Christmas Day – Pr. Faugstad exordium and sermon
Christmas changed the world. How could it be otherwise? The Creator took on created flesh. God became man to save man. Whether or not sinners believe this Gospel, they are certainly aware of it. Our culture tries to substitute Santa Claus and holiday trees and gift giving instead of Jesus, but everyone knows that the reason Christmas is celebrated at all is because of Christ. And this is how we view the celebration that goes on at this time. The lights that people string outside and inside their homes remind us of the true Light shining in this dark world. The gifts under our tree remind us of the Gift wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger. The efforts to make sure everyone has something for Christmas remind us that the Christ came for all people without distinction.
But there are many who celebrate Christmas without Christ. Some do this out of ignorance and some on purpose. They attempt to ease their restless souls with earthly things, but those things never satisfy. Their beautiful new clothes are soon soiled, torn, and discarded. Their new toys are cast aside and forgotten. Their piles of delicious food fail to satisfy, and the hunger grows. The soul needs what the world cannot provide. The soul needs Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. Without Christ, we gather with the world around a manger that is nothing but old straw. Without Christ, we stare at a cross that promises nothing but death, and at a grave which never gives up its occupants.
But by God’s grace, our Christmas today is not empty. Our souls do not go hungry. Our hopes and fears do not go unanswered. Because Jesus Christ has come. He came to save you and me and all who sit in darkness. He came to rescue us from this evil world and to take us to His heavenly kingdom of light. In thankfulness for these wonderful gifts, let us rise to sing hymn #142, “Rejoice, Rejoice This Happy Morn!”
Rejoice, rejoice this happy morn!
A Savior unto us is born,
The Christ, the Lord of glory.
His lowly birth in Bethlehem
The angels from on high proclaim
And sing redemption’s story.
God’s great favor;
Bless Him ever
Give Him praise and adoration!
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Sermon text: St. John 1:1-14
In Christ Jesus, who was made flesh for your salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
The Gospel according to St. Luke tells us very clearly that Jesus is true Man, born of the Virgin Mary. The Gospel according to St. John does not retrace these steps. St. John rather focuses on the fact that Jesus is true God. His Gospel starts with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This should make us think of the first verse of the book of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” When God the Father created all things, He created them through His Son. Which is exactly what John explains, “All things were made through him [that is, the Word], and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
Whenever God spoke, the Son was active. This Word brought about light, soil, and water, the sun, moon, and stars, animals on land and in the air and sea, and finally man. “In him was life,” said John. He shared this life with all created things. In the beginning, there was no sickness or death – only pure, unceasing life. And so it would have remained if Satan had not rebelled against God, and if Adam and Eve had not eaten from the forbidden tree. But what God warned Adam about sadly came true, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17).
Adam and Eve desperately wanted to get their perfect life back. But there was no way for them to do this. Eating from the Tree of Life would not help; this would only trap them forever in their sinful bodies. Seeing no solution for their sin, they hid from God. But the Word was still with God, and in that Word was life. The LORD promised to send the Word in flesh to crush Satan’s head and save mankind. This is what we celebrate at Christmas, that The Son of God Joins Us in Our Weakness.
The great hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt wrote these words from our chief hymn, “He whom the sea / And wind obey / Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness. / Thou, God’s own Son, / With us art one, / Dost join us and our children in our weakness” (ELH 161, v. 2). It is truly remarkable that the God who creates whatever He wants with nothing but the Word, would enter His creation as a Servant. God sent His Son to become one with us, to take on our flesh, to join us in our weakness.
But describing ourselves as “weak” is really an understatement. The fact is we are dead in our sins by nature, as dead as Adam and Eve were when they ate what God commanded them not to eat. On our own we are hopeless, lost in the darkness of the devil’s kingdom on earth. We do not like to think of ourselves in this way. We like to think that we are not all bad, that we have always had a little flame of good glowing in our hearts. But to rely on our own natural goodness in any way is to do away with Jesus. And if we do not have Jesus, then we cannot have life. There is no life apart from Him. We can have something we call “life” in this world, but that is not truly living. It is only a temporary life, which must come to an end.
The only way for our dying flesh to regain the life we were meant to have from the beginning, is for the Word of God to enter into our flesh. And that is what the Apostle John describes in the first chapter of his Gospel, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” But John would have been among the first to admit that he did not understand Jesus’ purpose until later. No one did. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” This is because the Christ did not come with magnificent displays of power. He did not arrive in majesty attended by all the saints and angels. He came in great meekness. His purpose was to save sinners through suffering.
Why would God do this? Why would he enter the dark world, taking on the weak flesh of mankind? Why would He put up with all the abuse, scorn, and pain culminating in a horrible death? The reason is summed up in one word: love. God loved the world that had broken His Commandments and rebelled against Him. The Creator had compassion on His fallen creation. He wanted them again to have and enjoy the life that was always meant to be theirs. In love God the Father sent His Son into the world, and in love, Jesus went to the cross to offer His death for your life. What an amazing thing that the Life-Giver should willingly choose to die for you! He wanted you to “have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).
And you do have it by faith in Him. You have in Christ what Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden before the fall. You have pure, unceasing life and “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). You have these gifts from God because “the Word made flesh,” who gives life and light, has joined Himself to your flesh. If you are joined to the devil in unrepentant sin, you will receive the wages of that sin, which is death. But if you are united with Jesus by faith, you must receive the wages of His perfect life and atoning death, which is eternal life.
Jesus filled you with His life at your Baptism, when you were raised by the waters to newness of life (Rom. 6:4). He fills you again whenever you hear His Gospel of forgiveness, and whenever you consume His life-giving body and blood in His Supper. These are the ways that God’s Son still joins Himself to you in your weakness. These are the ways that He expels the darkness of sin in your hearts and minds.
