Pastor Chris Matthis
Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, Colorado
Wednesday, December 25th, 2013
Sermon: Child of Promise: Promise Fulfilled
Text: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20
Focus: Jesus, the Child of Promise, is God’s greatest gift to us.
Function: That they would become children of God by faith in Christ.
Structure: Multiple Stories
Locus: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary… has redeemed me…” (SC, 1st Article of Apostles’ Creed).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Now that I’m a dad, one of my greatest joys is to see my son, Benjamin, open his Christmas presents. I get fewer gifts now, and that’s just fine with me. Christmas is for the kids! It’s wonderful to see the joy and excitement on Benjamin’s face when he tears open the wrapping paper and plays with the box inside! [Pause for laughter.] This past Sunday night, we had a pre-emptive Christmas celebration at my sister’s house in Golden. They had a lot of presents for Benjamin, but the one he liked best was the toy shopping cart because he was able to load it up with all his new books and toys, pushing them around the room and showing off his treasures!
Christmas is more fun with kids! That’s why we’re willing to do almost anything, including incredibly silly and ridiculous antics, in order to make Christmas fun for our children. When I was growing up, our family gathered each Christmas Eve at my Grandma and Grandad’s lake house for a night of feasting and festivities. Yes, we enjoyed the food and family reunion, but the highlight of the night was always a special visit from “Santa Claus.” Of course, the real Santa was busy on Christmas Eve, so each year a different male relative would don a red suit and black boots, put on a scraggly, white beard, and summon his best impersonation of old Saint Nick. Always on cue, he would enter with a large sack full of gifts for everyone. There were a lot of boots stomping and “Ho ho hos” to announce his arrival. But the fun was only beginning. One by one, we sat beside Santa on the piano bench and tried to convince him that we’d been good boys and girls that year. Then in order to get your gift, you had to perform a “ditty” for Santa: a joke, a song, or some stupid human trick. It didn’t matter how old or young you were; if you didn’t do a ditty, you didn’t get your present!
Maybe all of this sounds frivolous to you, but a little frivolity at Christmas is to be expected. After all, we’re celebrating the birth of a baby! Charles Dickens, the author of A Christmas Carol, once wrote, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”
Perhaps the best argument for all the childish fuss at Christmas is that, in the end—and in the beginning—Christmas has always been about children. And one child in particular: Jesus, the son of Mary and Son of God. For that is what we celebrate at Christmas: the coming of God’s Son to dwell among us in human flesh. As the angels told the shepherd’s on the night of Jesus’ birth:
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be 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, ESV).
Christmas is for children because it’s about a Child—the birth of baby Jesus! But Christmas is not just for children who still believe in Santa Claus. Christmas is for everyone who believes in the miracle of Jesus’ birth with that wonderful, child-like faith. Jesus himself tells us, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). We must “turn and become like children” to enter God’s gracious rule and reign (Matt. 18:3). What better time to do that than at Christmas?
Christmas is for children because we must become God’s children by faith in Christ. In John’s Gospel, we are told:
“He [Jesus] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).
If you are to welcome Christmas rightly, then you must believe in Jesus and receive him as the greatest Gift of all. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Christ came into a dark world to save us from our sins. When Isaiah speaks about “the people who walked in darkness” and “those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness” (Isa. 9:1), he’s not talking about long, cold, dark winter nights. He’s talking about a dark and dangerous world full of death and destruction. He’s talking about war and divine judgment on sin. (Remember King Ahaz and his enemies?) The last verse of Isaiah, chapter 8, says, “And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness” (Isa. 8:22). In other words, Isaiah speaks of a world that is not safe for children.
More and more, it seems as if we live in a world that is not safe for children. News headlines are replete with stories of school shootings, kidnappings, and grisly murders of children. Too many of them happen in Colorado: Jon Benet Ramsey, Columbine, the Aurora movie theatre shooting, and Arapahoe High School. But we’re not the only ones. In the past week, I have heard countless news reports on NPR about the civil wars raging in Syria and South Sudan. Often the most devastating casualties of war are innocent civilians, especially the children caught in the crossfire.
Worst of all is the terrible crime of legalized abortion, which is really the systematic genocide of children. Since 1973, nearly 55 million babies have been murdered in America due to legalized abortion. Countless more have died in Western Europe and China. Do these tragedies break your heart? They certainly break mine, and they remind me of Jesus’ words on his way to the cross: “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28).
We are fooling ourselves if we think the world has ever been safe for children. Even in Jesus’ day, at the first Christmas, the world was anything but safe. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear how the evil King Herod massacred all the baby boys of Bethlehem in order to try to kill the newborn Christ Child (Matt. 2:1-18). By God’s grace, Jesus and the holy family escaped to Egypt. But an entire generation was silenced in one terrible night of bloodshed. Who wants to weep and cry at Christmas? Not me! But that’s how it happened the first time around: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matt. 2:18).
No, the world has never been safe for children. The world is fallen and full of sin, death, and destruction. As soon as we’re born, the clock is ticking down to our death, and every step brings us closer to the grave. Adam and Eve were taken from the dust of the earth, but because of their rebellion, we all must work and water the cursed ground with our blood, sweat, and tears until the day we die and return to the dust from which we came (Gen. 3:17-19).
Yet that is the world into which God sent his Son Jesus to bear our sin and be our Savior. That is the world to which God gives his Word of promise:
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them light has shined….
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end…” (Isa. 9:2, 6-7).
Throughout the dark nights of Advent, Pastor Harmon and I have preached a sermon series titled Child of Promise. Each week we heard a different passage from the prophet Isaiah and talked about the special names God gave to Jesus in the prophecies of his birth. In Isaiah 7, he is Immanuel, “God with us.” In Isaiah 9, he is our Prince of Peace. In Isaiah 11, he is the Branch of Jesse. In Isaiah 12, he is our salvation. And now today, in Isaiah 9, he is the ultimate Child of Promise, the fulfillment of all of God’s wonderful words. Jesus is the promised Messiah and the One whose light shines in the darkness and which the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5).
In a world full of darkness, there is a bright spot in Bethlehem. In a world full of bad news, the Christmas angels bring Gospel—Good News! “Fear not, behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
You see? Jesus is more than just Israel’s Messiah and the Savior of the world. Jesus is your Savior, your Messiah, and your Lord. “For unto you is born this day… a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Unto you! “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isa. 9:6). Jesus is born for you—for us! Christmas is personal because God became a person. It’s all about God with us in the body and blood, flesh and bone, of our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. But he can be our Son of God too! He becomes ours when we receive him by faith as the greatest gift of all: Jesus, the Child of Promise! By faith in Christ, we too can become children of God (John 1:12). See, I told you Christmas is for the kids! Merry Christmas! And a blessed New Year! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.