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THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD – CHRISTMAS EVE
“Where Is God?”
Pastor Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
24 December 2022
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
“Where Is God?” Many people wonder where God is when they look at current events or even their own broken lives. Of all the nights of the year none has as much juxtaposition of opposites as Christmas Eve. People ask, “Where is God when there is so much violence and hatred in our world? Christmas is called “a day of terror” for Christians living in Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other places. There will be no decorations, no services, no gifts. Some will not be able to celebrate it at all for fear of their lives. Where is God when there are those consigned to abject poverty with no hope of escaping? Where is God when wars continue and innocents are slaughtered? Where is God when many have dreaded this night because their problems and circumstances keep them in despair and sadness?” Tonight, as we have gathered in this place, there are countless people popping pills, mainlining deadly drugs, guzzling beverages —all designed to help them cope and forget their broken lives. There are broken marriages and families, and the debris that goes along with these destroyed relationships. Sinful emotions will boil over and emergency rooms will have their expected quotas of domestic violence cases. The happy ads of Christmas where people have bought all the right gifts which seem to magically make everyone happy simply aren’t true. There is, indeed, a dark side to Christmas. Where is God?
Our world has turned away from God. Our society has become more and more secular as strident voices attempt to drown out all mention of God, especially the Triune God. God asked through the prophet Isaiah,
Why, when I came, was there no man;
why, when I called, was there no one to answer? [Isaiah 50.2]
God’s own chosen people, the Jews, had turned away from God. Yet God has not turned away from our world. God likened his relationship with his people as a marriage. He hadn’t issued Israel her certificate of divorce [Is. 50.1]. God did not break off relations with our world. He sent prophet after prophet, but the people treated them shamefully because they did not want to hear about their sins.
The prophet Hosea wrote:
The more they were called,
the more they went away; [Hosea 11.2]
Just this morning a news columnist posted a story with this headline: “Many Churches Cancel Services On Christmas Day.” It isn’t the pandemic or the weather that has canceled services. Only 84% of pastors plan on holding services this year, down from 89% last year. Only 60% of congregations plan to hold services tonight and tomorrow. One church ng Iowa will have in-person services tonight but only online on Christmas Day. One pastor tweeted a video saying that there would be no services on Christmas Day. “Enjoy some time at home with your family,” he said. Perhaps 25 years ago some neighbors asked if they could come to our service Christmas Eve. When I asked why they weren’t attending their own, they said that the pastor canceled them saying, “Christmas is a family time. We don’t need to have a service.” It seems that non-liturgical churches are the most guilty, but not all. I suspect it is because they have a defective understanding of the Incarnation, of the Real Presence of Christ.
Christmas is a celebration that has left its mark on all of society even if most totally misunderstand it, even if others fight against it. Some people conclude that the real meaning of Christmas is fellowship and brotherhood and all sorts of warm feelings and thoughts, but that is incredibly shallow and worth very little. Humanity is incapable of producing those fruits.
Christmas is properly called The Nativity of Our Lord. Its proper celebration centers in receiving Christ in the Divine Service, most pointedly in the Holy Supper. The Mass is the Latin term for Divine Service, so we celebrate Christ-Mass. We celebrate our Lord’s birth among us. The words of the Gospel speak it clearly:
“ . . and they shall call his name Immanuel”
God is with us, and human beings have a remarkable ability to avoid anything to do with him. For many people the holy day which bears his name has become an excuse to avoid him at all costs. Many have found a way of speaking of the holy day and never speaking of Immanuel. The words of most of the popular Christmas songs we hear speak about Christmas being “the most wonderful time of the year” with sleigh bells, mistletoe, and presents ‘neath the tree, but nothing about the baby in the manger. We sing about Jolly Old St. Nick and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but not hymns about God become Incarnate for us. We shop til we drop, or because of online buying, we make the folks from the Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx drop in our places, instead of dropping to our knees in wonder, awe, and praise at God’s altar. So, where is God?
