December 25, 2018
Pastor Timothy J. Spaude
Text: The Christmas Story
“CHRISTMAS QUESTIONS ANSWERED!”
1. What Child is this?
2. Why lies He in such mean estate?
3. What do I do now?
If I asked you what your favorite Christmas Carol is I’m guessing you will have a hard time coming up with just one. There are so many good ones. Some have great memories attached to them like Silent Night. Some are just so joyful. Some of the melodies just seem to perk you up and get you in the Christmas spirit. Many of them tell stories and at least one answers questions. It’s the one we just sang. “What Child is this?” We’ll let that carol guide our Christmas Day meditation because it provides answers to important questions of Christmas and it’s no magic eight ball. It draws its answers from Scripture.
The first verse asks an important Christmas question. What child is this? Careful when you look at him. Looks can be deceiving. Looks were meant to be deceiving at Christmas when I was growing up. With eight kids in the family we did not have the practice of every brother and sister getting a present for everyone else. No, we drew names. Then you had to figure out what the name you drew needed. Then came the really fun part. Trying to disguise your present. You see another tradition we had was trying to guess what the present was before you opened it. One year I thought I had it nailed. My brothers and I had gotten into playing hockey on the ice rink that was cleared above the first dam on the Rock River going into Watertown. Boots marked the boundaries. Boots marked the goal. Just a note to any would be hockey players, playing goalie without any pads is not a good idea. Those pucks hurt! We had good early ice one year so had been playing a lot and the blade on my stick broke. Money was tight. Duct tape was the only solution. And then came Christmas. And there it was. A present. To Tim From Joel. Wrapped up was a long tube with a card box taped on the end covering what could only be a hockey stick. I should’ve remembered who I was dealing with. As I proudly made my correct guess before I opened the smirk alerted me to a potentially fatal mistake. The tube empty. The box contained a cartoon book. Looks were deceiving.
Look again in the manger. What do you see? What child is this? He looks like any average Jewish baby boy. But remember, looks can be deceiving so look again. Our carol answered the question. What child is this? This, this is Christ the King. In Matthew’s account of the Christmas story he reminded us who the child is when he wrote, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel which means, God with us.” That baby is God himself in human flesh. What Child is This? This is Christ the King. It is really impossible to comprehend the one who is helpless as a human is the omnipotent God. The one who seems to have only now appeared on the scene has always been before the Creation of the world. The one who needs Mary and Joseph to care for him at the same time needs nothing and is absolutely independent as the great I AM. Can you imagine how difficult this was for Mary and Joseph? Joseph watched Jesus be born. Mary birthed Him. He looked just like any other human being and did all the things that babies normally do. But God had provided them what they needed in the visits from the angels to know what child this was. God has done the same thing for us. Through word and sacrament he has provided us with faith to see that the Christmas miracle is not a Grinch getting a new heart or people being kind for part of a day. It’s God becoming flesh and that we believe this. What child is this? This, this is Christ the King!
Why? Why does this happen? Or as our carol asks, “Why lies he in such mean estate?” Mean can mean a lot of things. As a verb it can mean to signify or stand for. As a noun it’s the middle of something. As an adjective we normally use mean to describe someone who is nasty and is doing or saying hurtful things. But its first meaning as an adjective is humble or lowly. Why is Christ the King, true God and true man, lying in such humble circumstances? Again Matthew tells us in his Gospel. The angel told Joseph, “She will give birth to a Son and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” He lies in such a mean estate because He is our Savior. I like to remind the Confirmation students that there is a word that begins with S that applies to Jesus that helps us keep straight the why of Christmas and Good Friday and Easter. Do you know what it is? A word that begins with S to help us answer Why? Yes, Savior is a good one but there is a better one. Substitute. Jesus comes to be our substitute. He takes our place. He takes our place in perfect obedience. That’s why he becomes truly one of us and lives for 33 years. He must face temptation, fight temptation and defeat temptation in our place. That’s why He goes to the cross. He takes our place in being punished for sin. That’s why at the first Christmas He lies in such mean estate. As the carol goes “For sinners here the Silent Word is pleading. Nails, spear shall pierce him through. The cross he bears for me, for you.” Jesus lies in humble circumstance so that He can be a legitimate substitute not for the few and the privileged but for me, for you and for all.
So now what? What do we do with this Christmas gift of Jesus? If what looked like a hockey stick had been a hockey stick I would’ve know what to do with it. Pass and score goals, play defense. Since it was instead a cartoon book I knew what to do with it, read it and laugh. What do we do with the gift of Jesus? Our carol answers that Christmas question too. I could summarize it with three words: honor, own, enthrone. Let’s start with honor. “So bring him incense, gold and myrrh.” The Christmas purists know that the wise men from the east did not arrive the same time as the shepherds. A bummer for all the nativity sets, but true. Those wise men did come later and when they came they honored Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Costly gifts back then and today. But the real gift wasn’t their earthly value but what the gift signified. Honor. Honor for Jesus by those who through faith looked past what Jesus looked like, a baby, and saw Him for what He is. The King of kings. As God, Jesus had no need for gold, frankincense or myrrh. He could create as much as he wanted at any time. True enough we know that it helped Mary and Joseph, probably especially when they had to flee to Egypt. But what was most important was the honor that was shown. That’s also true for us. Our offerings to Jesus are very important. Yes, they are important for our congregation so that we continue to exist, pay our bills and expand our ministry. But what is most important is they give us a chance to show honor to Jesus who does not need anything from us but wants our hearts. That’s why we are not cheap with our offerings, giving him our leftovers or something we don’t even miss, There is no honor in being a member of the Scrooges for Jesus Club. But there is when our gifts come from the heart.
Because we own him. That’s the second way our carol answers the question so what do I do now. “Come peasant king to own him.” When you own up to your mistakes you admit they are yours. You did it. They belong to you. Owning Jesus means confessing Him as Savior. Your Savior. Getting a little harder to do that these days in the real world isn’t it? Less and less tolerance for Christians who want to hold to and teaching everything Jesus has commanded us. No worries. Peasant. King. Grandma. Newborn. Jesus has chosen us for Himself and promised that whoever confesses Him before others, He too confesses and owns before the Father in heaven.
So we honor, own and enthrone. “Let loving hearts enthrone Him.” Now the post Christmas ads will begin, the end of year ones. Watch how many try to tug at your heart to get that perfect gift she will love or he has dreamed about as a boy. Normally something big and expense. The new car or huge diamond. They are on to something. Love seeks to give what makes another happy. What makes Jesus happy? Hearts that enthrone Him. That means treat Him as king and ruler. Jesus put it this way. If you love me, obey my commandments and so we learn that willing obedience is the most meaningful gift for Jesus. We desire Him to rule in our hearts. And he does through love, grace and mercy.
Pretty soon now the Christmas carols will go away. The stations that changed their format way before Thanksgiving will go back. We will choose new playlists on Pandora or Spotify. But the meaning of Christmas will continue its effects on our lives. For the child lying in mean estate is Christ the King, for sinners slain who in response lovingly honor, own and enthrone Him. Amen.