By the Rev. Will Weedon
LCMS Director of Worship, International Center Chaplain
Tonight the angels rejoice! Tonight the shepherds wonder! Tonight in the darkness of the stable-cave, she who had never known a man, gives birth! Joseph held in his arms the little Child who created the world, who in unfathomable love for us has taken on our poor flesh and blood to restore that which had fallen. Tonight God visits us: not by taking the mere appearance of a man, nor the body of an angel. He visits us by being born a little Child “to bear and fight and die.” That is the mystery of this night, its joy and its light.
For the Babe laid in the manger is the Light that shines in the darkness of this world. And the darkness does not understand and has not overcome Him! He shines with the brightness of the Father’s love! Without this birth, this Child, life itself would be meaningless, filled with darkness, despair, death. But this Child is born and darkness is banished! This Child is born and despair takes flight! This Child is born and death cries out in anguish, knowing that its dominion over the human race is at an end.
The shepherds are astonished. The night around them shines likes the day. No, brighter, for it is no light of this world that shines upon them, but the unending light of heaven’s courts. As they stand, awestruck, the flaming spirit, the angel of the Lord, speaks: “Fear not! Fear not, for I am not sent to you watchers in the night with a message of woe. It is true that you are not worthy to so much as gaze upon the splendor of the light in which we live, but ere this night is over you shall gaze upon that which is so much greater! Listen, O Watchers! For I bring you good news of great joy — joy such as this earth has not heard since the days of paradise. Joy that shall flood your hearts and lives, and not yours alone. Oh, no! The joy that I speak of is for you and for all people, for the high and the low, the rich and the poor, and the harlot and the virgin. Today, this very night, in the City of David, a Savior has been born. Born to you! Born for you! This is He whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord, whom the voices of the Prophets promised in their sacred Word. Now He shines, the long-expected, let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!”
“O Shepherds, ask me not how it can be! We marvel! We worship and adore! This Child, this Savior that is born for you, is He who sits upon His eternal throne: God, the Word, the Everlasting Son, of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be! He is Alpha and Omega! He the Source, the ending He, of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see. Evermore and evermore!”
“And do you seek some sign? Oh, Shepherds, listen well. Do not expect to find him wrapped in velvets soft and silken stuff! Not all the furs and jewels of this world are worthy of Him who is Maker of all. You will find Him wrapped in swaddling bands! You will find Him lying in a manger! O mystery of mysteries, shepherds in the night! His mother wraps swaddling bands about Him and confines God’s feet and hands. So great His love for you, O sons of Adam!”
And even as the angel speaks the hosts of heaven can hold back their joy no more. The skies blaze with even greater light. The air fills with endless song. The hills echo it back: “Glory! Glory! Glory to God in the highest! And peace! Peace on earth, good will toward men.” And as suddenly as the light appeared, it is gone.
Silence. Awe. Wonder. Eyes turned up to the skies, filled with tears of joy inexpressible. Eyes that slowly lower and look into one another. “To Bethlehem! To the Child! Let us see! Hurry! Let us behold with our own eyes what the Lord has declared to us!” Running. Skipping. Laughing. Crying. To Bethlehem.
The stable cave is quiet now. The Child asleep. He who feeds the ravens and all creatures when they call, has fed at Mary’s breast. Mary resting. Joseph standing in silence and looking down on the Wonder of the ages. The sound of running feet. Awkward looks. “Shhh! This is the place!” Coming in, kneeling down, looking at the rhythmic pattern of His breathing. Tears again. Overflowing. Daring to touch, to touch even Him. And then whispers. The story retold. Angel. Light. Message. Savior. Music. Glory. Peace. The mother’s eyes shining. Her heart bursting as it stores it all away. Treasures it all. Blesses God in heart for it all. For the Child. Her Child. The Child of promise. The Child whose coming sets us free from sin and death.
Slowly, reluctantly, leave-taking. Back to the fields. Once outside, the joy filling again. Singing. Glorifying God and praising Him. Echoes of heaven’s song. Telling everyone what has happened.
O people loved by God, the story is true. Christ is born! Born for you and born for me! Born our Savior. Sent out of the Father’s love to bring us life and light, to restore us to joy! In a garden, when the world was young, a woman handed man the fruit from a tree and death came upon us all. We were banished from paradise, exiled from home. In a stable-cave, in the darkness of the night, a woman gave to us a Child, who is Himself the Tree of Life. Paradise is opened again, when Jesus is born of the pure Virgin! In true faith, eat of Him and live! In true faith, welcome Him into your heart and into your life, the Savior promised long. Christ is born! Glorify Him! Christ from heaven! Receive Him! Christ is now on earth! Exalt Him! O earth, sing to the Lord! O people so loved and so favored, praise the Savior born for you! Amen.
The following were anciently read on Christmas Day in the Daily Office, but they may also serve as an introduction to the Divine Service on Christmas Day,
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