these events in history have great significance for each and every one of us today. God’s own Son was born in Bethlehem on that historic day. His birth is good tidings of great joy to us as well, for He is the long-promised Messiah, the LORD God Himself, and He went to the cross for the sins of the world — for the sins of each of us — and He rose again in victory that each and every one of us might have forgiveness for all our sins and life eternal through faith in Him!

God would have us heed the message of the Christmas Gospel and turn from our sinful ways to Christ Jesus in faith that we might receive the pardon and forgiveness He won for us by coming into this world as a babe in Bethlehem and then fulfilling all the demands of God’s commandments and making full atonement on the cross for the sins of all!

Dearest Jesus, we thank you for coming into this world a true man — that babe born in Bethlehem — and going to the cross to redeem us and make us Your own. Move us to take the time to see, to believe, to worship and to spread abroad the good news of salvation through faith in Your name. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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O come, O come, Emmanuel
1 O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear. Refrain
Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!
3 O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height In ancient times didst give the Law In cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain
4 O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, Free them from Satan’s tyranny That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save, And give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Refrain
5 O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heav’nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Refrain
6 O come, Thou Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain
7 O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

Psalm 96
1 O sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, all the earth! 2 Sing unto the Lord, bless His name; declare His salvation from day to day. 3 Proclaim His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. 4 For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the nations are worthless, but the Lord made the heavens. 6 Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. 7 Give unto the Lord, O families of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. 8 Give unto the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. 9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Indeed, the world is established; it shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.” 11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field be joyful, and all that is in it; then all the trees of the forests shall rejoice 13 before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with His faithfulness.

Away in a manger
1 Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head. The stars in the sky looked down where He lay, The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. 2 The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes. I love Thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky, And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh. 3 Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.
Little Children’s Book, Philadelphia, 1885, sts. 1–2; Vineyard Songs, Louisville, 1892, st. 3, alt. Public domain

Christmas Gospel
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the entire inhabited earth should be taxed. 2 This taxation was first made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone went to his own city to be taxed. 4 So Joseph also departed from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to the City of David which is called Bethlehem, in Judea, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be taxed with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So while they were there, the day came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7

Far more than a quaint story, these verses from Luke, chapter two, describe a historical event that occurred in real-time and in a real place. It was a fulfillment of all those ancient prophecies which promised the Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent and the one who would redeem His people from their sins (Gen. 3:15; Ps. 130:7-8).

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born from a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

It happened in the days of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. Quirinius was the governor of Syria.

Though Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, the Prophet Micah (approximately 700 years before Christ) foretold the birthplace of Messiah to be in Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, although you are small among the tribes of Judah, from you will come forth for Me one who will be ruler over Israel. His origins are from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

And God, in His divine providence, moved Caesar Augustus to take a census at just the right time, making it necessary for Joseph and his espoused wife who lived in Nazareth (some 90 miles to the north) to be in Bethlehem when the days were fulfilled for Mary to bring forth her firstborn son “because he was of the house and lineage of David.” The genealogies of Joseph in Matthew 1 and of Mary in Luke 3 show that both were of the “house and lineage of David.”

While we often have pictures in our head of Jesus being born on that first night after Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, that’s not what the Scriptures say. Verse six, of Luke 2 says: “So while they were there, the day came for her to give birth.” They could have been there a few days, a few weeks or even a month or more — the Bible doesn’t say. But, “while they were there, the day came for her to give birth.”

“And she gave birth to her firstborn Son…” While there in the crowded city of Bethlehem — there were many descendants of David who also had to register in Bethlehem (Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, according to 1 Kings 11:1ff.) — Jesus was born.

Mary “gave birth to her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The eternal Son of God, the creator of heaven and earth and all things (cf. John 1:1-5,14), humbled Himself and was born a man of lowly birth. Instead of being born in a king’s palace and clothed in royal garments, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger (a feeding trough).

But God sent His Son into this world not to be exalted here but to live humbly as a man — not to make full use of His divine power and glory but to live humbly like us — that He might take our place under the Law of God and fulfill it for us and that He might bear upon the cross the just punishment for the sins of the entire world.

“Let this mind be in you all, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. But He emptied Himself, taking upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in the form of a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).

“So then, as the children share in flesh and blood, He likewise took part in these, so that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were throughout their lives subject to bondage. For surely He does not help the angels, but He helps the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things it was necessary for Him to be made like His brothers, so that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in the things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:14-17).

And much like the night of Jesus’ birth, Jesus is still relegated to the stalls and the mangers of this world. The inn is full and there is no room for the Messiah and Savior of the World. Jesus is crowded out — even crowded out of the celebration of His birth!

“He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:10-11).

