Text: Matthew 1:18-21
Date: Vigil of Christmas / Advent 4 + 12/24/06
I don’t know which is the greatest mystery—the cosmic transaction of holiness for sin and sin for holiness that took place in those dark hours on the cross of Calvary on Good Friday, or that God should take on our human flesh in the first place in dulci jubilo, “in the quiet joy” and incarnation of the Son of God as the Son of Mary. Indeed, you cannot have one without the other. For it was necessary that God become a Man in order to provide the one, perfect sacrifice beyond our ability, to atone for the sins of the whole world, for the life and salvation of the whole world. But to speak of our Lord’s earthly ministry as “necessary,” and to explain his sinless life, his atoning death, his resurrection triumph over the grave and ascending to the right hand of the Father—to “explain” the Gospel is not necessarily to believe it, and much less to adore it. As the hymn says it, our noblest work is to adore! [LSB 811:2]
So which is the greatest mystery? By far it must be, as St. John tells it, when the Word became flesh. Before explaining the necessity of the Christian Gospel, this morning of the Eve of Christmas we are given pause to contemplate and to adore the cosmic clash when the Creator of the universe became a piece with His creation, when the Eternal entered created Time and the temporal, and in doing so the temporal regained eternity, the creature restored and exulted to the divine. In this mystery God has bestowed greater honor upon us human beings and has joined himself closer to us than even to the angels.
In this sense Christmas is the greater mystery than Easter, even though without Easter Christmas would be of no benefit. That this is the testimony and faith of the Holy Church throughout the world is witnessed in the ancient tradition of kneeling during the Creed, not at the words crucifixus etiam pro nobis, “and was crucified also for us” (as important as that is), but at the words, et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria virgine et homo factus est, “and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” This mystery is worthy of our deepest adoration, “wonder, love, and praise!” [LSB 700:4].
Martin Luther tells of an old legend that used to be told: “Once upon a time the devil attended Mass in a church where it was customary in…the Creed to sing: Et homo factus est, that is, ‘God’s Son has become a human being.’ While they were singing this, the people just remained standing and did not kneel down. The devil was so incensed, that he slammed his fist into one man’s mouth, saying, You boorish bum, aren’t you ashamed to just stand there like a post and refuse to kneel for joy? If God had become OUR brother, as he did become YOUR brother, our joy would be so great that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.” Then Luther comments, “That story may be pure fiction, but if so, then it was invented by someone who was very intelligent and who correctly understood the great honor which was bestowed on us, when God’s Son became a human being in a totally different way from Adam or Eve…. For Christ was even more closely related to us because he was born from the flesh and blood of his mother, the Virgin Mary, in the same way that other human beings are born, with this one exception: the Virgin Mary was single when the power of the Holy Spirit came over her and God’s Son was conceived without sin, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Aside from that, he is just like we are, the son of a genuine, natural woman.”
Because the Son of God became flesh in this way, God our Father has become God our Brother. At Christmas we can say, as our Lutheran Confessions do time after time, that God has become reconciled to us, whereas at Easter we can say we have been reconciled to God. In Jesus Christ, as true man and true God, the human and the Divine are reconciled. As a man, like us he ate and drank, slept and awoke, was happy and sad, he became hungry and thirsty and got cold, just like us. As a result, however, now like Him we are raised from earthly ways to the heavenly, from the numbering of our days to eternal life. Before we celebrate why it was necessary for Him to become so humble and humiliated for us men and for our salvation, let us not miss the great honor that has been bestowed on the entire human race by His simply becoming incarnate, taking on our flesh and blood. And while it is an honor for the entire human race, the spiritual and eternal fruit of this birth belongs only to Christians who alone will celebrate, praise, give thanks and boast of this birth to all eternity.
Our salvation could be accomplished in no other way than this. Therefore and therein is to find the joy of Christmas. As we gather tonight at midnight and throughout the twelve days, oh, come, let us adore Him—let us adore Christ the Lord today, as if He had never become incarnate before, because His incarnation is not complete until He becomes incarnate in you: incarnate in you by the Christmas gift of faith; incarnate in you as he dwells in you with His eternal life in His holy body and sacred blood given and shed for you; incarnate in you transforming you with love, to be the love of God shining in our darkness today. As the Word became flesh in the Babe of Bethlehem, so the Word takes on new flesh and blood in every age in the hearts and minds, the bodies and lives of those who, having heard this Mighty Word, believe and receive new, eternal life through the forgiveness of their sins. As He was, so are you, “of the Father’s love begotten,” “born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” [1 Peter 1:3 (ESV)]. Oh, come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.