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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

25 December 2006

Glad Tidings of Great Joy

GiftsContrary to popular reports, the Grinch has not stolen Christmas. Its Eve already takes flight; the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ begins in earnest. Presents can be torn open, toys played with until broken, complaints registered about the gifts, the food, the relatives.

Oh, of course not in your home! You wouldn’t do that, would you?

Even for devout Christians, the temptations and troubles besetting us are enough to take our eyes off of the Real Meaning of Christmas. Not love, joy, peace, or any such greeting card definition. Rather: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)” The great apostle to the Gentiles, Paul of God, realized that he’d have been Saul of Satan were it not for Jesus’ coming. The same likewise would be our fate without Christ.

My Christmas gift for you is as old as that first night in Bethlehem, when Mary had a boy-child. Older, really, since it goes back into the eternity of God’s love and His plan for our salvation. From the second chapter of Luke, the ESV translation, I offer:

Holy FamilyIn those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Heavenly HostAnd in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

And the angel said to them, “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.”

And suddenly there was with the angel 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!”

ShepherdsWhen the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Christmas is God caught in the act of keeping His promises. Much of the world anticipates Santa “breaking in” to their homes. The believer realizes that this day instead celebrates God “breaking in” to His own Creation, beginning its long awaited restoration.

Jesus CrucifiedAlready in Eden, immediately after the Fall, the Lord promised to send a Savior. He constantly renewed that promise throughout the Old Testament. Finally, that Savior came, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, the home of the House of David.

Prophecies concerning the Savior were kept as Jesus grew to manhood, earning the respect of family and neighbors. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and preached Good News to the poor. After living a perfect life, He died a horrible death, carrying our sins to Calvary, washing them away in the flow of His own blood. He rose again to life and promises to raise us up on the last day to live with Him forever.

A final thought as you and yours rip into your Christmas presents: Jesus’ own human package was ripped apart — torn open to release the ultimate gift of forgiveness of sins, restoration of the Father’s love, and eternal life in heaven. Treasure up these things and keep pondering them in your heart. And have a very merry and Christ-centered Christmas.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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