St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Christmas Day, 2021

Christmas Day, 2021

Which of the two would you rather have? (Show pictures of iron pyrite and gold ore.) If you compare the two, you might be tempted to take the shinier one. It looks like it would be more valuable than the other. What if I were to tell you that one is practically worthless? The one that is on the right might be prettier, but it is iron pyrite, which is also called “Fool’s Gold.” It may be prettier, but it’s not really worth anything. The rock on the left, may not be as pretty, but it’s worth much more than the other. That rock is gold ore. If you were to crush it and refine it, you would have pure gold. It is true that appearances can be deceiving. This is especially true when you think about Jesus. We will see that he is more than meets the eye.

By God’s grace, we know that the baby that was born on that first Christmas was Jesus Christ, the Son of God. However, could you tell that by just looking at him? For example, look at his parents. If you or I had been setting up things, we might have had Jesus born to a wealthy family or perhaps to a king. After all, it would only be fitting for the King of kings to be born to this sort of family. Perhaps, we might have chosen someone who was well-connected in Jewish religious life, like one of the priests.

Instead, although both of his parents were descendants of King David, we find that his parents are neither wealthy nor prominent. The one who would be his father was a simple carpenter from a little village, called Nazareth. His mother was a young lady, who at the time of her pregnancy, was engaged to Joseph. Jesus’ birth, though, had been prophesied by Isaiah, “The LORD himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) Though his parents may not have looked like much to the eye, we know that they were faithful and, when God told them that the birth of the Messiah would take place in this way, they believed and acted upon God’s instructions.

Also, look at the place where he was born. It was in Bethlehem, which was a small village about 5 miles from Jerusalem. There was nothing special about the town, per se. It’s claim to fame was that it was the birthplace of King David. Of course, that happened about a thousand years earlier, so the shine may have worn off on that. You might expect that Jesus would be born in Rome, which was the capital of the Roman Empire. It was the center of power and culture. If not Rome, perhaps we would have picked Jerusalem. After all, it was the center of Jewish religious life. However, God chose Bethlehem. As a matter of fact, he even told the people that this would be the place. The prophet Micah had said, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

This same sort of thought followed Jesus throughout his life. When some of the people of his day talked about a Messiah, they were hoping for a political leader. They wanted a king that would lead the people in revolution against the Romans and would establish a kingdom that would rival that of David or Solomon. Others, especially those who were Pharisees, wanted someone who would back their religious teachings. When Jesus showed himself to be neither, many rejected him. Jesus wasn’t the type of Messiah they were looking for. This shouldn’t surprise us because God had prophesied through the prophet Isaiah, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)

However, as we noted earlier, appearances can be deceiving. Jesus was exactly the type of Messiah that was needed. Though his beginnings may have been humble, they were just as God wanted them to be. We know that the baby in Bethlehem is no one less than the Son of God himself. He came to be the world’s Deliverer. This little one would grow up following all the laws that God had prescribed. It started when he was eight days old, with his circumcision. Throughout his life, Jesus perfectly kept everyone of God’s commands. This was as had been prophesied in Psalm 40, “Here I am, I have come — it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:7&8) His perfect life was lived for you and for me. Since God demands perfection for us to enter into heaven, Jesus came to be perfect for us.

If ever there was a time when, to the naked eye, Jesus looked anything like a Savior, it was when he was on the cross. The human eye sees a beaten, bloodied man, nailed to the cross. It sees someone dying an agonizing death. While this is true, the eye of faith sees something more. It sees a Deliverer who was being punished for the sins of the world. The eye of faith sees a Savior stepping in and facing the full force of God’s anger against sin. Because God said that the penalty for sin was death, Jesus willingly stepped in and took our place. Because of his death, our sins have been washed away. My dear friends, when you look at the manger in Bethlehem, see the cross looming in the background. Remember the words of Isaiah 53, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

We also know that our Deliverer didn’t stay in Joseph’s tomb. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been much of a Savior. We rejoice to see the empty tomb, for that assures us that our sins have been forgiven. We know that, just as Jesus rose from the dead, we will also rise from the dead. We are sure that eternal life is waiting for us. Though to the human eye, Jesus may not have looked like the Deliverer that the world wanted, he was exactly the Savior that was needed.

It is good for us to remember these things about our Savior, especially at Christmas. It can be so easy for us to just focus on the lowly birth of a baby. We see Mary delivering a baby in a place that was normally reserved for animals. We sing “Away in a Manger.” We think about the lowly shepherds who came rushing in to see the baby. This is not to say that it wrong for us to think about these things. Indeed, there are great benefits to putting ourselves into the text, imagining what it may have been like for Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. These events, as they are recorded by Luke, are facts about our Savior’s life. They point to his humility, as he left his throne in heaven to rescue us. However, it is that last thought that we want to focus on. Jesus came to be my Savior.

This is also a good time to ask ourselves what kind of Savior, Deliverer are we looking for? Are we expecting Jesus to deliver us from our problems? Are we expecting Jesus to deliver us from our enemies? Are we expecting Jesus to deliver us from poverty or sickness? Yes, Jesus can do all these things for us, if he sees that it is the best for us. However, that’s not why he came. More than anything else, Jesus came to be our Messiah, our Deliverer from sins.

The world has many ideas about whom Jesus was. Some will point to his life’s story and say that he died for a cause. Others will say that he was a great teacher. He was a wonderful example of showing how to love others. We would agree with what they say, but we also know that there is more to Jesus than those things. Jesus is the Son of God, who took on human flesh and blood, to be our Deliverer, our Savior. Yes, it is true that, at times, looks can be deceiving. When we look at Jesus, we see someone even more wonderful than we could ever have dreamed of. That baby in Bethlehem is our Lord. He is our Savior. Amen.