by Rev. Travis Berg
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to be in Bethlehem on that first Christmas? Who wouldn’t want to stand among the shepherds, as they hear the angels sing? We set up our crèches because we want to see the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
We feel this longing because we don’t realize that Christmas isn’t just ancient history. In his sermon on Christmas day, Martin Luther reminded his congregation and us how we should view Christmas: “Therefore see to it that you do not find pleasure in the Gospel only as a history, for that is only transient; neither regard it only as example, for it is of no value without faith.” Christmas isn’t just a historical trivia fact that comes in handy during Jeopardy or during a Quiz Bowl. Christmas isn’t just an example of righteous living, which is used to justify the acceptance of Syrian refugees.
So why did God record the Christmas history for us? “[The angel] does not simply say, Christ is born, but to you He is born, neither does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you I bring glad tidings of great joy.” The Christmas history wasn’t written only to inform; the Christmas history was written to inspire faith. The Holy Spirit recorded these words through Luke so that you might trust that Christ did all of His saving work for you. Look back at the meanings of the three articles of the Apostles Creed and you will see the same thing. You, dear reader, are the reason for the season. Jesus, the Son of God, was born in a lowly, stinky stable for your salvation.
Usually, we think of Christ’s passive obedience, His suffering and death upon the cross, when we think of what our Lord has done for us. But Luther draws our attention to a very important fact in his sermon. We are conceived and born in sin, as Psalm 51 declares.
So what is the solution to our unholy and evil birth? Luther brings us this comfort: “Christ has a pure, innocent and holy birth. Man has an unclean, sinful, condemned birth. . . Nothing can help this unholy birth except the pure birth of Christ.” Only the blessing of Christ’s birth can undo the curse which is intertwined with our birth. But how is this possible? We cannot jump the two thousand year ditch which separates us from the manger. There is a way by which we have access to this birth: “[Christ’s birth] is imparted spiritually, through the Word. . . For this purpose Christ willed to be born, that through Him we might be born again.” We are given Christ’s holy birth through the Word. Every time a pastor baptizes, preaches, and gives the Sacrament of the Altar, and every time you hear or read the Bible, this new birth is offered to you. And faith, created by that same word, eagerly grasps and trusts this Word.
“Every Christian may rejoice and glory in Christ’s birth as much as if he had himself been born of Mary.” Christ places you, a pure and holy newborn, into the manger. You take His place and He takes yours. Christ graciously gives you the purity and holiness of His birth and takes all of the corruption and sin from your birth. Let us hear the Word eagerly this Christmas season, thereby receiving the benefits of Christ’s holy birth.
The Rev. Travis Berg is pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Latimer, IA.