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Good Tidings of Great Joy!
Luke 2:8-14


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Christmas Eve—December 24, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A few weeks ago our family enjoyed a vacation at Disney World.  The highlight was the amazing Christmas lighting display at their studios.  The “city street” backlot is decked with millions of lights flashing in sync with Christmas carols.  With the help of special effects magic, it even “snows” on cue—in Florida!

It was a beautiful display, but there was something important missing: Almost no reference to the event that started it all some 2,000 years ago, the birth of Christ.  It is easy for us also to get so wrapped up in the doing of Christmas that we forget the meaning of Christmas.  We’ve got the glitz, but no God; the lights, but no Lord; the celebration, but no Christ.

The Gospel of John describes the unbelieving people of Jesus’ generation, who did not receive him as the Savior: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”  That condemnation also describes us.  In a recent Gallup poll, an astounding 82% of Americans identified themselves as Christian.  But, there is a gap between what people say they believe and how they live.  The most obvious gap is that the same poll reported only about 40% of Americans actually attend worship services regularly.  “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”

And, each of us must confess that there is often a gap in our own lives, a gap between how Christ calls us to live as his followers, and how we actually live.  As the Apostle Paul warns in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. . .  the wages of sin is death.” 

Every one of us has disobeyed God’s will, and every one of us deserves God’s punishment for sin. But, even though we deserved God’s eternal punishment, God did not leave us in our sin.  He promised to send his own Son to pay for our sins, and not only ours, but for the sins of the whole world. 

Jesus himself expresses the true significance of our Christmas celebrations, the true significance of his birth into our world: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned.”

He is the very Son of God, come down to earth and made man.  By his life, death, and resurrection from the dead, he made up for your sins and reconciled you to God.  As Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting men’s sins against them.”  The Good News is that you are reconciled to God through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of his Son.  Because of all he did for you, your sins are not counted against you. 

This evening or tomorrow, you will be giving and receiving Christmas gifts.  Those gifts remind us of the very first and greatest Christmas gift of all.  As Paul says in Romans, “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  That is God’s gift to you, this Christmas, throughout your life, and throughout eternity.  Your sins are all forgiven.  You are not condemned.  God gives you the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ your Lord.

Last week a second-grade class in Taunton, Massachusetts was told to draw a picture that reminded them of Christmas.  Most of the children drew things like candy canes, snowmen, and Santas, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But, eight year-old Jalen Cromwell drew something different.  When asked to draw a picture of something that reminded him of Christmas, he drew a picture of Jesus, crucified on the cross.

The result was that he was suspended from school and required to undergo a psychological examination.  School officials reacted that way because they couldn’t see any connection between Christmas and Christ’s crucifixion. 

But, Jalen Cromwell is a really good little theologian.  He sees the connection between Christmas and Easter, between Christ’s birth, and his crucifixion, death, and resurrection.  The carols we are singing tonight express the connection this way: “God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. . .  Glorious now, behold him arise, King, and God, and Sacrifice. . .  Nails, spear, shall pierce him through, the cross be borne, for me, for you.”

The birth of Jesus was the beginning of God’s plan to save the human race from sin.  The Son of God and Son of Mary grew up to live a sinless life in our place. Jesus’ birth and life would lead to his death on a cross, where as our substitute he endured God’s punishment for our sins. Finally, Jesus rose from the dead, to show that his death has paid for our sins, and that all who trust in him will also rise to eternal life.

Jesus said that he came to “give his life as a ransom for many.”  He was born in order to die, for me, for you. As Paul says in Colossians: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. . .  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . .  by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

That’s what it’s really all about: the lights, the trees, the decorations, the gifts, the Christmas carols and nativity scenes.  We are celebrating the Good News: You are at peace with God, on account of his Son, born into our world as the Babe of Bethlehem.

Amen.

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