In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
If there were a theme hymn for tonight, it would be the first hymn we sang, Paul Gerhardt’s “All My Heart This Night Rejoices.” Among Christmas hymns, it’s a forgotten treasure. It doesn’t get the same kind of face time that it’s neighbors like “Joy to the Word” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” get. Even among Lutheran hymns, it’s one of the finest. But that’s not why we sang it tonight, to say we sang a “Lutheran” Christmas hymn or just for the sake of pulling something out of the archives. We sang it because that hymn tells us what Christmas is all about. Not that “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” or “Joy to the Word” are missing something, but Gerhardt packed so much into these stanzas that to skip over it would miss some of the finest Christmas preaching available.
What does this hymn preach to us, what does it confess? It confesses that “God is man, man to deliver; His dear Son now is one with our blood forever” and “If Our Blessed Lord and Master hated men, would He then of flesh be partaker? If He in our woe delighted, would He bear all the care of our race benighted?” In other words, Jesus loves us so much that He became man, willingly chose to refrain from always and fully using His power as God, and ultimately died to save us. What’s more, once He died and rose, He did not give up the flesh, as if this body was something evil, but kept it and ascended into heaven in it. Because He has done that, He has shown us what awaits us. When we die our soul goes to heaven to be with the Lord and on the Last Day this body will rise perfected, working just as God created it to in Eden, and we will be forever, body and soul, with the God who created us, the God who redeemed us, and the God who sanctified us.
Christmas is what sets this all into motion, it’s when this ultimate plan of God becomes visible. Though all of Jesus’ life shows perfectly what kind of love God has for His creation, Christmas shows it in a special way. It shows what kind of humility Jesus had, that He was willing to have every bit of divine power, but to be born in deplorable conditions; to be fully dependent upon Mary and Joseph for food, clothing, shelter, and protection; to learn how to walk and talk; to endure illness and cuts and bruises working with Joseph as a carpenter; to know the heartache of rejection by those whom you love; to know the emptiness of betrayal; to know the indignity of a crooked legal system and those who just want to advance themselves; to know the pain of beating and crucifixion; to know the agony of death. Jesus loves you so much that He was willing to endure the worst this world could give Him, all to save you from sin and death, to ensure that, no matter what crosses you may bear in this life, you will not endure eternal death and separation from Him.
If you haven’t realized by now, Christmas isn’t just about the Baby in the manger. You must see the cross in the manger. You can’t have Jesus in the manger with an empty cross. If He’s going to be in one, He must be on the other because He was born to die that we no more may die. He was born to become “the Lamb that taketh sin away and for [us] full atonement maketh. For [our] life His own He tenders and our race by His grace [fit] for glory renders.” Christmas begins us on a path that leads to Jerusalem, to Palm Sunday and Good Friday, but also to Easter morning, and then on to Ascension Day. And all this means that Christmas isn’t just about Jesus, but it’s about you, too. Jesus didn’t do this for Himself, but for you, to redeem you, to win you back from your slavery to sin and the devil, to snatch you from the jaws of death.
All this He gives to you through your Baptism into Him. At the Font Jesus gives to you and all who are Baptized into Him every good thing that He has done. He has perfectly obeyed the Law because you cannot. He has paid the price the Law demands when it is broken: the shedding of innocent, perfect Blood. At your Baptism that perfect obedience and sacrificial death are made yours, and it is just as if you did it yourself. But the blessings of your Baptism don’t stop there. The resurrection of Jesus is also made yours, your Baptism a promise of your eternal life in heaven.
Your Baptism also gives you another gift, one we don’t think about all that often. It gives you the ability to look sin, death, and the devil squarely in the face and laugh. It gives you the power to walk away from them, to tell these powerful, evil things that they have no power over you because you are Baptized into Christ. One hundred ten years before Gerhardt wrote “All My Heart This Night Rejoices,” Martin Luther wrote one of his last hymns, a Christmas hymn called “To Shepherds as They Watched by Night.” In that hymn Luther tells you: “What harm can sin and death then do? The true God now abides with you! Let hell and Satan rage and chafe, Christ is your Brother—you are safe.” When temptation presses strong, when Satan tries to tell you that God doesn’t love you or doesn’t care about you, Luther reminds you to point to Christmas. Point to the manger and say, “Devil, you have no power over me. Jesus Christ is my Brother and He has defeated you for me. You were powerless against Him, and because I am Baptized into Him, you cannot touch me.”
Luther ended his hymn with a powerful and comforting stanza: “You shall and must at last prevail; God’s own you are, you cannot fail. To God forever sing your praise with joy and patience all your days.” That is to say, the victory has been won. Sing your praises to God in joy and patience, knowing that in His time He will take you to be with Himself in heaven.
Until then, remember Christmas. Remember the Baby born in Bethlehem to save you. “Come, then, banish all your sadness, one and all, great and small; come with songs of gladness!” For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord! He has restored peace on earth and goodwill between God and man. He will bestow upon you light and joy in this life and the next. Because you believe in Jesus Christ, are Baptized into Him “You shall not perish, but with [Him] abide forever there on high, in that joy which can vanish never.”
A blessed Christmas to you all.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).