It is the sixth (seventh) day of Christmas and we’re still singing Christmas hymns. It’s OK to say “Happy New Year” as much as it is still proper to say “Merry Christmas” or even “Happy Holidays”. These are holy days from now until next weekend. Even when the tree is taken down and all the decorations are put away until next December, we are not able to stop learning the wonders of God’s grace for us in Jesus Christ.
Saint Peter catches this constant marveling at God’s work on our behalf in First Peter chapter one. He writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: The prophets, who prophesied about the grace that has come to you, searched and studied carefully concerning this salvation, trying to find out what person and what time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, when they wrote about these things. These are the things that have now been announced to you by those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even the angels long to look carefully into these things.
That’s why it’s proper to stand before the manger even today full of holy astonishment. What are we looking at when we look at the Christ Child in the manger almost a week after the fact? We’re looking at the great mystery of salvation. The first words of today’s Holy Gospel say that Joseph and Mary marveled at what was said about Him by Simeon. If that is not enough, Anna the prophetess also adds her witness to Simeon’s witness, speaking of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The witness of Simeon and Anna remains in the Church even today. As Saint Paul tells Saint Timothy: Great is the mystery of godliness: He was revealed in flesh, was justified in spirit, was seen by messengers, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. Here is the message of apostolic preaching. We stand before the manger of Jesus seeing with the eyes of faith that He is revealed in flesh. What is more, His preaching continues among the nations and is believed on in the world.
The fact that Gospel preaching remains in the Church is practically a miracle in itself. When family stories are told, it seems that the narrative changes a little bit from generation to generation. Facts about a particular incident change. Maybe they are forgotten. The experience itself might be the only thing that remains true as the stories are told. What wasn’t funny at the time makes us laugh in retrospect.
When the Gospel is proclaimed, no matter the language, the story remains the same. Jesus Christ, long promised by prophets, pitches His tabernacle of flesh and blood among His people. He does not spurn the virgin’s womb. His humiliation in becoming man brings about our salvation. His salvation is for all, both Jew and Gentile. He offers salvation to all, yet so many despise it. They think His work for us is too easy. Worse yet, it might be a tale that has been twisted and perverted through the generations, much like their own family stories. Yet those who cling to His story as it breaks into history are spared everlasting death and given everlasting life as a gift.
The Gospel, though, often hits our ears and heart to find us no longer able to marvel at God becoming man. So many other words cause us to marvel instead of the birth of the Savior in the flesh. We’re stunned to hear the death of a celebrity, or a friend, or even a friend of a friend. We remember what used to be in a building in downtown Kankakee fifty years ago. We recall all the good times we had patronizing the business in that building. We write about it on Facebook groups. When it comes to remembering the Bible stories we learned in Sunday School or when a family member read the Bible to us, our memory has a hard time recalling the story. What should be the most familiar thing to us instead becomes a faint memory.
It’s hard to be astonished at something when you are over-astonished at everything. Then again, maybe we have lost our own story while gaining everyone else’s story as our own. There’s no better time that Christmas time to regain a love for the story that includes you as the object of God’s mercy. Returning to the little cradle of Christ to see Baby Jesus resting with His earthly parents takes us back to those happy days when we first heard His birth story. Perhaps you first heard it in a church building, maybe from a pastor or from a Sunday School teacher. That word of Christ’s birth to bear your sin and be your Savior implanted itself in your life. The seed of faith was planted, watered in baptismal water, fed with the Lord’s Supper and with Gospel preaching.
As you grew in grace and in knowing Jesus as Lord, heartfelt joy came with believing Him as your only hope for eternal life. Faith and joy bring holy reverence, for God has come to His people to save them, especially you. Then came the heartfelt desire to pick up the Scriptures and read His story for yourself. Then came questions about the story. Maybe the pastor had the answer, but maybe he didn’t. Through it all, you wanted to know more about this thing that had happened to you in hearing His Word proclaimed to you.
There’s the start of marveling all over again at the Good News of Jesus Christ for you. If you’ve lost your holy astonishment, start again with the main thing. Jesus Christ is born for you. He becomes man for you. He could have stayed with His Father in heaven and found another way to save you from sin and death. This is the way His Father wanted it. He wanted it this way for you. He gives it to you for free. He even creates a way to have His way with you in order to make you His own.
This is the perfect time to join Mary and Joseph as they marvel at everything that is said about Baby Jesus. God’s favor is upon Him. God’s favor is upon you because of Him. Come again to the manger. See the little Stranger you know so well. He is the Prince of Peace, your peace, the world’s peace, and peace between God and man. Take to heart these words of today’s Chief Hymn: “He is the key and He the door To blessed paradise; The angel bars the way no more. To God our praises rise.” Paradise is yours, free and clear, because of Baby Jesus.