It is the custom of my congregation to celebrate “Midnight Mass” at 6:00 P.M. Christmas Eve.
Everybody loves to get gifts. Some even love to give gifts more than get gifts. No matter whether you give or get gifts, even those who aren’t so hip on celebrating Jesus’ birth in the flesh love gift-giving and gift-getting. Christians see the giving and getting of gifts as a reflection of our heavenly Father’s love. He gave the world His Son, breaking into time and space as man. Yet even Christians join those who don’t believe in Christ in seeing joy not in Jesus but in gifts.
Tonight there’s a gift in a cattle stall in Bethlehem. Whether or not you believe that gift is for you, or even if you think that moment in time didn’t take place, the gift is still for you. A poor Child, given to poor parents, is born homeless in a foreign country. That’s not the way Hollywood scripted it. The King of Kings ought to have a royal entrance, a crib made of finest gold, and blankets of the most expensive silken stuff. Not so this King.
Why the fuss? What is there wonderful about a birth so rude and bare? The birth of this Child is prophesied a thousand years before, even longer, and comes to its fulfillment by the calling of a census of the Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus perhaps had no idea that by calling a census and asking everyone to return to their hometown that He set into motion something our heavenly Father had promised for multiple generations.
The birth of this Child may not have all the trappings of a royal birth, but it does have a royal announcement. An angel of the Lord appears to announce the Savior’s birth not to noblemen, but to shepherds. Fear not is the first words from the angel’s mouth. There is nothing to fear. Messiah has come to His people at last. No wonder the heavenly hosts gather with the angel to sing glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!
The Lord God is pleased with you because of the Savior’s birth. Jesus Christ is born to restore what was lost in Eden. Jesus Christ is born to shed His blood that covers your sin. He is the One sent by the Father, hence the name Messiah. He is sent to bring salvation and redemption to all. This poor Child? Yes, this poor Child. This poor Child is the Lord. God becomes man in this Child. God becomes our Brother, our Savior. The stall becomes heaven, the crib becomes the throne of the divine majesty! “In poverty He came to earth Showing mercy by His birth; He makes us rich in heavenly ways As we, like angels, sing His praise.”
The Gift of Jesus born a man takes away all fear from your heart. All who believe in His name are given the right to become children of God, as Saint John puts it in tomorrow morning’s Holy Gospel. Jesus Himself tells Nicodemus: God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. No longer is God an angry Judge. In Jesus God is well pleased with you, for Jesus takes away sin and its consequences, hell and condemnation.
As the crib in the stall holds heavenly salvation and blessed glory, so through this gift of the Savior our daily crosses find certain hope in Christ, just as Saint Paul says in Romans chapter eight: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…. We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
He calls you for the purpose of receiving His gift of life. What joy we have in receiving this gift and clinging to this gift as the priceless treasure sent from a loving God to His precious creation. What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him. He prepares a place for you with Him because of this Baby Boy born to Mary and Joseph.
Jesus is your gift tonight. He comes to give you the gift of forgiveness and life. “Therefore, all Christendom, rejoice And sing His praise with endless voice. Alleluia!”