24. December 2022
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people, for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
The angel said to them…. I bring you, shepherds, good tidings, for there is born to you, shepherds. This will be the sign to you, shepherds. And so the angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, the glory of the Lord shone around them, and the angel proclaimed. Can you imagine? What an incredible thing to have the herald angel preach good news to you. What a fantastic sight to see God’s glory and hear the choirs of angels sing with exaltation. Oh, that we were there! If only that were our experience and joy to hear, see, and receive as it was given to them.
As with any great gift, its announcement isn’t enough. They wanted to receive it, just as the angel promised. They heard the message of the angel. They received it in faith. And then they went to receive what the angel announced. The shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the Babe lying in a manger.
So it is with faith—first the hearing and then, by the Spirit, the believing. And with belief, then the receiving. And what a gift to receive! The long-awaited and frequently-promised Messiah-Christ is born! The Babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And so they receive Him now and later as their Savior King. This Son of David will be stripped of His garments and hoisted onto a cross. The soldiers will pierce his hands and feet with nails and His side with a spear. And coming from His side will be blood and water.
Along with the blood and water is the Word that testifies and the Spirit. And the blood and water and Spirit agree. Mary’s Son and Mary’s LORD shed His blood for the healing of the nations. He is the spring of living water which refreshes the exiles in the wilderness. His Spirit bears witness that His healing and refreshment are forgiveness from sins and resurrection from the dead. “The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin.” That blood is shed for peace and goodwill toward men.
But the shepherds knew this message wasn’t just for them. The angel had told them! “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Yes, it came first to them, but it was for everybody. In this Child, God had brought peace in sins forgiven. In this Babe, there is now finally goodwill toward men. As the Apostle testifies, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” And so, “when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.” First, the hearing, then the believing, then the receiving, and finally, the proclaiming.
It’s not enough to hear the Christmas story again. It’s not enough for the message to be announced to the shepherds. It’s not even enough for them to find the Babe, as the angel had said. The message can’t be just to them or for them. It must be announced to you, received by you, and given for you!
You need an angel to proclaim to you good tidings of great joy. You need to go to Bethlehem and find the Babe, just as the angel said to you. You need faith that can’t help but proclaim what you have heard, believed, and received. But I’ve seen no herald angel with wings unfurled. You can cross the Atlantic and visit Bethlehem and the church of the Nativity, but you won’t find Jesus there. Or you can go to Jerusalem and Mount Calvary, but Jesus isn’t on the cross either. Or you can go to the Holy Sepulchre and see where He lay but not anymore.
But you do have an angel who announces to you good tidings. This messenger proclaims with God-given authority to declare to you the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death, and freedom from the devil’s lies. Your angel messenger tells you where to find Jesus, exactly where He is promised. “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
You have come to your Bethlehem, where Jesus feeds you with Himself. His Word is your manna, bread from heaven. And so you receive His Word in preaching. You contemplate His Word in Bible Study with fellow Christians. You confess and sing according to His Word daily in prayerful devotion. And you gather about His manger to eat His body and drink His blood, just as He instituted and gives in His Word. This Sacrament is given for you and for all who would believe.
And so you are those who hear, believe, and receive, too. Jesus has proclaimed to you all that He has said and done for your salvation. With His Word and by your Baptism, He gives you His Spirit. And by His Word and Spirit, Jesus, your Good Shepherd, has guided you to green pastures and still waters of the church He established for you. And in this holy Christian church, “He daily and richly forgives all [your] sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day, He will raise [you] and all the dead and give eternal life to [you] and all believers in Christ.”
May you go forth like those shepherds making known the saying which was told you concerning this Child Jesus. And may God give wonder to all who hear from you what Jesus does for you here. And wondering, may they with you, return, “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin