Posts tagged Christmas
This time of year, in my travels, I see quite a few Christmas displays. There are front yard efforts ranging from the simple with a few lights to the elaborate computer-generated extravaganza. Most stores and malls will put up “Holiday” decorations to enhance their sales. TV stations have little jingles that have a way of sticking in your head: “Happy Holidays from Channel 5.” That’s the point. We are not surprised when a commercial enterprise engages in marketing.
Especially when I see private displays, however, I look to see if the owner is acknowledging in any way Christ in Christmas or if he is, in essence, drinking from a stream whose source he denies. What do I mean? Does it point to Jesus, or is it all about something we want?
Christmas is not simply a generic celebration of “joy to the world” and “peace on earth.” Nor is it a midwinter festival for families with gifts for children. To belabor what ought to be obvious, “The Nativity of Our Lord,” as we call it, is a specifically Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
This is a “great joy” which is “for all the people” (Luke 2:10-11). The eternal Word of God was made flesh for us and for the world. It’s not just for a few, but for all.
Of course, many, many customs around the world have sprung up around the celebration. Some of them are specifically Christian. Others, like St. Nicholas morphing into Santa Claus, have original roots in Christian customs, but today evidence no Christian content whatever. I thought of this the other day watching a complicated, computer-generated display of holiday lights. It was delightful, but there was nothing pointing to Jesus. Nothing at all. It appeared to me the owner was drinking from a stream whose source he denied.
How shall we respond? We are Christmas witnesses! We know the Source of the stream! Do we therefore wag our fingers and insist they “put Christ back in Christmas”? Or rather, shall we seek in the best way possible to
“give an account, to anyone who asks, the reason for the hope that is within,” doing it in “a spirit of gentleness and respect”? (1 Peter 3:15).
We are called, where we are able, to testify to what we have been given. The reason for our joy, the heart of our celebration, is that God Himself has stepped out of eternity, entered our time, shouldered our sin, suffered our pain, walked our path, taken our punishment. And it all began with a baby born for us, a baby who is also the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32). It is as the angel told Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God!” (Luke 1:37).
May we, with Mary, drink from the Source in the Word of God, responding with Spirit-given faith,
“I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
May we also with the shepherds of Bethlehem be ready to “make known the saying that has been told” us concerning Mary’s child, “glorifying and praising God for all that [we] have seen and heard, as it has been told [us]” (Luke 2:17, 20).
For Christ is born! For all, and for you! A blessed season of Advent preparation for one and all!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
Jesus said, “Surely, I am coming soon!”
And the Church responds, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
These words, found in the closing verses of the Book of Revelation, and echoed even in our “common table prayer,” form the believer’s response to the message of Advent.
Our Lord Christ has come. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). In this blessed, holy season of Advent we prepare for the celebration at Christmas of our Lord’s incarnation, His coming into our flesh.
In this the Son of God has placed on each of us infinite value, showing how God Himself gives us our worth, for God Himself becomes one of us to give Himself on the cross for us. “You were bought with a price…” (1 Corinthians 6:20). “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Jesus’ coming in the flesh is the heart of our proclamation and the central fact that gives our lives meaning and purpose. In Him is life. Without Him there is no life, no reason even to be.
Therefore, we rehearse the promises: “A virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son, and they will call his name ‘Immanuel’” (Isaiah 7:14). We pause in wonder: “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). On His day we sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).
Yet even in our singing the Advent hymns and Christmas carols, we look beyond this tired and fallen world to the time when we join the multitude of heaven and sing: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God… Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns…” (Revelation 19:1b, 6b). For the Christ who has come is coming again – visibly, in glory, to take us home.
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Who ever is thirsty, let him come; and who ever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17). Therefore “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” is our prayer, as we sing: “The King shall come when morning dawns, And light and beauty brings. Hail! Christ the Lord, your people pray: Come quickly, King of Kings!” (LSB 348, st. 5).
But oh, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, you know there is even more. For in the midst of all the busyness of this season, Christ comes to us right now, full of grace and truth!
Yes, here He is, in the down to earth, mundane, but clear Word of God (wasn’t His first coming in swaddling clothes?). You don’t have to climb a high mountain, or plumb the depths of the ocean to find Him. You don’t have to make pilgrimage to exotic places. He is here, here in the Word of Scripture.
