The Christ Was Born to Save.
Christmas Eve – Pr. Faugstad homilies
Text: St. Luke 2:8-14
I. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
We can imagine how the appearance of an angel in the night sky might have looked to the shepherds. But what does it mean that “the glory of the Lord shone round about them”? To understand this, we have to go back to the time of Moses, and the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery. When Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Law of God, “the glory of the LORD” was there in a cloud (Exo. 24:16). The appearance of His glory “was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel” (v. 17).
When Moses finished building the tabernacle, “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled [it]” (Exo. 40:34). The same thing happened many years later when Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem (1Ki. 8:11). On these two occasions fire came from the LORD’s glorious presence to consume the sacrifices offered (Lev. 9:24, 2Ch. 7:1). So “the glory of the Lord” was hidden in a cloud and accompanied by fire. Anyone who witnessed these appearances trembled at the power of God and fell down before Him.
It’s no wonder that the shepherds were so terribly frightened. Not only did an angel come upon them, but “the glory of the LORD” also surrounded them with all His fiery majesty. Moments like this make sinful mortals aware of their un-holiness and utter weakness. But the LORD did not send His angel to destroy these shepherds. He sent His angel with good news for them. The mighty Son of God had come down to earth, hidden not in a blazing cloud, but in human flesh. The glory that used to fill the gold-covered temple in Jerusalem now filled a tiny Baby in Bethlehem.
Hymn: #147:1-4 – “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”
II. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Do you suppose the shepherds wondered why the angel had come to them? Who were they? No one knew them outside that area. Hardly anyone would have noticed if they lived or died. They were just regular old shepherds. So why did the angel appear to them instead of someone else? Why not the high priest? Why not the king of Judea? Why not Caesar Augustus, the ruler of that vast empire?
The angel appeared to the shepherds because they mattered to God. The “good tidings of great joy” which the angel brought was for “all people”—including those lowly shepherds. This good news is intended for you also, no matter your background, no matter your circumstances, no matter what sins stain your past. “Unto you”—FOR YOU—was born that day in the city of David a Savior.
This Savior was the Christ, the Anointed One, the One promised for thousands of years. And He was the Lord, true God begotten of the Father from eternity. The shepherds had nothing to fear and neither do you. This Savior is the embodiment of God’s love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Joh. 3:16-17). God the Father sent His Son to save the shepherds and you and me and “all people.”
Hymn: #123:1-5 – “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”
III. “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
The angel told the shepherds that the Savior had been born “in the city of David.” But with so many returning to Bethlehem for Caesar’s census, there must have been a number of babies in the town. So the angel directed them how to find the Christ-Child. He would be “wrapped in swaddling clothes”—probably not unique for a baby. And He would be “lying in a manger”—now that was unique!
How could the world’s Lord and King arrive under such humble circumstances? Where was His royal reception? Where was His ornate palace? Where were His personal attendants? There is nothing the world could have done to properly welcome this Baby. Martin Luther wrote: “Were earth a thousand times as fair, / Beset with gold and jewels rare, / It yet were far too poor to be / A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee” (ELH #123, v. 10). It is not about what we have done or could do for our King; it is about what He does for us.
Jesus Himself said later that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mat. 20:28). He came to redeem all who were condemned by the Law, all who could not save themselves (Gal. 4:4-5). He came to give His own life as payment for your sins, so that you and everyone who trusts in Him would inherit the eternal riches of heaven. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Co. 8:9).
Hymn: #145 – “What Child Is This?”
IV. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
Look how easy it is for angels to move from heaven to earth. Just when the angel finished speaking, “suddenly” a huge number of angels appeared with him. This shows us that angels do not travel a great distance from deep in the cosmos to be here with us. God does not have to peer through countless stars in outer space to see us on earth. He and His holy angels are just on the other side of a veil. They are hidden from our eyes, but we are not hidden from theirs.
On the night of Jesus’ birth, a multitude of these angels came to sing the praises of the living God. They were not ashamed to appear before the shepherds. They were not jealous about what God was doing for mankind. They glorified their Creator who sits in the highest heaven. And they sang of the peace that had come from heaven to earth. God had not sent His Son to make peace among the nations or even to bring peace in the visible church. God sent His Son to make peace between Him and all sinners.
This is the true gift of Christmas. Christmas is not about the food we eat. It is not about the presents under a sparkling tree. It is not about families getting together. Those things are all good and have their place. But that is not why the angels were singing. They were singing because God had taken on human flesh. The Christ had been born to save, to make peace through the shedding of His blood. This is why we and all the faithful still join the angels in their heavenly song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
Hymn: #125:1, 3 – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
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(picture from “The Shepherds and the Angel” by Carl Bloch, 1879)