Therefore, if we wish to find Jesus, we are not likely to find Him in the biggest and best churches and cathedrals of this world. The place to look for and find Him is where God’s humble Means of Grace are in use, where the Word of God is preached in its simple truth and purity and people are confronted with their sins and the judgment of God upon them but also comforted with the Gospel of forgiveness through faith in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross, where people are joined to Christ and become His covenant people through the waters of Baptism and where believers are comforted in Holy Communion through partaking of the body and blood of the Lamb of God who gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Indeed, the day could come when we may need to worship in barns and stables to hear of and learn of the true Christ who came into this world to redeem us because there is no room for God’s people or God’s Christ in the inn. It’s happened before. In the days of the Prussian Union (during the early 1800s), those who held to the Lutheran faith gathered in barns to worship and be served with the Means of Grace.

What’s the point in this message for you and for me?

Though the world was not awaiting the coming of Christ Jesus with open arms, and though God’s own people (the visible church in this world) were too busy to welcome Him, God kept His ancient promises to send the Savior. God’s only-begotten Son took on human flesh and blood and was born a true man of the Virgin Mary that he might pay the price for our sins and redeem us. He came humbly, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, that He might fulfill God’s plan and go to the cross as our sacrifice for sin.

And where do we find Him?

Where the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity and where the Sacraments are administered in accord with Christ’s institution. There we will find and learn of the Christ who died for our sins and redeemed us. There we will be comforted with the forgiveness of sins and eternal life He won for us. Amen.

[Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

Prayer of the Church for Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2020

Lord God Almighty, we come before You on this most holy night in awe and thanksgiving at the incarnation of Your Son to be our Savior. Let the proclamation of His birth sound forth throughout the world. Give to Your Church faithful pastors to proclaim the good tidings of His birth, and give to Your people willing ears to hear and believe.

In the birth of Your Son, You have visited and redeemed Your people. Grant to us and people everywhere penitent hearts and faith in the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of the Son that, through faith in His name, we might obtain forgiveness for all our sins and a place in His everlasting kingdom.

Continue to visit those who are lonely, sick, recovering or near death. Let Your redemption in Christ Jesus give them hope and His presence be a comfort to them, and give to them perseverance in the true faith until that time You grant healing, relief, deliverance and peace.

In the birth of Your Son, and by His death and resurrection, You have provided salvation for all mankind. Give us opportunity and move us to tell others the good news of His coming so that others, too, may join in the praise of Your holy name. Bless the pastors of our diocese, and give wisdom and strength to our bishop, that we may with one voice proclaim the truth of Your Word and the glorious salvation You have provided in the Son, Christ Jesus.

In the birth of Your Son, You have signaled the beginning of a new creation; while we still live in a world wracked by the ravages of sin, we know that the final victory is Yours. Watch over and keep safe emergency workers and all whose vocations keep them from their homes and families this night for the well-being of our families.

In the birth of Your Son, You have called people of all times and places into the Body of Christ Jesus through faith in His name. We give You thanks for all the believers who have gone before us, especially those who have been with us during Christmases past and are now with You. Give us a sure confidence in Your promise of resurrection and eternal life, and bring us at last together with them into Your presence at the full coming of Your kingdom.

Into Your hands, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Amen.

Silent night
1 Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
2 Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight; Glories stream from heaven afar, Heav’nly hosts sing, Alleluia! Christ, the Savior, is born! Christ, the Savior, is born!
3 Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light Radiant beams from Thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

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19 Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “Who then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 They said to him then, “Who are you? Tell us so that we may give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say concerning yourself?” 23 John said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ just as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24 Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why do you baptize then, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but One stands among you, whom you do not know. 27 This is He who comes after me, who is preferred before me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. John 1:19-23

Who was John the Baptist? He confessed that he was not the Christ, he was not Elijah, nor was he the Prophet promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15ff.

Who was he? “John said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” just as the prophet Isaiah said’” (Cf. Isa. 40:3).

John was the messenger of God sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6). He prepared people for the coming of the Lord Jesus by calling upon all to repent of their sins and turn to the LORD God for forgiveness and life through faith in the Messiah who was about to appear and be offered up a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29).

Who are we as Christ’s Church in this world? What are we and all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be in this world? We are not the Christ, but we are a voice “crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Through our called ministers, we continue to call upon all to repent of their sinful and rebellious ways and to look in faith to Christ Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead. Soon He will appear in the clouds with all His holy angels and every eye will see Him (cf. Rev. 1:7; Matt. 24:29ff.)! Until then, we continue to be God’s voice, His witness, calling on all people to repent and believe on the LORD Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 1:8). In Jesus’ shed blood, there is forgiveness and life everlasting for all who repent and turn to Him in faith for salvation!