The Lord does not want you to wonder where you stand with Him. He does not want you to be weighed down with the guilt of past sins. He does not want you to fear death. Jesus was born for you, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you have been born again in Him. You are not among those who appear to have life but are actually dead. You are alive in Christ. He joined Himself to you and made you a member of His body. This union did not change Him, but it has changed you. You were lost in the darkness of unbelief but now see the light of God’s grace. You were without hope but now rest in the sure promises of God. You were terrified of death but now look past it to eternal life beyond.
God’s Son became one with you and all humans when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Now that He is our Brother in the flesh, we know that God will never forsake us. He is faithful to His children and wants us to inherit all the riches of eternal life. This is why The Son of God Joins Us in Our Weakness. It is so that we may join Him in His glory.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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Christmas Eve – Pr. Faugstad homilies
Text: St. Luke 2:1-7
I. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
Perhaps the greatest emperor in Roman history is Caesar Augustus. He initiated a long era of peace in the land and was instrumental in improving and expanding the infrastructure of the empire. Periodically he issued decrees for the people in the kingdom to be counted, so that they might be taxed. Luke writes about such a census. He also gives the name of a Roman governor, translated Cyrenius or Quirinius, who ruled over Syria. But why did Luke think it was important to provide these details, including the names of two Roman rulers?
Well a proper answer is that he was inspired to do this by the Holy Spirit. And that was certainly the case. We can also say that Luke recorded these details because he was writing about events that actually happened at a certain point in history. This is no fantasy; it is not make-believe. Those reading Luke’s Gospel, especially early on, could say, “Oh yes, I know what time period these things took place.” They would have understood why a very pregnant Mary would have traveled the many miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. In fact, there is probably not much besides the decree of a Caesar that could have coaxed Joseph and Mary to make the trip.
Caesar Augustus had no idea that he was playing a part in something bigger than his own rule, bigger even than the Roman Empire. Within his lands, a great King was about to be born, a King who would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The government would be upon His shoulder, and of the increase of His government and of peace there would be no end (Is. 9:6-7).
Hymn: #153, 1 & 4-6 – “The People That in Darkness Sat”
II. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
Joseph lived about 1000 years after King David reigned in Israel. He was a descendant of David’s son Solomon who was conceived by David and Bathsheba (Mt. 1). Since David in his youth tended sheep for his father near the town of Bethlehem, this is where Joseph now traveled for the census. Mary was also a distant descendant of David and Bathsheba through their son Nathan (Lk. 3). This meant that Jesus would have been counted as the legal descendant of David through Joseph and a blood descendant of David through Mary.
This fulfilled the words recorded by the Prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 33:14-15). Bethlehem was not the likely place to look for a King, either David or Jesus. But God saw fit to honor this little town, a town that otherwise would not have stood out much more than the towns of Saude or Jerico do today.
But God delights in elevating the humble and glorifying what the world despises. This was true of Jesus who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,” and now whom “God has highly exalted” at His right hand (Phil. 2:8-9). This is also true of you and me. We do not look like royalty to the world, sons in line to inherit the eternal riches of the mighty God. But that is just what we are through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26). The Lord has honored and elevated us by His grace, just as He did with that little town of Bethlehem.
Hymn: #137, 1 & 3 – “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
III. To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
Mary was “great with child.” What a common event – a woman was pregnant, about to give birth. But this was no ordinary pregnancy. The LORD had predicted it right after sin came into the world. He said to the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring” (Gen. 3:15), or her Seed. Years later, the LORD would explain more about this promised Seed through the prophecy of Isaiah, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14).
How could this be? A virgin conceiving a child? That is impossible. Mary said the same thing when she was visited by the angel Gabriel. He replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God…. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:35,37).
Listen to those words again: “nothing will be impossible with God.” Do you ever wonder how God could forgive a sinner like you? One who knows what you should do and continuously fails to do it? One who has left such a trail of sins that you are ashamed even to remember them? Do you think you have sinned so much that God cannot forgive you? Would that be impossible for Him? Of course not. Your sins are the reason that the Virgin Mary was “great with child.” Jesus came to be our “Immanuel”—“God with us.” He came to save the world of sinners through His perfect life and innocent death. He came to save you, because He loves you, even more than a mother loves her dear child.
Hymn: #113, 1-2 – “A Great and Mighty Wonder”
IV. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
“The days were accomplished.” “The fullness of time had come” (Gal. 4:4). Immanuel was here. He deserved to be offered the finest apparel, but was instead wrapped in swaddling clothes. He deserved a finely crafted, ornate cradle, but was instead laid in a manger. Even the best that humankind can offer would not have been good enough for this Baby, for He was the eternal God come in the flesh. He could have come to condemn the world, to pour out judgment against all who broke the law of God. But He came to save (Jn. 3:17). To do this, He had to become man. He had to be “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5). He had to go to the cross to take the punishment of God that you and I deserved. He had to rise again in triumph over our death. This is what the firstborn Son of Mary was here for.
His arrival was much anticipated. The Apostle Peter writes, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1Pet. 1:10-12; also Lk. 10:23-24).
You do not have to wait anymore for salvation from God. Salvation unto us is come! What Jesus has done for you, and what you now have the privilege of hearing week after week are things that the prophets longed for, things that amaze the angels. The holy, almighty God came to save you. He forgives you all of your sins. You are not at enmity with Him like the devil is. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to effect peace between you and God. By faith in Him, you now live in this heavenly peace. And when your time in this world comes to an end, by the grace of God you will also sleep in heavenly peace.
Hymn: #140 – “Silent Night”
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