He reveals Himself in the words we preach and teach from His Word. He shows Himself under the splash of water and Word in Holy Baptism. In and with the forms of bread and wine, by His Word of promise, He gives His body and blood.
For that reason we take heart, my friends, and know that in the Lord our labor is never in vain. For He comes. And so we also pray, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
May God grant you and yours a wonderful celebration of our Savior’s birth. Merry Christmas to one and all!
There is no more profound proclamation of the message of Christmas, no more poignant explanation of “the reason for the season” than this passage from the letter to the Hebrews. Here is my rendering of Hebrews 2:14-18:
14) Since therefore the children have shared and do share blood and flesh, He Himself in like manner assumed a share in them [flesh and blood] so that through death he might render impotent him who has the power of death, namely the devil.
15) And set free those who by fear of death through all their lives were held in bondage.
16) For surely it was not angels He takes hold of to help, but He helps Abraham’s descendents [i.e., all who believe in Christ – see Galatians 3:7].
17) For this reason He was obligated to become like His brothers in every way so that he might become a merciful and faithful High Priest toward God, for the purpose of making atonement [propitiation] for the sins of the people;
18) For in that He Himself suffered being tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.
The children share in blood and flesh. That’s who we are, real people, flesh and blood creatures of God. In the same way, our Lord Himself, in the womb of Mary, also assumed His share in flesh and blood. There can be no greater wonder than this!
The LORD and Creator of all the universe becomes a child of flesh and blood, yet always remains who He is: Lord of all. God in the flesh – the incarnation, we call it, the “enfleshment,” our hymn expresses it: “These are the signs that you shall mark, the swaddling clothes, the manger dark: there you shall find the Infant laid by whom the heavens and earth were made” (Lutheran Service Book 358, st. 5).
Why? Why does God take a share in flesh and blood? The Creator becomes a creature? Here is the heart of the matter, my beloved brothers and sisters. This is what we teach and preach this season. The New International Version has it: “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death” (2:14). Literally it means, as I have it above, “that through death He might render impotent” the devil, who holds “the power of death.”
I like that. This is good news! The devil looks powerful. He acts powerful. He seeks to destroy, but he is IMPOTENT! He has been stripped of His power! He cannot tear us away from our Lord when we claim Christ’s incarnation for us, Christ’s death on the cross that destroyed his power.
For Christ Himself has set us free. In Christ the Son of God became like us in every way. We suffer. He suffered. We are tempted. He was tempted, “yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).
More than that, He was a faithful High Priest, offering Himself as the sacrifice, the atonement for our sins. His death made satisfaction for our sins. That means He received the full measure of punishment for our sins. His death now sets us free because there is no more sin that needs punishment. It was all done in Him. Now, because He suffered, He is able to help us when we suffer, when we are tested by temptation.
Here is the wonderful message of Christmas!
At the end of the year the world often becomes retrospective about the good, the bad and the ugly of the previous year. Depending on what commentators emphasize, they become hopeful or gloomy about our prospects. But here is the good news that transcends all of that, the good news of Christmas we sing and share, teach and preach: God Himself has come to be with us in our difficulty! God Himself has become a human being of flesh and blood.
God Himself has taken His share in human suffering in Christ, born for us. God Himself has come to set us free from death and atoned for our sin. God Himself gives life! Now there’s a message just begging to be proclaimed! May God bless each of us in the proclaiming!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
There are a lot of mysteries in the world that intrigue many people. The Bermuda Triangle, the Great Pyramid at Giza, or the Lost City of Atlantis are just a few. When I was younger, I was most intrigued by Stonehenge, a mysterious structure of upright stones in England. I built a model of Stonehenge for a school project and read all about it. Besides the mystery of the purpose of Stonehenge, I was totally intrigued by the amount of time, commitment, and the engineering feat required to build Stonehenge. I was curious about the people who built it, how they figured out how to build it and what it meant to them after it was completed.
I happened to think of Stonehenge this weekend as I attended several church services. It’s not a normal thing to be thinking about at Christmas service, I agree, but when I listened anew to the story of Joseph and the many trials he went through it reminded me of Stonehenge and the commitment of the people who built Stonehenge. Not the same type of situation or same commitment but it made me think a lot about the powerful, deep commitment Joseph made to the birth of our Savior over a long period of time and despite many challenges. I wondered about Joseph this Christmas and what it was like for him. For the first time, Joseph seemed like a mystery to me and I was amazed at all that he went through and in awe of God who was at his side through it all.
