By the grace and mercy of the Lord our God, by His Word and Holy Spirit, we have heard again the story of Christmas from His holy Prophets and Apostles. And the hymn-writers of His Church have likewise proclaimed that sacred story to us in their beautiful art of poetic verse and music.
It is a delightful story, and one of the most familiar and best-loved stories in the world, surpassing even the most popular of fairy tales. Indeed, the story of Christmas is part of our culture. It is retold in countless ways and countless places — in television specials, newspaper editorials, and popular renditions of well-worn carols by some of the most unlikely performers. For even those who care nothing for Christ and His Church recognize the power and appeal of this lovely story.
But as Christians, of course, we must certainly understand that the Christmas story is far more than just another story. And by that I mean not only that this story, in contrast to beloved favorite fairy tales, is absolutely true — though, to be sure, it is nothing less than true and historical, as St. Luke makes clear enough. But this factual account must be for you, not less, but far more than just that.
St. James reminds us that the demons know the historical facts and the truth of the story, and yet they tremble in fear. And as far as that goes, the people who lived in Jesus’ day were able to see and hear Him for themselves, in person; yet, the vast majority of those people did not understand or believe the real significance of this Child born of Mary, the humble Carpenter from Nazareth.
As a Christian, you are called to see and hear beyond the nostalgia, beyond the beautiful poetry of the story, and beyond all the drama and excitement it presents. No one could deny that Christmas includes all of those things. But far more important is the heart and soul of the story, that the Child born of St. Mary in a Bethlehem stable is the Christ, your Savior from sin, death, and the devil.
That is more than just another “detail” in the storyline; it is more than just another historical fact. Even the angels in heaven must sit up and take notice. For Jesus Christ your Savior is the one Truth and Light that gives significance — not only to the Christmas story — but to all of history, to the entire universe, and to your own body and life on this and every other day of the year.
His Salvation and the significance it brings are sorely needed, as we are surely all aware. For in spite of the festivity all around us — or perhaps it is precisely because of all the festivity — one often hears about a dramatic increase in depression and suicide at this time of year. Like Charlie Brown, the Holidays can make you painfully aware of the loneliness and emptiness and frustration that you might otherwise be able to put out of your mind. The frenzy of the Season — the frantic rush of shoppers, the piling up of decorations, the urgent writing of cards and letters, and the painstaking preparation of meals — so much breathless rushing about! — what is it all for?
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that all of this activity is nothing so much as a desperate attempt to manufacture a sense of meaning and purpose, to fill the void you have inside with something.
Yet, none of the frenzy can do it. Nothing that you do can accomplish or discover what you need. The only real Answer is contained in a single Word: Jesus, a Name which means “Yahweh Saves.” That is who He is and what He does. He is God in the Flesh, who saves His people from their sins.
Dear friends of God in Christ, He has done it! He has saved you from your sins, which are the root cause of all your hardships and heartaches. He is your Savior, who is born this night for you!
He has taken your human flesh and blood to be His own, being conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary. And not only that, but He has also taken upon Himself, into His flesh and blood, the curse and consequences of your sin, your frailty and weakness, your sickness and suffering, your mortality and death. He has lived your life in the flesh, being tempted and tested in every way that you are, save only without any sins of His own. But He has borne all your sins and carried all your griefs and sorrows in His own Body to the Cross, in order to put them to death in Himself and be done with them forever. Which is why His bloody death and passion there on the Cross — in your place — is what the celebration of Christmas and the entire Church Year are really all about.
The Joy and Peace that we rightfully find in the story of Christmas is the Joy and Peace of the Cross. For Christ Jesus, your Savior, was born to give His life for you. That is why He came.
And having done so — having given His body and life for you and all upon the Cross — He now gives His life to you and to His entire Church on earth in the Ministry of His Holy Gospel, which is the free gift of His forgiveness and salvation. He thus fills the void in your life with Himself.
And with that, you are given to understand that the real story of Christmas — which is to say, the coming of the Son of God as your Savior in human flesh and blood just like your own — that most precious story is not just “once upon a time.” Such a story as that, whether it were true or not, would do you no more good than the fictional Santa Claus with his fanciful flying reindeer.
The real story of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is not only historically true but deeply and intimately meaningful, because it is a story that continues very much for you in the here and now.
The Son of God, conceived and born of St. Mary, is still coming as “Immanuel,” as God-with-us, to be and abide with you as your Savior in His very own flesh and blood. He is very present here with you in the proclamation of His Gospel. And in the “Christ Mass,” at midnight and tomorrow morning, He comes to feed you with the very same Body and Blood that were conceived and born of St. Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, put to death and buried in the dust of the earth, but now risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. Thus, it is here in His Church, in the Liturgy of His Gospel, that the story of Christmas now lives and gives life.
No matter what the crosses you might be given to bear in this life on earth, it is here within the liturgical Life of His Church that Christ Jesus freely gives to you the forgiveness of His Cross and Life everlasting in His own Resurrection from the dead.
It is in the Resurrection of His Body that all things are made new, so that you also, in both your body and your soul, are able to look forward to that great and glorious Day when sadness, death, and pain will be no more, and Christmas will be forever, though you won’t have to do a thing to get ready for it. For Christ your Savior has already trimmed the Tree with Himself; He has sent the cards and letters of His Holy Gospel to all the people; and He has prepared for you a Feast in His Kingdom, which has no end. In Him there is no frenzy, but only the Peace of His forgiveness.
That is why we sing tonight, and so also throughout the Church Year. For that is how the Church expresses her joy in Christ Jesus. We sing with all the angels and archangels and all the heavenly host in praising the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. We sing in response to the Word of God — the Word-made-Flesh who tabernacles with us as the true Light in the midst of the darkness. We sing by faith with the whole of creation, rejoicing to welcome and receive the almighty Creator, the Lord our God, who has become a fellow Creature with us, our Savior, and our truest Friend.
God the Father grant His Peace and Joy to each and every one of you, by His Word and Holy Spirit, as you receive — tonight, tomorrow, and throughout the year — the gift of His Salvation in the Body and Blood of His incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.