St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

The Christmas Story

Christmas Eve Devotion (The Christmas Story 2020)

Text: I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

When I was growing up, one of my favorite stories that my grandmother read to me was “The Happy Twins.” I would venture to guess that none of you has ever heard of this book. However, when grandma would come to visit, I remember that she would take the time to read this story to my sister and me. When my children were little, my mother would often read the story “The Monster at the End of this Book.” It is the story of Grover being afraid of the monster at the end of the book, pleading with you not to turn the next page, and then finding that he was the monster at the end of the book. There are certain stories that we heard as children that we hold dear to our hearts years later. The title of this year’s Christmas service is “The Christmas Story.” Throughout the course of our service, we will hear the children of our congregation tell us this familiar account. As we prepare to hear the Christmas story, I ask you, “What do you think of when you hear the Christmas story?”

There are a number of different emotions that the story might elicit. Perhaps, when you hear the story, you think back to the various Christmas services that you were a part of as a child. There may have been something funny that happened one time. You might remember the sights of the church as you said your parts. Parents and grandparents might remember the first time that their children or grandchildren had their part in the Christmas service. This is an emotion that we might feel as we hear the familiar words of the Christmas story.

Another emotion we might feel is disgust at mankind’s inhumanity to those in need. We think of the innkeeper, who refused to give Joseph and his obviously pregnant wife a room. How could anyone be so cold? The truth of the matter is that the account in Luke 2 never says that an innkeeper refused to give the couple a room. It merely states that there was no guest room available to them. The village of Bethlehem was overcrowded because of the Roman census ordered by Caesar Augustus. No one in the village of Bethlehem had any room for this couple.

Another emotion might be that this is a tragic, yet heartwarming story. It was tragic because Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem when she was so close to giving birth. Instead of a nice room, Mary gave birth in a place where there were animals. We know this because Mary put the Christ Child in a manger. If we were to go according to our picture books growing up, we would have a fairly sanitized picture of the birth place of Jesus. There is the baby in the manger, while Mary and Joseph look lovingly on. Again, it probably wasn’t that pristine. Yet, the Christmas story holds a dear place in our hearts as we think of the little baby lying in Bethlehem’s manger.

However, are all of these emotions what is the Christmas story all about? For the answer to what the Christmas story is all about, we go to the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds that first Christmas. The angel said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10,11) The angel told the original Christmas story. “I bring you good news.”

What was the news that the angel told? A baby was born in the nearby village of Bethlehem. That in and of itself, is good news. We are happy when we hear that someone had a baby. However, there was something special about this baby’s birth. We can see this from the various titles that the angel gave to the baby.

The angel called the baby “the Messiah.” When the shepherds heard this name, they would have thought of the One who had been promised for so many generations, going back to the time of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. God promised to send someone who would crush the serpent’s head. This promise was repeated time and again, with more details given. One of the promises was that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The angel told the story of the promised Messiah born in Bethlehem.

There was something special about that bay. The angel called him “the Lord.” This would have reminded the shepherds of that special name that God gave to himself in the Old Testament. It usually signified God showing his love to his people. In other words, the angel told the shepherds that the infant lying there in Bethlehem was no mere mortal human. This was the almighty God, who had taken human flesh and blood. This, also, was a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. Though the prophet Isaiah, God said, “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) The name “Immanuel” means “God with us.” The angel’s story was more than just the announcement of the birth of a baby. The angel tells us that the little baby in the manger is no one less than God himself.

All of these names highlight the name that the angel gave to the baby, which told of his purpose here on this earth. The angel said, “A Savior has been born to you.” This was the entire reason that Jesus came to the earth. He came to save, to rescue all people. Obviously, this implies that there was something that we needed rescuing from. We needed rescuing from our sins. It really doesn’t take too much reflection to find sin in our lives. For example, the Christmas season can bring about stress with everything that needs to be done. When we are stressed, we find ourselves being impatient with people. We are upset that the people in line in front of us are so slow. ‘Don’t they know what the express lane is for? How many items do they have? I’m sure they have more than what’s allowed!’ We get upset that the person checking us out is slow. On the way there and the way back, there is all of that traffic to deal with on the roads and in the parking lots. We think and may even mumble some very unkind things. We try to pass it off and say that it’s all because of the stress of the holidays. However, any unkind act or word or thought is a sin. Add this to all of the other sins that we commit every day, and the amount goes beyond our imagination. God is also clear that even one sin is enough to condemn us forever. How we need a Savior!

For it is only when we realize this, that we can truly appreciate what the angel announced to those shepherds so long ago. We need to see our complete inability to save ourselves, so that when we hear the angel say that a Savior has been born, we rejoice. Jesus came to this earth on a divine rescue mission. He came to do what we cannot do. He came, first of all, to be perfect in our place. He was perfect in every one of his words, thoughts and actions.

Then, the next part of his divine rescue mission, led him down the tortuous path to the cross. While he was there on the cross, he suffered and paid for every single one of our sins. The punishment that we deserved was poured out in full force on Jesus. He suffered the torments of hell in our place. His divine rescue mission meant that he laid down his life for us. Indeed, we cannot look at the manger in Bethlehem’s stable, without seeing the cross looming in the background. He came with the expressed purpose of suffering and dying for us. Scriptures say that the wages of sin is death. Jesus paid our debt, with his life. This was all a part of his divine rescue mission.

We also know that, beyond the cross, there lies a tomb. What makes this tomb so different from so many others is the fact that it is empty. Jesus did not stay dead. He rose from the grave that first Easter morning. If this were not true, we would have no reason to celebrate this evening. There would be no reason to pass this message on from generation to generation. Jesus would just be a great, influential man, but that would be it. However, he did rise from the dead. Therefore, we know that our sins are forgiven. We know that Jesus is the Son of God, and all that he has promised to us will happen. We know that heaven is waiting for us, with all of the joy and hope and comfort that will go with it. It is because of this message that we rejoice this Christmas, for, indeed, a Savior has been born to us. He is the Messiah, the Lord. This is what the Christmas story is all about.

Because this is the message of the Christmas story, it is a story that we never outgrow. This story is just as relevant to us today as it was to the shepherds some 2,000 years ago. Because this is the message of the Christmas story, it is a story that we never get bored with. We need to hear the message of our salvation again and again. Because this is the message of the Christmas story, it is a story that does more than just warm our hearts. It fills us with the love of God. Because this is the message of the Christmas story, it is more than just something that is nostalgic. It is the wonderful story that God has shared with generations. It is also a story that he wants to be shared with the generations to come. What is the Christmas story? “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Amen.