December 29, 2019
Merry Christmas! Christmas is such a joyful time, is it not? This month I read Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. When the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Ebenezer Scrooge through the streets on Christmas Day, although the frost is biting hard on people’s noses as they shovel their walks, everyone is gleeful and they greet one another with friendly hellos and Merry Christmases. And you know, that’s not too far off from reality. Everyone I saw on Christmas Day was smiling. I talked to a number of friends and family on the phone to exchange Christmas greetings. Everyone was gay and merry; full of good cheer.
What is it about Christmas that makes us so merry? Perhaps it’s that after all the hustling and bustling we finally get to take a breath and enjoy time with our loved ones. Maybe it’s that at this dark time of the year, we have something to celebrate and the days will only get longer. Perhaps it’s the songs. Perhaps it’s the treats. But we Christians have something to be merry about that exceeds all these things and predates even Christmas trees and Jingle Bells.
Over two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, an old man and an old lady give Christmas greetings. They are unusually happy. Why are they so merry? It’s Christmas! Christ Jesus is born! For this they rejoice. And why are they so happy that this baby is born? Are they just making up an excuse to celebrate during the cold winter nights, to take time off work and get together with friends? No. They are celebrating, because the birth of this baby does great good for many more people than for just his parents, or even for his tribe or nation. The birth of this child, Jesus, does great good for the whole world.
Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, because that is what the Law of the Lord commanded. The Law said that every male who first opens the womb shall be consecrated as holy to the Lord. The people of Israel were commanded to present their first-born sons to the Lord, and sacrifice all the first-born male of their livestock throughout all their generations. God commanded this in order to prophecy that he would send his First-Born Son to die for the sins of his people.
God commanded his people to do this. Yet, as many of their sons as they presented to the Lord, and as many of their livestock that they slaughtered in obedience; it never accomplished their redemption. The blood of the animals could not wash away their sins. And all of the sons presented before the Lord were sinners. They served only as a shadow; a sign of the real thing. But none of them were the real thing.
There was indeed a sign of a promise in the command God gave his people, but only a sign. As long as it remained a command, his people never fulfilled it. It remained a burden for them. This command made them slaves. But now, the fulness of time has come! God sent forth his own Son! Born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons! This is a great statement from St. Paul, and it is exactly what Simeon and Anna are realizing as they see Jesus being carried into the temple by his mother and foster-father.
The Son of God is born of God from eternity. He is eternally begotten, meaning, he has always existed with the Father. There never was a time when he was not! Yet, now this Son of God, this first-born of God from all eternity, has taken on a second birth. His first birth was outside of time and space. He is begotten from eternity. Yet, his second birth happened on a particular day, in a particular town, namely Bethlehem, to a particular woman.
We are all born of a woman. Every single one of us has a mother. That means that every single one of us is born under the Law. Now, the Law can be split up into three parts: the civil, the ceremonial, and the moral. The civil law refers to the authority of the state. Israel was a state, a nation that had rules that governed its citizens, but not those outside of its borders. The ceremonial law refers to the laws surrounding worship, which God commanded through Moses to govern the people of Israel. This included the laws concerning circumcision, sacrifices, and festivals. The ceremonial laws ruled the worship life of the Israelites and served to point them to the coming of the Christ. Yet, those outside the people of Israel were not required to keep these ceremonial laws.
The moral law rules over everyone, whether you are of the house of Israel or not. The moral law can be summed up in the Ten Commandments. They teach you what is right and wrong. You should have no other Gods than the LORD God. Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder or comit adultery or steal. This law rules over even those, who do not know their Ten Commandments, because Scripture says that this law is written on people’s hearts. Their consciences themselves testify against them when they do wrong. And even if their consciences remain quiet, God remains the judge.
When Scripture says that God’s Son was born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the Law; Scripture is saying that Jesus was born under the entire Law: civil, ceremonial, and moral. This means that Jesus came to redeem those who are under not just the civil law of Israel or the ceremonial law of the temple, but everyone who is under the moral law. Everyone who was born of a woman is born under the moral law. Everyone is judged by this law and condemned by it. Jesus was born under this law to save everyone, both Israelites and Gentiles.
This is why Simeon is so excited and filled with Christmas cheer! This is why Anna can’t help herself but go from person to person, essentially wishing them a Merry Christmas, by telling of the redemption of Israel. Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel, that is, the comfort of Israel. God promised that he would console Israel in her sorrow and burden under the Law. He promised that he would send forth a shoot from Jesse’s stem. Jesse was the father of David. Jesus was born in the city of David, because Joseph, his adoptive father was of the house and lineage of David. The Holy Spirit told Simeon directly that he would see this Christ, this anointed child, who would fulfill the entire law! And in this baby Jesus, who comes with his parents to perform the requirements of the Law, he sees this promised Christ, this promised consolation of Israel.
Jesus fulfilled the entire Law in our place. He fulfilled the civil law, by obeying all those in authority. He paid his taxes and obeyed the laws of the land. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law. From the time he was circumcised on the eighth day, Jesus followed all that God commanded. And Jesus obeyed the moral law. He loved God with his whole heart, soul, strength, and mind, as no other human ever could. And although he was God himself in the flesh, he submitted to his parents and did as they commanded him. He loved his neighbor. He helped those in need. He even prayed for his enemies. Jesus Christ is the only man born of woman, who completely and fully obeyed the Law.
And Jesus did this for your sake. Christ had no need to earn his way to heaven. He already owned the heavenly kingdom by divine right. He is the eternally begotten Son. Yet, Christ earned your way to heaven for you. And more than that; Christ Jesus is your redeemer. That means, he paid your debts. You have broken the commands of the Law. You have not loved God with all your heart, soul and mind. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself or loved your enemies. For this, you are indebted to the Law. The Law demands punishment. Yet Jesus fulfills even this!
You see, Jesus did not only observe the rites of the ceremonial law. He fulfilled the prophecies these ceremonies gave! Jesus is the first born of the Father! He is his only begotten Son from eternity! And here, he has opened the womb of the Virgin. None of the firstborn sons of Israel born before him could fulfill this prophecy. They all fell short. Jesus fulfills it. And Jesus fulfills the prophecy of that the first born would be sacrificed. He was sacrificed for our sins, paying our debts! Your debt incurred by your sin against the law is paid by Jesus Christ!
This is why Simeon rejoices. This is why Anna is filled with good cheer. Christ Jesus, born of the woman, has redeemed us, who are born under the law. He has removed our burden. He is God’s consolation sent down from heaven.
When we celebrate Jesus’ birth, we don’t just celebrate his birth, we celebrate our own birth. Jesus received a second birth of the woman, so that we might receive a second birth from above. Through faith and in baptism in Jesus Christ, we have received adoption as sons of God. All who believe on Jesus’ name are given the right to be called children of God, who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Simeon and Anna sing with Christmas cheer, because they have the right given to them through faith to call God their heavenly Father. When God listens to our voice, he listens to the voice of his children, whom he loves. Why wouldn’t we sing and make merry and rejoice at that?
We should greet each other with Christmas cheer. And we should spread this Christmas cheer past these twelve days and to all twelve months! Jesus is born! God’s own Son! And he came to redeem us! To save all people! All our sins are washed away. We are not slaves, but God’s dear children. We have the right to call upon him as our Father. And we have the joy of spreading this good cheer to others.
Merry Christmas! It is indeed merry! Amen.