Dear LORD Jesus Christ, grant us Your Holy Spirit and embolden us to be Your voice in this world, calling on all to repent and trust in You for forgiveness and life everlasting! Amen.

[Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]

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Martin Luther preaching to the faithful

In Psalm 130:6-8, we read: “My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”

Do you wonder if God’s people ever got tired of waiting? The opening verses of Matthew’s Gospel list 42 generations from Abraham to Christ (this doesn’t even include the generations from Adam to Abraham) – 14 from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the exile, and 14 from the exile up through Joseph, the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus.

And what of Joseph? He was the legal father of Jesus but not the actual father, for Jesus was born by the mighty working of God’s Spirit in the Virgin Mary. She was descended from Abraham and David through David’s son Nathan rather than through Solomon the ancestor of Joseph (cf. Matthew 1 and Luke 3).

Waiting and wondering when and how God would fulfill His promises had to be on their minds and, for many, their most significant role as listed in Scripture was simply being in the Messianic line and keeping that line intact until the Christ should come. Though they may not have even known it at the time, God’s plan of salvation was being fulfilled through them. Though in many cases their lives seemed no different from those of others, God was working through them to carry out His divine work of salvation.

And, imagine Joseph’s shock when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream while he was considering quietly giving Mary a certificate of divorce rather than publicly accusing her of adultery!

The angel’s message? “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. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21).

After generations of waiting for the LORD God to “redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” the LORD God – the eternal Son of God and ceator of all things – had taken on human flesh and blood and was in the womb of the Virgin Mary that He might “save his people from their sins.”

And, of course, we know from God’s Word, how the LORD God performed what He had promised. He was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered and died under Pontius Pilate. He was crucified, dead and buried. He rose again on the third day and ascended to the right hand of God the Father in heaven. And from there, He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

And Joseph’s role? to be the husband of Mary and the caretaker and protector of the Christ Child. Joseph did what any good husband and father would do! But God chose Joseph; it was a part of God’s plan.

Followers of Jesus have been waiting and waiting for Christ Jesus to come back to establish His glorious kingdom and keep His Word. Nearly 2,000 years have passed since Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. Generations have come and gone. Believers say with the psalmist: “My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.”

As we await the Lord’s return, our lives may seem pretty mundane. It may appear that nothing significant is taking place. We read our Bibles at home and gather Sunday after Sunday to hear God’s Word proclaimed, to offer up our prayers and praises and to receive in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Jesus which was given and shed for us on the cross to redeem us from all our iniquities. We come away with the assurance of sins forgiven and the promise of eternal life in heaven.

And generations pass. We too may pass before Christ returns. It seems nothing is happening.

But all who wait in faith are a part of God’s plan of salvation. We are brought to Christ in Baptism, we hear the Word proclaimed and receive Christ’s Supper and are kept trusting in Christ and awaiting His return. We bring our children to Christ in Baptism. We share with them God’s Word and point them to their Savior.

And, though our lives may seem pretty insignificant, and though we might not see it, God is carrying out His plan. Through Word and Sacrament, our children and others are brought to faith in Christ and preserved in that faith. Christ is building and establishing His eternal kingdom in plain sight though we often don’t even see it.

We are not the Messiah and we’re not even in the Messianic line, but like John the Baptist we point people to Christ, and like Joseph we stand against the assaults of the world against Christ and His Word that future generations might still hear the saving Word, receive the Sacraments and trust in Christ their Savior.

Attending church services on Sunday and partaking of the Lord’s Supper, again and again, might seem pretty mundane and insignificant, but it isn’t. God comes to us through His Word and convinces us of our sinfulness and then points us to Christ Jesus and the redemption He accomplished for us. Through Baptism we are joined to Christ and guaranteed the blessings of forgiveness and life He won for us on the cross. And, in the Lord’s Supper, we partake of Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of all that we might be assured the price has been paid, atonement made, and that we are partakers of the pardon He won when He died upon the cross for our sins and rose again.

We gather again tomorrow. We come to hear God’s Word and to receive Christ’s Supper. What happens as we gather is significant and important. God will be at work though we may not see it.

Christ would have us examine ourselves and prepare ourselves for tomorrow. And so, I ask you before God: Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner and have sinned in thought, word and deed? Do you confess and agree with God that you are guilty and deserving of his wrath and punishment? Do you trust that Christ Jesus has truly redeemed you and made atonement for all your sins? Do you also believe that Jesus, in the Sacrament, gives you to partake of His body and blood which were given and shed that your sins might be forgiven you? As a fruit of your faith, do you truly desire and seek God’s help to amend your life and live it in accord with God’s Word?

If you are truly sorry for your sins and look to Christ and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross for pardon and forgiveness, I announce unto you the grace of God and, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]