Christmas Eve – Midnight Service (11 PM)
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Luke 2.1-20; Isaiah 9.2-7
24 December 2020
+ In the Name of Jesus +
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Thanks to our rejection of God’s image, which is to reflect His holiness, it can be said that ever since the fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we have been walking in darkness. Every man and woman ever born have inherited the natural desire and instinct to go against God’s holy law that we should love Him with our whole heart and love our neighbor as ourselves.
That’s darkness – to live unenlightened by God’s holy Word and to belong to the kingdom of darkness, that is, to belong to the kingdom of the adversary, the devil. All of us are conceived and born into that dark kingdom and are absolutely guilty of being unholy and without any righteousness with which to stand before the holy and righteous God who created us.
This darkness manifests itself in how depraved our culture and society is, and how depraved we act within the world. We walk in darkness as we struggle with temptations to sin, falling into coveting and lusting and idolatries of all kinds, in abuse of those around us, in abuses done to us. Walking in the dark produces nothing but a guilty, stung conscience, and nowhere to seemingly get out of the dark pit of despair and gloom.
But Isaiah preaches a Christmas sermon some seven hundred and fifty years before our Lord’s birth. God says that there will be a time when the darkness will give way – the people who (once) walked in darkness have seen a great light. On them light has shone. He talks as if it is a done deal. If you’ve ever thought that God gives no thought or care for you or the darkness you find yourself in these days – you need to look no further than the promise given, guaranteed through the prophet, and then promise kept this holy night in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago.
The prophet tells us of a nation that rejoices as if they’ve brought in a great harvest, or as if they are dividing the spoil of a great military victory, since they’ve seen a “great light” – and indeed a battle has taken place. The light has overcome the darkness – the yoke of Satan and his oppressive burden has been broken. We should think that would be a cosmic, epic, heroic battle story – between two great armies and with great strength of force brought to bear – the forces of light led by a larger than life super-hero of unparalleled strength and knowledge.
But no – the breaking of Satan and his kingdom of darkness, the redemption of a new Israel of every believer – will be as “on the day of Midian,” as when Gideon the judge broke the seven years’ dominion of the Midianites, not with a great army, but with a handful of resolute warriors, strong in the Lord. (Judges 7) The Lord will shine His great light and cause the victory from what is apparently to our human eyes something very weak, lowly, and does not inspire confidence, at least not to the world’s eyes.
So what is this great light the people in darkness see, and which brings about such a victory and all the rejoicing? Isaiah is not preaching about the so-called “Christmas star” formed by aligning Saturn and Jupiter from our viewpoint in the night sky. There is no impressive sign.
Isaiah sees and proclaims the great light this way: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” A newborn babe. The one called Son of God, He is the great light revealed – when He first revealed His sacred face – this night in the Bethlehem stable so many years ago – when it came to pass in those days, when mighty Caesar Augustus and his grand census of the whole world moved Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, because this child born, the Son given, is David’s son and David’s Lord, of David’s house and line, and David’s home city is Betlehem. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His Kingdom to establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and even forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this, Isaiah promised. It was a sure thing that God would break Satan’s darkness with the birth of His Son in human flesh to a lowly virgin maiden in a lonely, dark, stable in nowhere Bethlehem. Isaiah has already said the virgin will conceive and bear a son and will call His name Immanuel. That child is the newborn King of David’s line, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. His reign will never end.
Looking in as an outsider, the child in the Bethlehem manger looks so weak, so bleak. All of this was in God’s eternal plan. God does not send a conquering heroic figure from on high. He sends the child born, the Son given to be the great light.
The God who directed the census and the taxation and the travels of Mary and Joseph is the God who became a baby in the Virgin’s womb. The God who directs the orbit of the world and the falling of the snow is the God who cried out for his mother’s milk while lying on hay, the food of animals. All the glory of man retreats in the face of God’s glory! Just think how afraid the shepherds were when they saw the mere reflection of God’s glory from the angels in the night sky! Yet, the child born, son given, prince of peace, king to rule, lies humble in the manger and willingly hides His glory. He chooses to come to us almost in a disguise. In fact, had the shepherds not been given the signs of swaddling cloths and the manger they would have looked in vain and never found the child.
But they did. And they rejoiced as people who have been given a great harvest, the spoil of a great victory over an ancient enemy. But the Shepherds probably couldn’t imagine how the Savior, who is Christ, the Lord, would ultimately accomplish that victory.
It would be like on the day of Midian. In weakness and foolishness to the world, says the Apostle Paul. As foolish as a miraculous virgin birth in a Bethlehem stable. More so. The child born, the Son given came to give Himself over to die on a cross – He who knew no sin, became sin and willingly entered our darkness for us – when darkness covered the land on Good Friday as He hung on Calvary’s cross. There, sin, death, and the power of the devil, the kingdom of darkness, was overcome and defeated, for Jesus the Savior, Immanuel, the Child born, the Son given, the light of the world – had lived and died innocently, without sin, in your place. That’s how zealous the Lord of hosts was to accomplish your salvation from the kingdom of darkness, that you would be redeemed from walking in the darkness and brought alive into His marvelous light.
Still living out dark days, dark times, dark thoughts? Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid, dear Christian. Don’t be afraid of your sins. They cannot claim you or condemn you. Don’t be afraid of failing. Don’t be afraid of suffering. Don’t be afraid of losing. Don’t be afraid of dying. Don’t be afraid of anything in all creation. On you, the light has shined. The victory has been won. For Jesus is born for you, lived for you, died for you, and rose from the grave for you. The angel declares Him to be what He is: Christ, the Savior. There is peace on earth, goodwill toward men. He means you no harm. He rules the world with truth, and grace. He rules you still in a humble way – by preaching to you His good news just as He had it preached to the Shepherds. By baptizing you into His Kingdom of light and life. By feeding you with His body and blood cloaked humbly under bread and wine.
If God were your enemy, He wouldn’t come to you in such humble ways. God comes to you in humility to take your burden away from you. And it is only in humility that you can receive Him. Bow down before the Child of Bethlehem. See in Him your God, your Savior, your eternal King of light and life.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +