In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord.  Christmas, especially the time leading up to Christmas, is an amazing time of the year.  There is no other season which, even with all the other influences, still causes as much reflection or as many changes in people’s behavior, even if they are only temporary.  No other time of the year sees as many decorations and as many festivities of one kind or another.  And some of these decorations and festivities seem to be focused around an infant lying in a manger.

In many respects this is, of course, a good thing.  And yet, as the Christian author Adrian Nocent points out in his work The Liturgical Year, the story of the infant in a manger “has turned Christmas, for many, into the feast of tender pity…  The mistake is to have focused the celebration too much on the birth at Bethlehem and to have turned the object of the feast into a moving story” (1:182).

The same thing has been pointed out by many others down through the centuries, including Martin Luther and many of the church fathers.  It isn’t that the events of that very first Christmas didn’t appear pitiful; they most certainly did.  But if our Christmas thoughts of devotion are focused simply on the pitiable conditions for a child in Bethlehem, we will be caught up in things that are only superficial, and we will have lost out on the true and full meaning of Christmas, and all its wonder and promise.

Of course we all know the Christmas story.  That too is very good because it means that as we hear again these familiar words, we can more easily think about what this true story means for each one of us for whom this birth took place.

Most of us have heard many times about one part of what that first Christmas means for us.  Christmas is about God Himself becoming one of us, so that Jesus is “Immanuel,” which means, “God with us.”  We have heard about another part of the meaning of Christmas too: that the reason God had to become one of us was to be our Savior from sin.  But it is the connection between the two parts that can often be missed or forgotten about in our celebrations of Christmas.

God Himself therefore comes to the rescue of our memories.  In the very details of the Christmas story (and also the Epiphany story that is associated with it) God leaves shadows of the things this Child has come to do for us.  Have you ever thought about the great number of parallels between Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and the way He would bring to completion the work He came to do?  How the wood of His cradle points us to the wood of His cross?  Here are a few of those ways.

[1] In the outskirts of Bethlehem, Jesus was set between two animals.  As the prophet Isaiah wrote: The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib (1:3).  Outside of Jerusalem’s walls Jesus was set between two thieves.

[2] In the stable Jesus was held in His mother’s arms and laid in a cradle of wood.  Later He would be laid upon a cross of wood, and when taken down, He would once again be held in His mother’s arms.

[3] Apart from the visit of the shepherds, there were few present at the stable – only two, Mary and Joseph.  Apart from the soldiers, few would stand at the foot of His cross.  But especially two would be there: His mother Mary and St. John to whom Jesus would entrust His mother because Joseph was now dead.

[4] At His birth Jesus was called the “King of the Jews.”  It was a title that would not be repeated until the end of His public ministry when it would be used as grounds for accusation against Him.  Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  And Jesus replied, “It is as you say.” (Mt. 27:11).  Jesus was the King who had come to save mankind; this was announced by the angels and confirmed by the Magi.  But then this title is not announced again until the crowds call it out at the beginning of Passion Week and Pilate nails the title over Jesus’ head on the cross.

[5] At His birth Jesus was given mock worship by Herod who told the Magi to come back and tell him where the Child was “so that I too may come and worship Him” (Mt. 2:8).  At the end it was no different: “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.  And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.  When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand.  And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  And they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head.  Then when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified” (Mt. 27:27-31).  Herod would not have done much different if the Magi had told him where the infant Jesus was, as we know by the later slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem.

[6] When Jesus was born, He was wrapped in bands of linen and laid in a manger, which was borrowed for the night.  Later, He would be covered in linen wrappings again, but this time laid in a borrowed tomb.

[7] Just as the angels were there to make the announcement on that first Christmas night, telling the shepherds to go with haste, so also the angels were there at the empty tomb, telling the women to go with haste and tell Jesus’ apostles the good news of His resurrection.

All these things were no mere coincidence.  When Jesus was born, all of these shadows were already there, waiting to be brought to completion, that the work of this Holy Child would be accomplished for us.  And so the profound truth of the Holy Gospel this morning comes full circle again.  We remember with devotion the story of that first Christmas.  But the Christmas story is not about an isolated incident.  The birth of Christ is linked to every other event, past, present, and future.  The story of Christ’s birth is linked to every true story, including the story of your life and mine.  The Incarnation, which means God taking on human flesh, radically transforms history, both the history of the whole world and the history of each one of us.

Everything Jesus did He did to transform us.  God came to be with us that night in order that He might live like we were intended to live.  He was born so that He could also die for our sakes.  He was born that He might, by His living, dying, and rising again restore us to what we were born to be.  God came to be with us in this special way so that we might come to be with Him in the special way He had planned from the very beginning.

Jesus was born to give us His flawless, holy, and perfect life.  He gave us His life simply by being Himself at the same time that He was one of us.  He gave us His life by taking our death penalty upon Himself and rising again victorious over the grave.  He still gives His life for us: nourishing us with the eternal bread of His Word and sustaining us by the same body and blood laid in the manger at Bethlehem and hung upon the cross at Calvary.

Think of this: Christ was born and laid in a manger, a feeding trough; and we continue to feed on Him each time His Supper is given.  In fact, both the Bible and the altar have been referred to as cradles for Christ: places where He is found and where He rests, where we also can come to bow down and worship Him.  And it is no mistake either that the most ancient way of receiving Jesus’ Body in the Sacrament is by making our hands a cradle for Him as He applies His healing forgiveness to both our bodies and hearts.

And so the Christmas story is not just about remembering an event of 2,000 years ago.  It is about events that cover today, tomorrow, and an eternity of tomorrows.  And that is why Christmas is not a celebration of pity as we remember His birth in Bethlehem.  Jesus the God-Man has pitied us, and therefore Christmas is a celebration of a great and holy joy.  It is of this that all the lights and decorations should remind us.  They should remind each of us that the Holy Child of Bethlehem, who has fulfilled His work, still comes to us today.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign to you: you will find the babe wrapped in” humble forms, lying in the mangers of His Word and His Altar.  “Glory to God in the highest.”  For His coming still brings us true peace.

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.