Sing for joy, all the earth, and lift up your voice in song, all you people of the world. For Christ Jesus, your Savior, has come to disperse the darkness of despair and death. In His Love for you He has come to shine the Light of His Gospel upon you, in order to give you His own Life.
In doing so, He gives nothing less than Himself — in flesh and blood like yours, but without sin and no longer subject to death. He has become Flesh, true Man, a human being like you, in order to unite Himself to you — and you to Him — so that, by His grace, you may become like Him.
He has come in the flesh, conceived and born of Mary, in order to bear your sins and carry all your sorrows in His Body to the Cross, thereby to conquer death and shatter all the power of the enemy.
He takes upon Himself — and He removes from you — all your guilt and shame, all your doubt and fear, all your frailty, flaws, and weaknesses. And in place of your sin and death, He gives you Life and Salvation in body and soul, already now in His Church on earth, and in heaven forever. For He is Immanuel, “God with us,” that you might live and abide with Him in His Kingdom.
That is why the angels sing and glorify God in the highest, even as they proclaim His glory and salvation on earth. They praise His holy Name and give thanks for His grace toward all mankind, for His Incarnation and holy Nativity, and for His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension. They rejoice with you and for you, because they delight in the good and gracious will of God, which is the forgiveness and salvation of sinners; for it is the glory of the Lord to save you by His grace.
And if the angels praise and magnify His Name, how much more shall we rejoice, give thanks, and sing; for He is not the Savior of angels but of all the children of men. So has He become true Man, not only to rescue us from sin and death, but to share His divine nature and eternal Life with us.
It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we sing for joy this night, with all the holy angels, and with the whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth. And you are able to do so, even in the midst of deep darkness and the shadow of death, because the Lord here sings His Gospel into your ears.
True enough, the shadow of death lies thick and heavy on the world, and it presses hard on you and all your loved ones. The bright lights and colors of the season cannot stave it off or keep it at bay. Wars may or may not cease for these holy days, but the hospitals and morgues cannot shut down, not even for twenty-four hours. Remember those who serve in those places, and all those who must keep working (while the rest of the world parties) because death continues day and night.
Not only the world out there, but Christians also suffer and die and are buried, even at Christmas, and at any given time in this poor life of labor. Whether by sickness, violent crime, an accident, or the inevitable atrophy of your mortal flesh, you and all of your loved ones are going to die.
The problem is not that you are a finite creature, but that you are sinful. You are mortal and die because you are sinful and you sin from the inside-out. You exist and you have life at all only by the gracious Word of God, and yet your sinful heart still doubts, denies, disbelieves, and despises His life-giving Word. That is the darkness in which you grope around. And that is why you die.
Sin leads to death because it is a turning away from God and His Word. And as such, it leads away from love to selfishness and greed and desperation. Having turned your back on your Creator, on the Author and Giver of life, you spend your days in a frantic pursuit of a life that you presume to be making for yourself. But for all your striving, sweat, and struggle, you lose it all in the end.
Such is the darkness of your sin and death, and you’ll never be able to see your way clear of it. You were conceived and born in that dark valley, and whatever else you have gotten from your parents, you have inherited from them the legacy of Adam’s fall, which always ends up in the dirt.
The problem is within you, as well as all around you. It is not only your parents but you, as well, who are sinful and unclean. You do not fear, love, and trust in the Holy Triune God as you must, and you do not love your neighbor as the Lord your God has commanded. Consequently, because you love neither God nor man, you are not able to know the true and only God, Who Is Love.
Such ignorance of God is deadly and damnable. What you believe to be true is false. What you consider good is evil. What you perceive to be light is only a deeper and more sinister darkness. Your heart and mind are as clouded as your body is overshadowed by the certainty of death.
And yet, despite all of that, the Church still sings, and she is neither foolish nor ignorant to do so.
It is not a matter of positive thinking or an optimistic outlook. It is rather that God our Savior now shines His Light into your darkness. Into the valley of the shadow of death strides the Lord, the beloved and only-begotten Son of the Father; the Christ, anointed by the Holy Spirit; the incarnate God, who is true Man with us and for us, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, blood of our blood.
He strides into the arena, a greater Gladiator than this world has ever seen, and He joins the battle against all your foes. He sets Himself against all your enemies, becoming your Champion against sin, death, the devil, and hell. He scatters the darkness and disperses the gloom, because He is the Light, and the darkness cannot overcome Him. Death and the grave will swallow Him up in time, for a little while, but only because He lets them; He gives Himself over to the dust of the earth in your place. And having thus entered into those deep dark depths of Sheol, He shatters that grim dungeon from the inside-out; He breaks all its bars and blows the doors right off their hinges.
This Lord Jesus Christ has conquered in the fight, and now He sets you free, because He has given Himself for your sins. He has died your death, and He has destroyed its power over you by His dying. He has atoned for all your sins by the shedding of His blood, so that no charge remains against you. The devil has no legitimate claim on you, nor any valid accusation to level at you, because the Lord Himself has redeemed you, exonerated you, justified and vindicated you.
When God the Father raised this same Lord Jesus bodily from death and the grave — the same Son of Mary who bore your sins in His body of flesh and blood and suffered and died in your place — when God raised Him from the dead, He raised you up out of darkness into His marvelous Light.
That Light of His Redemption, His Cross and Resurrection, His Righteousness and Reconciliation with God the Father, now and ever shines upon you in the preaching and ministry of His Gospel.
That is where and how you “see” Him and know Him — by faith — by the hearing of His Voice. He speaks and sings the forgiveness of all your sins, and with that Word He gives you His Life.
His Voice of the Gospel is the way and the means by which He loves you — with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, with His body and His blood, with His whole self, and with everything He is and has. His Love for you is where His Life and Light begin for you. He first loves you. And by the light and warmth of His Love, you see the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God in His face, and you truly begin to live — in Him and with Him. He loves you, and so you learn to know His Love, to know Him, to love Him, and to love your neighbor as this Lord loves you.
His Voice of the Gospel sounds forth in the darkness; it permeates and prevails over the darkness, which can neither comprehend nor overcome it. He speaks, and there is Light, as surely as the same Word of God called forth the Light out of the darkness in the beginning of His Creation.
Now He speaks to you from heaven by His messengers on earth: “Here is your Savior. Your sins are forgiven. You shall not die, but live.” And with this Word, He raises you from death to life.
Do not be afraid. Do not retreat into the darkness of despair and death, from which your dear Lord Jesus sets you free. Do not run away and hide from the bright Light of His Voice, no matter how scary it seems, but hear and believe what He preaches. By Himself He has sworn to bless you and keep you, to give you Life and grant you perfect Peace and Rest. As He has spoken, so is it done.
And as He speaks and sings so sweetly into your ears, so are you able to confess His Word and praise His Name, to rejoice, give thanks, and sing with your lips, all in the Light of His Gospel.
Come, then, let us sing unto the Lord and raise a joyful song to the Rock of our salvation. For He who is our Life and Light, who loves us with a neverending Love, He has done great things for us. Holy, holy, holy is the Name of this Lord Jesus, the Son of God and Mary’s Son, who delivers you from death and the grave and raises you to Life with God in body and soul, forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.