Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Doesn’t it seem like Christmas is really for the kids? Yes, I recognize that adults enjoy giving gifts, listening to Christmas carols, and enjoying a little Christmas cheer at holiday parties (particularly the liquid kind of cheer!). (Aside: Of course, I’m talking about hot apple cider…) But just about everything else encompassing Christmas is aimed at children: Santa Claus and the North Pole, stockings full of candy and gifts, Christmas caroling, and a whole slew of holiday movies and television specials. (Aside: My favorites are still A Charlie Brown Christmas and the classic 1960’s cartoon special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.) With the births of Benjamin and Michael, Christmas has even become on occasion for my own inner child to come out again as I relive my childhood through my sons. For example, this year I bought several holiday-themed LEGO sets in order to build a Winter Village to decorate our home. Mind you: these LEGO sets are decorations, not toys, but still quite a bit of fun!
Yes, Christmas is for the kids! And so it should come as no surprise that the truest stories we tell during Advent and Christmas are also all about the kids—or, more precisely, about the babies. The birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ both feature prominently during Advent. Most years you will hear of the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel that Mary would give birth to the Son of God. You may hear about the related, earlier announcement to Zechariah the priest that, even in their old age, he and his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son who would grow up to become John the Baptist. Some years we even hear about John’s birth and sing Zechariah’s Song, the Benedictus. Of course, the birth of Jesus Christ is the whole point of Christmas! Baby Jesus is the “reason for the season.”
In today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 1:39-56), we get to see what happened when the virgin Mary, already pregnant with Jesus the Messiah, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Having just received the Good News that Mary would become the mother of God in human flesh, she hurried to confirm the miracle by a visit to her elderly cousin, Elizabeth. Both babies are miracles. Elizabeth’s child was a surprise pregnancy after many long years of infertility. Elizabeth had been barren until the angel visited Zechariah in the Temple and told him “Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13).
Yet Mary’s Son is an even greater miracle because that which was conceived in her “is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). Mary’s Son “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Jesus is the Son of God, and his incarnation is the greatest miracle that ever happened—what C.S. Lewis calls “the Grand Miracle,” the miracle from which all others flow (Miracles).
When Mary first heard this amazing promise, it was too good to be true, and she wondered, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Never since the beginning of the world had anyone ever met a pregnant virgin. But the angel assured her that “nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37). God created reality by the power of his Word. In the Genesis creation account, God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God looked at Mary’s womb and said, “Let there be life,” and there was Life! Mary’s womb became the Temple of God incarnate, what John’s Gospel calls the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14).
And when Mary went to visit Elizabeth and the unborn Christ child drew near, Elizabeth’s own unborn baby leapt for joy inside her. In a way that I can’t fully understand or explain, the unborn John the Baptist somehow sensed his Savior was there! So he jumped for joy right inside his mother’s belly!
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth broke out into joyful song, declaring the words of Scripture that form the basis of the liturgical text we call the Ave Maria, or Hail Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! …And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:42, 45). Elizabeth called Mary blessed because of the child she carried, and Elizabeth called Mary blessed because she believed the promise of God’s Word.
This, in turn, led Mary to break into splendid Hebrew poetry as her soul magnified the Lord in the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song (1:46-55). We sing the Magnificat on Wednesday nights as part of our Advent Evening Prayer services. We also just sang a hymn setting of it as our sermon hymn, “My Soul Rejoices” (LSB #933). The Magnificat is a magnificent hymn of praise to God for the way in which he turns the world upside-down and inside-out in order to save his people. A pregnant virgin and an old woman with a swelling belly are just two examples. You can study Mary’s Song for even more.
So, as you can see, there are numerous wonders at which we could marvel in this Gospel lesson. But there are two in particular I’d like to focus on today: infant baptism and the sanctity of every unborn baby’s life.
Ever since I converted to Lutheranism during college, I have pointed to this story as support for baptizing infants, a practice I admit I despised while growing up in Pentecostal and non-denominational churches. Usually, the main thrust against infant baptism is to ask, “But how in the world could babies believe in Christ?”, the assumption being that baptism should follow belief.
