The Incarnation of our Lord is a glorious and essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Christ would have this doctrine sustain your faith against the untiring fury of the evil one. And so we need to take great care not to over-sentimentalize our Lord’s birth or only consider it once per year in the context of Charlie Brown Christmas specials. This doctrine is a constant armor against sin and the forces of hell.
And though the Bible testifies to their reality, few people today believe in such things. That’s why the Church has fallen so low on the list of priorities. Anyone who takes sin and hell seriously will realize the urgency of their being in the Lord’s house. You have an illness unto death, and Christ is your only medicine. Don’t leave it to the faithful few to try to keep the doors open. They can’t do it forever, and you need the Gospel as badly as they. Satan is as real as the pain and sorrow he causes.
The Incarnation, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, is the doctrine upon which our faith is grounded. There is nothing more salutary in this life than for you to carry the Incarnation with you wherever you go: to drink of it deeply and often in the Lord’s house, and to constantly ponder the mystery of God in the flesh for you.
Moses was so concerned with this that he commanded the Israelites to literally write God’s Word on their forehead. Today, you might carry a hymnal with you or look up good hymns like, “O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger is” on your smartphone. Rock out to them in study hall or in the car or wherever you go. Technology has its salutary uses, if only you’ll employ them.
We do well to carry the Incarnation with us at all times, not just during the twelve days of Christmas, or worse, only on Christmas Day. The doctrine of the Incarnation and its hymns belong to the entire Church year and marks the entirety of the Christian life. This is why we sing the Gloria in Excelsis, the hymn the angels, all year round, even during summer. The ghettoization of certain hymns to certain seasons has been most unfortunate, but we won’t stand for that.
St. Luke’s account of our Lord’s birth divides into two parts. There’s the actual birth, chock full of historical detail, and then the proclamation of the Christmas Gospel from the angels to the shepherds. Tonight we consider the first part, the account of our Lord’s birth.
Jesus came into the world much in the same way He left it. His life was marked by disdain and the world’s rejection. He lacked the usual necessities for the birth of even a beggar, much less a King. He was born in a strange place, without a home, in the cold winter night. We live in a world that’s more hostile toward this Child than it is to lions and bears.[i]
Consider the treatment the world gives to those it deems important, to celebrities or the royal family, when they have children. Millions of dollars are paid and dignitaries visit. The photos are everywhere. Our Lord couldn’t even get a room at the inn. In the eyes of the world, Jesus is less than a nobody. He’s an enemy, to be denied basic human necessities and actively persecuted.
And though there was tremendous pressure for Him to do so, Jesus didn’t meddle in the affairs of the world. He didn’t come seeking Caesar’s throne or come with a political agenda. He didn’t get His family an exemption from the census or paying taxes. Christ is a King, but from His birth onward He demonstrated that His Kingdom is not of this world.
Our home is no more in this world than it was for Christ. We eat, drink, and work in the world, as did our Lord, but we do so as pilgrims and strangers, as guests in a lodging place. St. Paul writes:
“The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”[ii]
In other words, a Christian’s purpose and goal isn’t life on earth, to marry and be given in marriage, to eat, drink, be clothed, to buy and sell—though, like a guest for an hour or two, these things satisfy life’s need and are good gifts from God. But they’re not the point of life. We enjoy them, even as we pursue another goal which endures beyond the grave.[iii] If you don’t, you’ll lose both.
The goal of the Christian life is not peace and comfort on earth, nice homes, wealth, power, and respect—none of which our Lord had. The world doesn’t care whether you die a blessed death or come to everlasting life, nor can it help you with these things.
The Christian’s purpose and goal is to abide with Christ and the communion of saints in the fellowship of His Church now and for all eternity. Above all, the Christian desires that which Jesus purchased at the expense of His death: the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.[iv] As we sing in the hymn:
What is the world to me
With all its vaunted pleasure?
When You, and You alone,
Lord Jesus are my treasure!
You only, dearest Lord,
My soul’s delight shall be;
You are my peace, my rest.
What is the world to me!
Soli Deo Gloria
[i] Luther, sermon for Holy Christmas Day, 101 (1532)
[ii] 1 Corinthians 7:29–31
[iii] Luther, 103
[iv] Luther, 103
Art: Joseph Brickley, “No Room in the Inn”