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“The Living Nativity”
Luke 2:1-20


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
First Sunday after Christmas—December 30, 2012

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

Fairy tales begin with the words, “Once upon a time.”  But, the Christmas Gospel begins with the words, “And it came to pass in those days.” Fairy tales are set in mythical lands.  But, today’s Gospel occurs in the real town of Bethlehem, during the actual reign of Caesar Augustus and Quirinius.

This is tremendously important for us to recognize. For, in our pop culture, Christmas often focuses on make believe and fantasy. Those aspects of our Christmas celebrations have their proper place.  But, it seems that, for many, the “stuff” of Christmas—the lights and gifts and music—can become a flight into an imaginary world, just a temporary retreat, from the real world and real life.

And, that is the exact opposite of the Christmas message.  St. Luke emphasizes that what he is writing is real history. It actually occurred in a real place and at a real time when certain real officials were in power. It isn’t legend or myth or fable. It is true, an accurate and factual account of the way things really were.

Christmas is not about escaping into some fantasy, dream world. It’s about your life in the real world being redeemed and renewed by the Lord. It’s about the real Son of God, through whom all things were created, entering into his creation as a true and literal baby boy, with real flesh and blood. It’s about a first-time Mom giving him birth in the humblest of circumstances—in the cold of night among real livestock and hay and smell. It’s about the Lord of all taking on the form of a servant and being laid in a cattle feeder in order that he might rescue us from our sin. There is nothing unreal or imaginary about Christmas. For, as St. John declares in today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus is the Word made flesh, the concrete and tangible love of God, come to walk among us.

Though these are real historical events, there is also symbolic significance to the Christmas story.  Christ was born with the animals and made himself to be placed in a feeding trough because we, as a consequence of sin, had become less than what we should be as humans, and instead like senseless beasts follow our basest instincts and desires. The one who slept near the animals came to set us free from the beastly power of sin, death, and the devil.

Jesus’ lowly birth symbolizes the humble life he would lead for us, and the lowly death he would suffer on our behalf. The wood of a manger would later be traded for the wood of a cross; the cave of the stable, for the cave of the tomb; and the swaddling cloths the blessed babe was wrapped in at his birth, for the linen cloth his body would be wrapped in at his death.

The Son of God was born among us and became man for this very purpose: to die in the flesh in your place, and shed his blood to ransom and purchase you for eternal life. He was made to be like us in every way, except without sin, in order to be your perfect stand-in. As true man he was your substitute in both life and death.  Living in your stead a perfect life, and by his death on the cross paying the price for all your sins.

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. . .  For unto you is born . . . a Savior.”  Do not be in terror any longer of death or the judgment of God. For your sins are forgiven, cleansed from you by this holy birth.

The shepherds were given a sign of this Good News: a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. You also are given a sign.  For Jesus is to be found humbly mangered today in the bread and wine you receive in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Have you ever been to a living nativity scene presentation, with live animals, people playing the roles of Joseph and Mary, angels and shepherds and wise men, sometimes with Jesus even represented by a real baby?  As enjoyable and inspiring as that may be, the true “living nativity” is right here, today.  We may not have live animals, but we do have the living Jesus—and not just a doll or even a baby playing the role, but the real thing.

The name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread,” and today you are in the true Bethlehem. For, in the Sacrament, the Living Bread comes down from heaven to satisfy your spiritual hunger, and makes this house of God the true “house of bread.”  Each Lord’s Day this Sacrament is the true “living nativity,” for he is cradled in, with, and under the bread and wine.  Come to the true Bethlehem, come to the true “living nativity, to kneel down like the shepherds and receive with joy the Savior born for you.

Amen.

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