Hope for the Sons of Adam. Christmas Midnight 2014
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:1-14
December 24, 2014
Hope for the Sons of Adam
At the time Jesus was born, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that the whole world should go back to the city of their forefathers to be registered for a tax.
If we want to receive the good news of great joy that the angels proclaim in this evening’s Gospel, we must also go back. We must go back to our origins and consider the years of our life, and also the people we are descended from.
For God has set a date when the entire world will be registered before Him; the entire world will stand before Him and face judgment. And God has a registry in which is written not only the family and city of our birth, but also the record of our lives and those of our fathers. And He has kept an account of who has paid Him His due, who has paid Him the honor and glory that belong to Him.
So if we want to consider the birth of Jesus in the right way, we must go back to our beginnings. What kind of life have we led—not only in the past few weeks or months, but down through the decades into our youth and childhood? Who did we live our lives for? Did we live to love and serve God and other people, or did we live as if the purpose of our lives was to please and glorify ourselves?
But we must go back farther. We must consider that we are the heirs of the lives of our parents, grandparents, and our ancestors in the more distant past. And we should honor our parents and forefathers, and praise God for the good they did for us. But we shouldn’t be blind to what they were. We have a tendency to rewrite our own histories and pretend that we are descended from long lines of mostly noble people. We edit out the parts that are unpleasant to remember. The Israelites consistently forgot that their fathers rebelled against God, turning back to idols and stoning the prophets. It was probably easy for descendants of David to forget that despite all the glories of His life, David had committed adultery and then murder to cover up his sin. If we go back, we will find that we are also descended from a long line of sinners, and that even the best people in our ancestries press down upon us with the guilt of their rebellion against God.
All of us in the end are from the house and lineage of Adam, our first father. In the beginning the house of our first father was Paradise, the garden of God. Our first ancestor was created in the image and likeness of God. He was a great king in that state.
But he squandered it all and brought the curse of God on himself and the generations that followed. Instead of remaining in the image and likeness of God, he fell into the image of the liar and imposter and enemy of God, the devil, who claimed that he could teach us the way to become more than just images of God, but gods in our own right. This shameful treachery and curse passed from Adam to all his descendants.
It’s the reason that by nature we are quite comfortable the way things are, being separated from God. We are born dead to God and objects of His wrath. We do not feel like imposters imposing on God’s good creation until we sense His nearness. Then we suddenly become afraid, like the shepherds, and start looking for places to hide.
If we go back and look, this is what we see—that even if we have tried and succeeded at living an honorable life before other people, we cannot cover up our shame before God. Adam and Eve’s fig leaves worked to cover their nakedness before each other, but not before God.
He sees what we do not want to see or accept—that we are conceived and born from ancestors who were corrupt and had gone astray from God. Even if we have lived an honorable life before the world, God still sees that the thoughts of our hearts are corrupt by nature. There is no good remaining in them. There is no spark of good in us, no good impulses, no remnant of free will that would enable us to become free from the debt that we inherited from Adam. We are by nature objects of His wrath.
When a person is convicted of sin, he knows that he is an object of God’s wrath. And like his father Adam, he starts casting around to find something to help or to hide his guilt. But creation offers no help. Even if there were something in creation that could hide our guilt or take away our sins, it would not do it. Creation turns against the guilty fugitives that we are for our treachery against God.
This is the place we find ourselves if we go back to the house of our fathers. It is a place without hope. We are scrambling around looking for a place to escape God’s wrath but cannot find any.
Faced with this reality, most people choose to deny it. They simply deny that the bible is true in teaching these things. They say Scripture has been disproven. Others continue to hold to the authority of the Bible outwardly but obstinately deny that our situation in Adam is so bad. But the consciences of those who deny the truth cannot have peace. They may slumber for awhile, but they can’t know real rest or peace.
When we have gone back to the city of our fathers and seen that there is nothing but destruction to be found in us and them, we are ready to go to Bethlehem and hear the angels.
Tonight there is proclaimed a place of safety, rest, and peace for the heirs of Adam’s sin. There is true hope given to those who in themselves are nothing but objects of God’s wrath. “For unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given.”
Into the midst of the generations of sinful people the Son of God is born. David, despite being a man after God’s own heart, was a murderer and adulterer. Yet God made a promise to him that a descendant of his would reign on his throne forever. This descendant would be born in the ancestral city of David—Bethlehem.
