“God’s Christmas Gift to Everyone”
(Luke 2:1-20 – Christmas Eve – December 24, 2018)
Have you ever bought a Christmas gift, wrapped it up, and wrote on the outside: “To Everyone”? How do you get a gift that will be good for everyone? Certain gifts may not work so well. Imagine Mom getting all the kids a single article of clothing that said, “One size fits all.” They might all be able to try it on, but not everyone can wear it at the same time, nor might they all want to use it, for that matter. Or imagine Dad presenting a huge gift “To the family”; and when the wrapping comes off, there sits a brand new table saw for the shop! True, it may benefit others indirectly down the line; but really, Dad is the one is will use it the most. Certainly, there are good gifts that can be given with the label: “To everyone.” It’s hard to go wrong with certain kinds of food, entertainment, or household items. But it can take some careful planning, as we think of getting a gift that everyone will actually use and benefit from.
In the familiar account in Luke 2, we hear of “God’s Christmas Gift to Everyone.” We see that, in order to give the perfect gift that would truly benefit everyone – not just in a single household, but in the whole world – 1) God carefully planned and gave His gift. Then, when His gift was presented that first Christmas, 2) His angels announced that it was a gift for all people. Therefore, like the shepherds and Mary, we see that 3) It is a gift for us to treasure and share joyfully with everyone. Of course, this gift from God at Christmas is the gift of His own Son – born to be our Savior, born to be everyone’s Savior.
1) God carefully planned and gave His gift
When we say that God carefully planned and gave His gift, we mean that from His perspective in eternity, He foresaw our greatest need for the gift of a Savior. He knew how our first parents, Adam and Eve, would fall from their created state of perfection and fellowship with God into the temptation of Satan. He foresaw how we, as offspring of their sinful flesh, would also dwell in a fallen state, under the dominion of Satan and death. So in His infinite wisdom and love, God planned just the gift we needed. As He promised Adam Eve, He would send a Savior as the offspring of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Then in time, He gave that gift – His own Son, born in our flesh to redeem us from sin, Satan, and death.
As our text begins we see that, as part of carrying out His eternal plan, God used worldly government. We read in verses 1-3: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.” Humanly speaking, Caesar’s plan was to register everyone in the Roman Empire in a census, for the purpose of taxing the people. But God’s plan was that His Son would be born at the right place, at the right time.
For among those who had to register were Joseph and Mary. The Jews registered in the hometown of their ancestors. So we read in verses 4-5: “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”
In this way, God was bringing about the fulfillment of His prophecy in Micah 5:2, that had foretold the place of the Savior’s birth: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”
Already nine months before, God had revealed His plan to these descendants of David, about the special Child to be born. The angel Gabriel had announced to Mary: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” When Mary asked, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” the angel replied: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:31-35).
In this, God was also keeping His promise to David long before, that His own eternal Son would be born as a Son of David, to rule an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-13; Psalm 2). And as God had revealed through the prophet Isaiah, this Son would be born of a virgin; and His name would be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).
Therefore according to God’s plan, Joseph and Mary arrived at Bethlehem, the city of David, so that His Son would be born at the right place, and at the right time. We read in verses 6-7: “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Here we see how God gave the gift of His Son in a most humble way. At first glance, it might have appeared that things were out of God’s control. Heaven’s King was not born in Jerusalem in a king’s palace, surrounded by all the luxuries and comforts of royalty. He was born out here in a tiny out-of-the-way town of Bethlehem. And since there wasn’t even room in the inn because of many people traveling for the census, heaven’s King was actually born out back in an animal stall. And after the umbilical cord was cut, He was laid in a feeding trough for animals for His bed. There was no room for heaven’s King among this world’s finest.
But this too was according to God’s plan, as prophesied in Isaiah 53:2: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him.” Yet, how fitting were the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth, when we consider the purpose of His coming. For “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).
From His eternal perspective and His infinite wisdom and love, God knew this was the only gift that would truly benefit everyone in this fallen world, including you and me. No mere man could have made up for our sins or taken them away; only God’s Son in our flesh could. By His perfect obedience, Jesus alone could fulfill God’s Law for all people. His innocent suffering and death, and His blood shed on the cross, was worthy pay for the sins of all people. Through faith in His Son, God planned to make you and me His redeemed, restored, and forgiven children.
So it was that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
2) His angels announced that it was a gift for all people
So God carefully planned and gave His gift that first Christmas. The Incarnation of His eternal Son in our flesh is the greatest miracle in history. Such a heaven-sent gift could not be kept hidden. Therefore secondly, God sent His angel to announce that His gift was for all people.
We read in verses 8-9: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” We can understand that fear. When the glory of the Lord shines around the sinner, what a great contrast there is between that which is pure and holy and that which is corrupted by sin and guilt. And the Bible tells us that “Fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18).
Yet, God had not sent His Son to judge the world, but to save sinners (John 12:47). So we read in verses 10-12: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” The good tidings of great joy is that the Christ Child is God’s Christmas gift to all. He was born for you and me. He removes our fear before the holy God; for He removes all our sin. As the hymn says (“All My Heart Sings and Rejoices”):
Shall we still dread God’s displeasure,
Who, to save, Freely gave His most cherished Treasure?
To redeem us, He hath given
His own Son From the throne Of His might in heaven.
At this wonder of wonders, as the glory of God was manifested so humbly and lovingly, all of heaven rejoiced. We read in verses 13-14: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” As the angels sang this song of glory to God, they were looking with wonder upon the face of their eternal King, who now lay in the manger as a Baby. Colossians 2:9 says of Christ: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”
But above all, the angels rejoiced to see God’s gracious gift of salvation given to sinners. That peace on earth of which they sang was not merely political peace or good will among men. It is the spiritual and eternal peace between God and sinners, which this Christ Child would win for us by His blood. It is God’s good will toward men, as He looks on us through the perfect merits of His Son as our Savior.
Therefore, “Glory to God in the highest!” That heavenly song of great joy becomes our own, as we take to heart this good news – that God’s gift of salvation and eternal life in Christ is for everyone, and it is for you and me personally!
3) It is a gift for us to treasure and share joyfully with everyone
And finally, it is a gift for us to treasure and share joyfully with everyone.
We read in verses 15-16: “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” The shepherds took the Lord at His Word and went to find Jesus. They looked for that sign the angels told them about where they would find the Savior, and they saw the “Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
So also, you and I are directed to find our Savior where He promises to be present for us today – in His Word and Sacraments. Through these means of grace, Jesus comes to us, as it were, wrapped in swaddling clothes of humility. Yet He is present with all His saving power as Immanuel – God with us – here to give us personally His gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
We read in verses 17-20: “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
Likewise, as we gather around God’s Son, born to be our Savior, He fills our hearts with faith and joy. His Spirit brings us like Mary to treasure His gift of salvation and ponder His Word in our hearts each day. He leads us like the shepherds to worship Him who is the Good Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, and to entrust our lives to Him (1 Peter 2:25). Then, having seen our Savior with the eyes of faith, we are led to glorify and praise God, and share His gift of salvation.
As we plan and give our gifts this Christmas, isn’t it good to know that we have the perfect gift for everyone, the gift God Himself planned for us from eternity and gave just the right way? It is the gift that truly benefits all who receive it. Let us join the angels in sharing the good news of great joy: “For unto you is born this day… a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forevermore. Amen.