Advent 4 2018

What Child is This?

Sunday School Christmas Program

December 23, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

This time of year, our attention is laser-focused toward Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We look forward to that joyous night of celebration of Christmas.  In our minds we travel back to O Little Town of Bethlehem where Gentle Mary Laid Her Child, tucked Away in a Manger, truly A Great and Mighty Wonder to behold. Once, in Royal David’s City, Of the Father’s Love BegottenIt Came Upon A Midnight Clear as Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. Candles are lit, the lights are turned down and with one voice we remember the Silent Night. As the final “Amen” echoes through the church, there is a sense that – if only for a moment – there truly is peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

Helpless romantics that we are, we view the characters in the Nativity drama through the Biblical lens. First, our attention is naturally drawn to Mary and Joseph. After all they’ve been through, and all that this child means for them and the whole world. Mary delivered the Bread of Life in the town called House of Bread, Bethlehem. Joseph as step-father to God’s own Son, yet – we speculate – burdened with the shame he might have felt as people whispered about his wife “hooking up” with someone before they were properly married. There’s the shepherds and the angelic choir singing gloria in excelsis deo. Often times we think of the wise men, the magi, but they probably didn’t arrive for quite some time yet. And there’s the bad guys too, the one who has to tell Joseph and Mary there is no room at the inn, and evil Herod who murdered infants and children trying to kill Jesus. And then there’s Jesus Himself, a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. He is what the whole drama is about.[1]

Yet, I contend that we often get it all wrong. We often treat all these people and events as part of the Christmas story, and we even do so about Jesus.   It’s hard to avoid this, honestly.  We are surrounded this time of the year with shopping, Christmas parties, church activities, Christmas plays, family, school break, vacations, and the list goes on and on. It is all too easy to think of Jesus as simply one more part of the big story we call Christmas. But Jesus isn’t part of the story of Christmas. Christmas is part of the story of Jesus. When Christians celebrate Christmas, what we are celebrating is the Great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. It is not the beginning of the incarnation, but a continuation of the story of God become man. The previous feast in this story happened nine months ago on March 25, which by the way, is a main reason we celebrate Christmas on December 25. That was the feast of the Annunciation, when it was announced to Mary that she would bear the Christ, the moment when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. At that moment, the Son of God became man. And He began to grow within His mother’s womb, taking His very flesh from her, taking His humanity from her.

Our Christmas celebration is focused on the moment when the God-man Jesus, Who has been growing for nine months already as man, is now revealed to the world through His birth. What was hidden in the womb of the virgin is now openly presented. Angels sing the announcement. Shepherds tell of this moment. His mother treasures up all these things in her heart.

At His incarnation He becomes part of a human family, part of our human family, our human race. And He is also part of the family of the people of Israel. And because of this identity, He is named and circumcised as all Jewish boys were. That’s another part of this story and another feast, celebrated January 1. The magi come and visit, that is celebrating on Jan 6. And He is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem by His mother and Joseph, presented as all the Jewish firstborn were. And that’s another part of the story and another feast, celebrated February 2.

He grows, He is baptized. That’s another feast, celebrated on January 13 this year. He teaches and heals. He is transfigured in glory, which we celebrate just before Lent. He is crucified, dies and is buried, which we celebrate during Holy Week. He rises on the third day and ascends into Heaven. And He sends to us the Holy Spirit to fill the Church with power from on high, which we celebrate on Pentecost.

This is the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, and the Savior of the world.  Our God and Savior is born into human history, a history that is centered around Him, His incarnation, His life, His death, and His resurrection.

Whenever we come to church, when we are brought here by the prompting of God’s Spirit, gathered around the Word of God and the Sacraments, we are joined into the story of Christ. We become part of His story. His birth enables our birth again. His life is ours by virtue of our baptism into Him. His death atones for our sin. Our Sunday School children didn’t just recount part of Jesus’ story, it is now theirs, just as it is all of ours by faith.

[1] Modified from a sermon by Jonathan Meyer