However, Lutherans profess what the Bible teaches, which is that, in baptism, God can actually create faith. No one can deny that God attaches both command and promise to Baptism. Christ commands Baptism in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). At the end of Mark’s Gospel, he declares, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mark 16:16a). That this promise applies to children is clear from the Apostle Peter’s sermon in Acts 2: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children…” (Acts 2:38-39). And if that little phrase, “and for your children,” were not enough to convince you to baptize babies, Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew, “Go… and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28:19-20a). “All nations” means “all people.” I have never seen a nation made up of only adults. Certainly “all nations” includes babies and toddlers! My son Benjamin is just as much an American as I am.
Now here’s where little baby John the Baptist comes into it: If John the Baptist, even in the womb, could somehow sense the presence of his Savior and leap for joy, then very clearly faith is possible for infants. Babies can believe in Jesus and be saved! And, in fact, this is precisely what we would expect because the Bible affirms that God “desires all people to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4) and that only faith in Christ can save us from our sins (John 3:16; 14:6). Babies are people too! God loves them and wants to save them, so why wouldn’t you baptize infants? The alternative of delaying Baptism until some man-made “age of accountability” is simply nonsensical. So dunk those babies! Get them wet! Soak their souls for Jesus!
But wait, there’s more! I recently became aware of another wonderful emphasis that comes out of this passage: the Christian Pro-Life message that all of human life is sacred from womb to tomb. When Elizabeth said her unborn baby leapt for joy, she used the Greek word brephos. In Classical Greek the word brephos is often used to refer to human embryos (TDNT). So also here in the New Testament, Elizabeth uses the word brephos to refer to her unborn baby.
What makes this extra special for us is that in the Christmas story (Luke 2), brephos is also the word used to refer to the infant Christ. For example, the angels tell the shepherds:
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
Guess what the word for “baby” is in the verse I just read? You got it: brephos! And it’s used again just a few verses later when the shepherds “went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16).
Do you see what’s going on here?! The same Greek word, brephos, refers both to the unborn John the Baptist and the newborn Jesus. In other words, for St. Luke—who happened to be a doctor, by the way (Col. 4:14)!—there is no fundamental difference between an infant and a fetus. On top of all the wonderful things said about babies in the Psalms, you can’t get any better than this: in the New Testament, the pre-born and the newborn are one and the same!
This means that Christians cannot accept abortion under any circumstance. In God’s eyes, abortion is the same as murder. A person who walks into or works at a Planned Parenthood “clinic” might as well dash a baby’s brains against the rocks, because there’s no difference in God’s eyes.
I recognize, sadly, that atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers will never accept this Gospel lesson as proof of the Pro-Life cause. But I do hope that it shows the folly of liberal Protestants (and even some Catholics) who want to have it both ways and say that you can be Pro-Choice and a Christian at the same time. Quite simply, you can’t. Either you believe God’s Word or you don’t. Either you value and love the life of every little brephos God makes—no matter how brief—or you don’t. The Pro-Life position is the only valid Christian position, and this little Advent story proves it for us. Anyone who claims to believe the Bible cannot read it any other way.
This may not be what you want to hear on the weekend just before Christmas. It might be difficult to hear, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. God loves babies—so much so, that when he put in motion his plan to rescue the world from sin and death, he didn’t just show up, snap his fingers, and wipe the slate clean. Instead, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). Jesus came into the world as an infant, a brephos, a baby boy. From the moment of his conception until his death on the cross, he embodied our redemption so he could save us from our sins.
Ultimately, that is why Jesus came: “to save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Whether your sin is committing abortion or failing to bring your children to be baptized at church and go to Sunday school—or whatever they might be—Christ came to save us from our sins. No matter what you’ve done or haven’t done, just repent and be baptized, and you will be saved. Or, if you are already baptized, believe the Word that is spoken to you. This promise is for you and your children! How do I know that? Because the Bible tells me so (Acts 2:38-39). “And blessed is she who believed… what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45). Elizabeth called Mary blessed because she believed God’s promise. If you believe God’s Word, you also will be blessed and become a child of God. So, as I said from the start, Christmas really is for the kids. Merry Christmas! Amen.