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“Unto You Is Born a Savior”
Luke 2:11


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Christmas Eve—December 24, 2010

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

On the “National Review” website, an Orthodox Jew named Michael Rosen writes a very surprising article titled, “Why This Orthodox Jew Loves Christmas Music.”  He says:

“For me, an Orthodox Jew . . . December truly is the most wonderful time of the year. . .  I really love . . . round-the-clock Christmas music. . . Yes, I admit it . . . I love Christmas music. . .  While I obviously don’t share the theology they express . . .  Christmas tunes are . . . melodious and tend to evoke intense emotions ranging from joy to nostalgia. . . I get strange looks from passersby on the streets . . . when, wearing my yarmulke, I’m whistling ‘O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord’ . . .” [http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/255422/why-i-love-christmas-music-michael-m-rosen?page=1]

The story is very much the same with Christmas celebrations in Japan.  Christmas and all its traditions were brought to Japan by the American servicemen who occupied that country after World War II.  In just 60 years the observance of Christmas in Japan has built up to a level that rivals our own.  They have it all: the lights, the trees, the decorations, the gifts.  And since there are no restrictions on the separation of Church and State, in many ways their celebrations seem to be more religious than ours, with Christmas carols in the public schools and nativity scenes gracing government buildings.  No “Winter Festivals” for them: It’s an old-fashioned Christmas all the way.

The odd things is: The population of Japan is only about 3% Christian.  Most of the people are simply mimicking Christian customs without any idea what it all means.  They put up nativity sets and sing Christmas carols and exchange presents and send Christmas cards and wish each other a “Merry Christmas,” but they don’t know what it is they are celebrating, what happened that first Christmas in Bethlehem.

It may seem odd that an Orthodox Jew loves Christmas carols, or non-Christian Japanese celebrate Christmas with more gusto than we do.  But, don’t we often do the same thing?  Observe all the customs and traditions of Christmas, without really considering what Christmas actually means? 

Listen to the words of some familiar Christmas carols we’ve all sung again and again:

“Oh, come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!”

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!  Hail, incarnate Deity!”

“Come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn king.”

“Christ the Savior is born!  Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.”

If you really think about it, those words are making an astounding statement: God became a man.  You may remember a popular song a few years ago that asked the question, “What if God was one of us?”  Well, that is exactly what happened, that is what we celebrate at Christmas: God became one of us.  It’s not a myth or fairy tale.  Over 2,000 years ago, at a real time and place, at a specific point in human history that we actually number our years by, God became one of us, miraculously conceived of a Virgin and born as a Babe in a stable at Bethlehem.

“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord.”  So said the angels to the shepherds the first Christmas Eve, and 2,000 years later that is still the message and meaning of Christmas for you: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord.

You need a Savior because you are a sinner, by nature sinful and unclean, separated from God by your evil thoughts, words and deeds.  St. John says, “This is how God showed his love for us: He sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we would live through him. . .  He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  What does that mean, “atoning sacrifice”?  It means that he made up for, paid for, atoned for, your sin.  He fulfilled God’s plan for your salvation by his life of perfect obedience, his sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead.  Paul says in Colossians, “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.”

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”  In Dickens story “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge’s nephew says Christmas is “a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time.”  Many people think that’s the meaning of those words, “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”  It means that for a few weeks each year at Christmastime men show one another peace and goodwill.  But the angels’ words “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” are not about men’s temporary attitude toward one another because of a holiday, but God’s permanent attitude toward all of mankind because of his Son.  “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”  God is not angry with you!  That’s what it’s all about, the lights, the trees, the decorations, the gifts, the Christmas carols and nativity scenes.  We are celebrating the Good News: God is not angry with you, on account of his Son, born into our world as the Babe of Bethlehem.  “Peace on earth, goodwill toward you.”

An old preacher was asked by a younger preacher how to tell the same Christmas story year after year and keep it fresh and appealing.  He said, “Just tell it as though you had never told it before, and imagine that those hearing it have never heard it before.”  Don’t just go through the motions of Christmas.  Open your heart to the real meaning of Christmas.  Open your heart to your Savior.  Open your heart to the Good News: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord . . .  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

Amen.

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