How could this possibly be, when David had committed such grave sins that he deserved not only not to keep his throne, but to receive the death penalty? It did not happen because of David’s goodness or faithfulness to God. God made David a promise to set a descendant on David’s throne forever. He made David a promise based on His own grace and goodness. And He kept His promise.
And His promise of a descendant to David was also a promise of the forgiveness of sins to David, His descendants, and all the human race. He did not count David’s sins against him because he had already planned to blot them out. God had planned before the foundation of the world not to hold men’s sins against them. That was why Adam and Eve, when they came out of hiding, were not immediately damned and put to death. Instead God promised that an offspring of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head. It was the first promise of the Gospel.
The Son of God is born into the house of David, a great sinner. The Son of God is not ashamed to be seen with great sinners and to call them His own. This is our first ground for hope.
Secondly, the Son of God has been conceived without sin in the womb of a virgin. Even though He takes up residence in the midst of fallen men and sits as king in the dynasty of a sinful man, the Son of God does not share in the guilt that has cursed the birth of every human being since the first man sinned. He is conceived and born sinlessly, yet He comes to dwell with sinful men.
He comes to dwell with sinful men because it is His good pleasure to be stained and burdened with their sins and finally to overcome the corruption into which we were born.
Third, He is born and placed in a manger, in a feeding trough for animals. This is so strange a sight that the Gospel mentions it twice. It surely is the last place you would look for a king and savior. In the same way, the last place you would look for God is in the midst of the people who rebelled against Him and deserved His wrath. Certainly you would not look beneath them. For what human being would want to lay his baby in a feeding trough for animals? The world says we are foolish and kidding ourselves that we have righteousness solely through this baby, when the church is marked by so much sin and weakness. But Jesus the Son of God does what is beneath God. He even goes beneath men to serve us. Because He has come to earth to be beneath us; He has come not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He has placed Himself beneath us by bearing our guilt.
Fourth, we have grounds for hope because the angel tells the shepherds not to be afraid, even though they are surrounded by the glory of God. The image is reminiscent of paradise, where God put an angel to guard the way to the tree of life and put Adam and Eve out of His presence. But now the angel is opening the door to paradise. Don’t be afraid, because I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people…Don’t be afraid because I evangelize you. I tell you the good news that paradise is open again through this little baby born in Bethlehem.
Fifth, when the angel tells us who this baby is, He gives us assurance that He is strong enough to undo our birth in sin and our debt. “A Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” It is no mere man. It is not an angel who has become man. It is the Lord Himself, the omnipotent one. It is the one who has been wronged and offended by our sin. He comes down into our presence because we cannot rise to His. And He will do everything necessary to make us reign with Him at the Father’s right hand. He joins Himself to our flesh and blood, is born for us, obeys the Father for us. He will die for us and rise to the right hand of God so that we will be raised with Him to the right hand of the Father. By His death and resurrection He causes us to be reborn in Him. Because He is the Lord, He is strong enough to undo the bonds of our sins in His flesh.
Sixth, a great multitude of the heavenly host appears to praise God for this birth. They did this at no other time. Why did they sing so loudly at the birth of Jesus? Because it is truly good news of great joy for us. They were not singing for themselves. It was not for angels that Jesus became a man. It was for us. They sing so jubilantly because they rejoice that now we have nothing to fear. Our salvation is in this baby’s hands. And He will accomplish what He has begun by being born for us. He will perfect His work and bring it to completion when He breathes His last on the cross.
And everyone who believes in this baby has all his merit for their own.
God has restored us to Him, because He has joined Himself to us.
Finally, we have the song that the angels sing to cheer us. They sing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men with whom He is pleased.” In this child God gets His glory from the human race. What Adam had taken and what we have taken from God, God receives from Jesus. God receives the honor and the obedience due Him from the first man and all subsequent men. The price of His stolen glory is paid back by this child who was born for us, who was born to die for us.
Jesus also brings peace to men with whom God is pleased. All who believe in Him are pleasing to God. And all who believe in Him have peace with God. What nothing in all creation could give us, because nothing in all creation could take away our sins or cover them, Jesus gives. He lets Himself be stained with our sins and receive their due reward. He is our mediator and intercessor who stands in our place before God. He gives a quiet, peaceful conscience. He is the sign that God is at peace with us and we with Him, this infant wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Soli Deo Gloria