CHRISTMAS EVE, 2016

SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 7:10-14; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-20

"Be not afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

 

What a beautiful, and so appropriate, hymn is, “Joy to the World.” The birth of God’s Son truly brings joy to the world! How fitting, then, that in the story of the birth of Jesus the ruler of the world in His day, Caesar Augustus, is mentioned. He was a great man. Born in 63 B.C. as Gaius Octavius, he rose to become the founder and sole ruler of the Roman Empire. In 27 B.C. the Roman Senate gave him the name Augustus: exalted one. He proved to be worthy of the title. During his 40 year rule he doubled the size of the Roman Empire; he expanded the empire’s network of roads; he rebuilt Rome and established its police and fire departments; and, he founded the Roman postal service. After his death in 14 A.D. the Roman Senate declared him a god.

 Caesar Augustus wanted his name to be remembered around the world. Well, he got his wish! He is known throughout the world and across the centuries – but not because of his accomplishments, or because the Senate declared him a god. Caesar Augustus is remembered because of his connection to the birth of a Jewish baby in a small, little known village in a rather insignificant corner of his empire. Jesus has given him a name and fame far greater than any he could ever have imagined! This gave him no joy, however. Augustus never knew of Jesus, and was long dead by the time Luke wrote of Jesus' birth.

 The importance and honor and fame of a Caesar Augustus are what many aspire to in this life. Oh, to be so great, so honored! But, the greatest of this world’s blessings are of no benefit at all when you leave this world and life, for you leave them all behind.

Ø  Ebenezer Scrooge learned this when he stood with the ghost of Christmas future at his grave. Very wealthy in life, he was un-mourned and deprived of all at his death.

It is in the name of Jesus that there is an honor and greatness far surpassing any this world can give. Holy Scripture says that “at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10-11) At His birth this begins, as the angels of heaven sing His praises and the lowly shepherds come and bow before Him. It is a foretaste of the great glory that is to come.

 The joy of this night is that Jesus, the Son of God who is of one substance with the Father, was born among us that He might share His great name, and so His greatness, with you! Let every heart prepare Him room and heav’n and nature sing! Prepare Him room by opening your ears to these words: “To you has been born a Savior!” Luke wrote them down so that you would also hear this news and rejoice that He was born for you!!

  “To you has been born a Savior!” Think about this. What does this mean? Well, if you were in a hospital and you were told, “A child has been born to you!” you would go to the nursery and look for a baby in a crib that has your name on it. When a child is born to you, you have the same name, right? So: when you hear the angel’s message, “To you has been born a Savior!” take this message personally. He is your child, your Savior! God wants you to believe this. This is why He inspired Luke to write it down. Jesus’ birth is a name sharing event. The Son of God came to first take your name – human; sinner; a mortal facing God’s judgment – on Himself. He bore that name before His Holy Father on the cross, and on the cross bore the eternal punishment of hell that we sinners deserve. By His death our sins were judged, and we are forgiven. He then rose from the dead, still a flesh and blood human; but without sins. He is now Jesus the Savior, the Victor over sin and death. This new name is the name He gave to you in your Baptism. Titus 3 says: “God saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Baptized into Jesus and believing in Him, you bear His name. You are a Christian: a little Christ. How you have been exalted! All that is His is now also yours as you rejoice to bear His name!

 When Gaius Octavius had the new name Augustus bestowed on him it meant he had exalted power to rule. The great name of Christ that you bear as a Christian means you have exalted power to serve. “I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people,” the angel told the shepherds. The good news and great joy of Jesus’ birth comes to others as we serve them.

 Serve who? Let me tell you about Anita Dittman. Anita was a Jewish girl who grew up in Germany during the 1930’s and ‘40’s. When she began public school she took required religion classes – even under Hitler these continued – and she learned about Jesus. Anita came to believe in Jesus, and her faith blossomed when at age 10 she began going to a Lutheran school. Through her witness her mother also became a Christian. Even so, during the war they were arrested with other Jews, and Anita was sent to a work camp. Near the end of the war, as the camp was moved to avoid the Russians, she escaped; but, suffering from a terrible foot infection, she ended up in a hospital in the town of Bautzen. Her infection, and the four operations she had to treat it, nearly killed her; especially when the head nurse, a devout Nazi named Miss Greta, withheld medicines and treatment from her because she was a Jew. When Russian troops overran the town, they assaulted many of the women; including Miss Greta. Seeing her lying on the floor crying, Anita went to her and put her arm around her. Miss Greta said, “How can you comfort me? I really wanted to kill you after we found out that you are Jewish.” Anita answered, “Jesus tells us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. He loved even those who drove Him to the cross, and He begged His Father’s forgiveness for them.” (Anita Dittman, Trapped in Hitler’s Hell, p. 187.) Bearing the great name of Jesus made her a great servant: first to her fellow inmates at the camp; then to Miss Greta; and then to countless others through a book she wrote of her experiences. Well, you also bear the exalted name of Christ! You have also been made a servant; and of everyone, not just your family and friends. Jesus served everyone, even His enemies! He lived out His great name “Jesus,” which means, “God saves.”

 Exalting, and yet humbly serving. This is how the joy of Christ, who was humbly born among us to give His life for the world, transforms our world. You, His Christians, bear His great name! His great joy is yours, as are His heaven and its hosts, that you might serve and bring His joy into the world.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King;

Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room and heav’n and nature sing!

All in praise of Jesus, our Savior and King!! Amen.