Christmas Celebrations Beyond Worldly Grandeur: The Divine Humility of Christ’s Birth

Wednesday 7:00 PM Advent - 12/20/2023 | Matthew 1, Luke 2

Christmas Celebrations throughout the Centuries

Christmas celebrations throughout the centuries have often centered around the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is typically characterized by grand pageantry and majestic splendor. However, the humble circumstances surrounding the arrival of the newborn infant Jesus were far from grand. Expecting parents Mary and Joseph were forced to seek shelter in a barn used for livestock. Their newborn lay in a bed made of a dirty, smelly trough.

A King-Size Bed Fit for a King

Several years ago, in the chapel of our school, I shared with the children the concept of a king-size bed that was truly fit for a king. I held up a manger filled with straw, but the children laughed and said, "Pastor, that's not a king's bed." 

They were right; it was not a bed fit for a king. After all, what self-respecting king or president would sleep in such humble conditions? We expect our rulers to have the finest accommodations, not to dwell among farm animals. Yet, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, lay in a meager manger as his bed.

The angels proclaimed to the astonished shepherds, "Today in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord has been born for you. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger." 

This event showcases the extraordinary love of God for humanity. The King of Heaven and Earth willingly subjected himself to the humble, uncomfortable, and ordinary circumstances of this fallen world, all to free us from the bondage of sin.

From Conception to Compliance

Emmanuel and the Encounter with Earthly Laws

As we have discussed in recent weeks, the life of this King, Emmanuel, God with us, did not simply begin at his birth like you and me. His human life began at the moment of conception in his mother's womb. 

That means that even in utero, the Son of God, the Son of Man, experienced the conditions of sinful humanity. In fact, even in the womb, this holy child took our place, not only in bearing the consequences of our sins but also in being subject to the law on our behalf.

What a law he encountered right from the beginning! The Son of God was subjected to the same tax laws that you and I must abide by. In utero, he embarked on a challenging 60-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, all because his mother and stepfather were obedient citizens who respected the rule of law and desired to honor God's command. According to the law, everyone had to return to their family's place of origin to be taxed.

For Joseph, as Mary's espoused husband, compliance with the law meant traveling to Bethlehem. Being a dutiful husband and father, he had to bring his family, who depended on his support, with him. It is important to note that obeying God's commandment to honor one's father and mother is not only significant but also imperative. From the moment of conception, the authority of the father is the foundation of all civil authority, whether one is in the womb or outside of it.

Divine Obedience and Salvation

The Prophetic Role of Joseph and the Son of God in Fulfilling the Law

Martin Luther aptly captured the essence of the fourth commandment in his Small Catechism: "We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents or other authorities but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them." 

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul reinforces the importance of obeying civil authority, including paying taxes, by stating that rebelling against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted. He emphasizes the need to give everyone their due, including taxes, revenue, respect, and honor.

By traveling to Bethlehem, Joseph honored God by obeying the civil authority, namely Caesar Augustus. Consequently, the incarnate Son of God in the womb of his mother also honored authority even before his birth. The Son of God, in the flesh, took our place under the law of God. This was necessary for Jesus to become our Savior.

Similar to our ancestor Adam, you and I have never been able to perfectly keep the fourth commandment or any other law of God. Consequently, we have incurred God's righteous judgment. To free us from the condemnation of the law, we need someone who can stand in our place and perfectly fulfill the entirety of God's law for us. The Son of God became that person when he took on human form in Mary's womb.

The Incarnate Fulfillment: Jesus, Our Righteousness

As the Apostle Paul states, "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." Isn't it remarkable? 

God entered the womb to fulfill the law on our behalf. This lifts a tremendous burden from our shoulders. Our salvation does not depend on our ability to keep the law. If that were the case, we would be doomed from the start because, in our sinful condition inherited from Adam, we are utterly incapable of fully keeping even one law, let alone the entire law.

Moreover, if our entrance into heaven depended on how well we kept the law, the Son of God would never have needed to come in utero. He would not have needed to become human and fulfill the law on our behalf. Fortunately, the Son of God came in utero to become one of us, enabling him to perfectly fulfill the demands of the law in our place.

Thank God for what the Holy Scripture proclaims: "For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience we may be made righteous. As sin reigned in death, so grace also might reign through righteousness, leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord."

Bethlehem: Birthplace and Prophecy

Furthermore, Luke's account reveals that by journeying to Bethlehem, the holy child fulfilled not only the law but also the prophecy about the Messiah. Bethlehem was not an insignificant place in the Roman Empire. Luke underscores that Bethlehem is the city of David, the birthplace of a great king. Joseph, being from Bethlehem, was a descendant of David. 

According to the genealogy presented in Matthew, Joseph was a direct descendant of David through his son Solomon. This lineage entitled Joseph to claim the throne of Israel. Jesus, therefore, was a son of David, fulfilling the prophecy of Micah, who had prophesied centuries earlier that the ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem.

Who but the Son of God, under the demands of the law, could fulfill this prophecy? The King of Kings, still in utero, was prepared to make His grand entrance in Bethlehem. It was a fitting birthplace for the one who became incarnate to take our place and remove the burden and curse of the law from us. 

The Living Bread From Heaven

Interestingly, Bethlehem means "House of Bread." Jesus later referred to himself as "the living bread that came down from heaven." He said, "If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." 

Was it a mere coincidence that he was born in Bethlehem, the house of bread? From the womb to the grave, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the demands of the law on our behalf, enabling us to be righteous and obtain eternal life. He also removed the condemnation we rightly deserve.

Jesus, the life-giving bread, willingly took our place under God's wrath to fully atone for every sin, every wicked thought, and every wicked deed among us. He made complete atonement. As Scripture declares, "He redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'"

Celebrating Christmas Beyond Worldly Grandeur

Therefore, fellow redeemed in Christ, our Christmas celebration should not focus solely on worldly grandeur. Thanks to God, he came in utero to fulfill the law and bear its condemnation, allowing us to dwell in eternal glory at the right hand of God. 

This truth enables us to have a joyful and meaningful Christmas. In the name of Jesus and through his glorious work. Amen.

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