Isn’t it revealing that Advent tells us that our Lord is near, that time is short, and yet we use time foolishly. We bury ourselves in things that really don’t have to be done. Some people work more during the holy season than at other times—including those who work to prepare the Divine Services which are often sparsely attended! It is as Swedish Lutheran theologian and pastor Bo Giertz said: “People buy and sell—that’s their Advent. They eat and drink—that’s their Christmas. And all this because Christ has come and shall come!”
It is the greatest irony that so many people consider Christmas the best time the year but avoid Immanuel as much as possible! Jesus said that when the last day comes people will be caught unawares. They will continue as they have in the past, having as little to do with God as possible.
The Nativity of Our Lord. Perhaps we should just use this title and stop using the name Christmas. But that would deprive us of its very heart and core—“God with us.” God with us in his true body and blood distributed here in this house which bears his Name—Immanuel!—and where his glory shines. This house is our Bethlehem—House of Bread—the place where we find Jesus in all his lowliness and splendor.
The Nativity of Our Lord celebrates God’s presence among us in grace. Grace! The world misses that altogether. God the Father sent his only-begotten Son to be one of us, to share our fallen humanity and to redeem it by the blood of his cross. And when we speak in simple terms such as his coming to save us from our sins, people balk. Sin??? Who wants to talk about sin in a festive time of the year? And yet, there would be no feast, no celebration even of the worldly kind, unless God is with us in Jesus to atone for our sins which separate us from him.
The darkness of sin would continue unabated, and lighting all the candles in the world and stringing up as many lights as possible cannot ever erase the darkness that sin brings to the world. Even the pagans with their rites in the midst of winter knew something of a better world, but they would never find it.
All must be revealed to us. Prophet after prophet after prophet came until John the Baptist. He was the one who pointed to Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Immanuel came to remove sin and its consequence—death, temporal and eternal—from us. Why would we want to avoid him? Why would we do our best not to encounter him in this festive time which bears his Name? Why are thee those who stay away from the Divine Service on this occasion? Why? Those further along in avoidance can name it a holiday but it is still the contraction for “Holy Day.” It still refers to Immanuel and his Incarnation whether they realize it or not. They more they try to blot out Immanuel’s name the more attention they call to it.
Immanuel’s coming is history. It happened. Those who try to erase this history will fail as has everyone else who has tried it. No one can erase his coming. No one can deny that it happened. Even those who avoid it by refusing to mention his Name give proof that it is true! God has intervened in our world. The angel’s words, “He will save his people from their sins” points to his God-ordained destiny of death upon a cross. He will be the atonement for the world’s alienation from God. He will do it not because man asked him to do it, but because it was the Father’s will to bring a lost and condemned humanity back to himself and to bring peace between God and man and between those who are estranged from each other.
God’s divine intervention changed things forever. God did not leave our world to spin out of control and send people into eternal death. God did not leave us! Rather, God intervened in the only way that would make all things right again. He came to us in the flesh in Jesus. Christ’s birth leaves its mark on all the generations to come. He came to redeem all humanity, to bring everyone back to the Father, even those who want to avoid him. He does not desire than any should be lost forever. There in the manger—the feed trough for animals—lay the One who created the heavens and the earth. He came in such humility that one cannot doubt his love for us. Worldly wealth and power are worthless in his sight. He has come for us, to be with us forever.
Softly from His lowly manger
One and all,
“You are safe from danger.
Children, from the sins that grieve you
You are freed;
All you need
I will surely give you. [LSB 360.5]
And Immanuel comes again at this altar this evening in his true body and blood to forgive our sin and renew our hearts in love and hope. God in the flesh is here for you! Why would one want to stay away? Can there be any sweeter words for us to hear than the words of Isaiah spoken by the angel to Joseph?
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
“God with us” in everything; a God who will never leave us nor forsake us; a God who desires our eternal welfare; a God who understands us better than we understand ourselves; a God whose very name is Jesus—Savior! A God who delivers the most precious gift of all—Himself!
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠Son and of the Holy Spirit.