I can imagine the moments between Mary and Joseph as Mary went over the situation and she tried to explain the message of the angel to Joseph. I can pretty easily imagine the terrible heartbreak and confusion Joseph experienced when finding out that Mary was pregnant. I can feel the panic and confusion Joseph was reeling with when he considered a way out of the “situation” through divorce. I can imagine the miles and miles of walking Joseph and Mary did and all the time it gave them to ponder the mysteries they were facing. One challenge followed another and at every critical moment God revealed himself. I imagine the comfort Joseph had when he realized he did not have to figure it out on his own.
Next time I am faced with a huge challenge I want to remember Joseph and pray that the Holy Spirit blesses me with the same depth of faith and commitment as Joseph and his strength to persevere through the mysteries and challenges that life throws at me. We don’t have the blessing of a holy angel visiting us during these times of great challenge but we do have the gift of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us in faithfulness and perseverance. We do have the holy Word of God that gives us confidence and peace when we face huge challenges or mysteries and we do have the baby who grew up to be our Savior from sin. We have a God who is “our refuge and strength and ever present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). May we “consider the steadfast love of the Lord” (Psalm 107:43) this week in all the challenges, mysteries and blessings we encounter.
For me, Christmas later this week will again be enhanced by the “third dimension” of the Christmas Gospel provided in Revelation 12. While Luke 2 provides the human dimension and John 1 the divine dimension, Revelation 12 has a third dimension to add, a reminder of what else was going on while those shepherds were watching their flocks by night.
I’m not advocating changing the manger scene out on the front lawn, but Revelation 12 does suggest a rather startling addition to the sheep and the goats: a crouching great red dragon, the serpent that had been dreading Christmas ever since Genesis 3 and its words about the One to come who would “bruise” his head (v. 15). John’s vision in Revelation 12 vividly pictures the reception that the serpent had planned for the Child and His life on earth. Its grotesque imagery always arrests my attention again and helps me to remember the proportions and consequences of that birth that holy night.
Here is what John saw and recorded (vv. 1-6):
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.
This vision, of course, has to do with much more than our Savior’s physical birth, but it does add another dimension to those offered by Luke 2 and John 1 that is helpful to celebrating Christmas. It is a potent reminder that the seemingly peaceful and quiet birth of the Christ Child away in the manger, announced by angels and observed by shepherds, which lends itself so well to Christmas cards and lawn displays, was not peaceful and quiet. Like the increasingly popular 3-D video productions of today’s entertainment industry, the rawness and brutality of Revelation 12 draws me into the picture and causes me to remember what really was going on that Christmas night.
This dark third dimension of the Bethlehem story was highlighted a number of years ago when Tamara and I were visiting Jerusalem and we hired a taxi to take us to Bethlehem. Our Israeli taxi took us as far as a Palestinian checkpoint, where we walked through a well-guarded opening in the barricade to take a Palestinian taxi for the remainder of our little journey.
After our visit to Bethlehem and upon our return to the checkpoint, our Israeli taxi was waiting as we had requested, but we found that we had arrived just at the changing of the Palestinian guard, which included moving some armored equipment just as we were about to depart. When our Israeli taxi driver refused to give way to a Palestinian vehicle, heated words were exchanged, and we found our taxi surrounded by heavily-armed men peering into our windows.
In due time, cooler heads prevailed, and our taxi was allowed to leave. But looking back, it actually was quite the appropriate experience for a visit to Bethlehem. Even today under the same skies where angels witnessed to peace on earth, mere meters removed from the place where the Christ Child in mercy lay down His sweet head (and ultimately His sinless life ) to make possible life together with God and men, the dragon still makes his presence known.
Revelation 12 goes on to picture the dragon very furious, intent upon a war of revenge against “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (v. 17), the story of our lives. But John also announces the dragon’s defeat and provides opportunity to witness our own victory celebration (Revelation 7).
Which is where our own three-dimensional lives of witness, mercy, and life together enter the picture. Giving witness, showing mercy, and living together as family in the Church flow from a deep appreciation of the Christmas Gospel in all its dimensions. May yours be that kind of 3-D Christmas this year.