24 December 2010 St. Athanasius Lutheran Church

Christmas Eve Vienna, VA

Service of Nine Readings and Carols

 

Jesu Juva

 

Glory to God in the Lowest

Text: Luke 2:14a

 

We have gathered here tonight to marvel at a mystery. Not just that a baby was born, and not just that a baby was born to a virgin - although that is a mystery to marvel at! Rather tonight we marvel at the mystery of Gods love for you and me. That for us and for our salvation, the Son of God would come down from heaven and be born as a man. To save those who ruined His creation. To save those who rebel against Him. To save those who choose sin instead of holiness. To save you and me. That we do not deserve such a God is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. That we have such a God is the reason we rejoice tonight, as we marvel at the mystery in the manger.

 

Tonight, we heard nine readings from Gods Word to help us marvel and rejoice, but it is to one of them in particular that I would like to draw your attention, and to consider for a bit. And that Word is the song of the angels who broke forth in joy over Bethlehems fields, where shepherds were watching their sheep. When Jesus was born, they praised God and said: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And I would like you to consider this fact: you can only give glory to God in the highest, when you see God in the lowest.

 

For truly this is the glory of God: that the Creator became a creature; that the Almighty became weak; that the Eternal entered time and took on human flesh to die. This is His glory because He didnt have to. He could have hit the reset button on creation, or given up on creating altogether. But He didnt, because of His love. Because as sinful and unlovable as we are (even at our best!), still He loves us. He loves you. And so the Highest becomes the lowest; the King becomes a commoner; the Lord becomes a servant, to serve you.

 

That is why He lies in the manger this night, and is not ashamed. He wants to be there. For although He cannot walk or talk yet, still He is serving, for He is fulfilling the promise given to Adam and Eve to be the One whose heel would come down on satans head. He is fulfilling the promise spoken to Abraham to be the One through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. He is fulfilling the promises made through Isaiah to be the One who would spring forth from death and live gain, bring light to the deep darkness of sin, and end the warfare between men and God.

 

And so the Son of God lies tonight in the manger, the son of Mary and given the name Jesus. He is not God in a human disguise or a human who will later become God - He is the Son of God in human flesh. In this baby, God has joined Himself permanently to you, that all that is yours be His, and all that is His be yours. He does not come to use your human flesh for a while and then cast it aside - for that would be to cast you aside. And that He will not do. No, He takes your human flesh, your human nature, to be His own, forever, that you may be His forever. That when He goes to the cross to die and then rise again, His death and resurrection be not just His death and resurrection, but yours. Your sin forgiven, your death conquered, your life assured.

 

This is the news the angels brought to the shepherds this night - the news that a Saviour had been born; the Christ, the promised Messiah, had been born; the LORD had been born. And the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw God in the lowest, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And what did they then do? They gave glory to God in the highest! Or, as we heard: And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

 

And as it was for the shepherds, so it is for you. For now it is you who behold God in the lowest by faith. For to you the Word has also been sent, to proclaim to you good tidings of great joy. And like the shepherds, you too have believed this Word, and have come to see your Saviour, your Christ, your LORD, who has come to serve you. To see in Him the very glory of God - now, in the manger; but finally, on the cross, where the most high Son of God descends to the very deepest depths of our sin and death. And thus seeing our God in the lowest, we give glory to God in the highest, who has loved us with this marvelous, mysterious love.

 

But how do we give glory to God in the highest? We do so not simply here in church, in our carols and hymns of praise. Rather, it is as St. John said to us tonight: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Or in other words, we give glory to God in the highest when we do as He did, and become the lowest. When we go to the lowest and least among us with the love and compassion that our Lord has brought to us. When, like our Lord, we are not ashamed of their lowness, their filth, their need, their mangers, but go and lie in them with them, and give ourselves to them.

 

Can you do that? Not on your own. But you are not on your own. For as we heard in the final reading for tonight, from St. Titus: when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us . . . by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. That is what has happened to you - the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. For your God in the highest has come to you in the lowest - first at Christmas, but then in the washing of Holy Baptism, and He is not only with you, but has changed you. You are not the same old sinner; in Christ, you are a new creation. In Christ, you are a son of God. In Christ, you are a Christian - a little Christ. And as He became the lowest, so will you. For His marvelous, mysterious love has been given to you and now lives in you. To enable you and strengthen you to love and serve and forgive others, and in so doing, give glory to God. To do so, like the shepherds, in your everyday life, wherever you go, to the people who come across your path. Serving God by serving them, who need your service. And how blessed we are to do so. For when we do so, there we are with Christ.

 

So tonight, look again to the manger, and marvel at this mystery. Rejoice in the goodness and love of God your Saviour. Give glory to God in the lowest; to your God wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger. For there is Gods peace on earth; there is Gods good will toward men; there is God for you.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.