"For unto us a child is born,
To us a son is given;
And the government shall be upon his shoulder,
And his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it
With justice and with righteousness
From this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this."
And the government shall be upon his shoulder. Yet, this child is born in a stable far away from his parents' home, because the government forced them to relocate to Bethlehem to be registered, so that the Caesar could tax them. It certainly doesn't look like the government is upon this little boy's shoulder. Jesus isn't born in a palace nor even in a great city. And at no point in his life does he even rule a square mile of land to call his kingdom. And Caesar Augustus likely lived and died without even knowing that this Prince was born in the City of David.
So, what does it mean that the government would be upon Christ's shoulder and that his kingdom would be established forever? It sure doesn't look like a mighty kingdom! Well, it isn't an earthly government, as Jesus, himself, said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." That little baby in the manger has not come to threaten Caesar's reign or even King Herod, who illegitimately sits on David's throne. Jesus has not come to establish an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly kingdom. He has not come to displace physical rulers, but to displace the ruler of this world, Satan, to destroy his kingdom and establish a spiritual kingdom in its place.
A spiritual government is much different than the physical governments we are used to dealing with. Yet, when we speak of God's kingdom being different from earthly kingdoms, we are not saying that God has nothing to do with earthly rule. Rather, every ruler on earth is God's servant. Caesar and Herod, Trump and Putin, even Kim Jong Un. All governments, both good and evil, are God's servants to do good. God established earthly government to curb evil. That is why God has given government authority to punish criminals and to tax. This means that when governments punish criminals, protect their citizens, and carry out justice fairly they are doing their God given duty. However, governments often go beyond their God given duty and abuse their power. Nevertheless, they are God's servants to do what is good.
Jesus does have authority over all the kingdoms of this world, but he has not come to deal with this side of his authority. First of all, all earthly governments are temporary. Had sin not entered the world, God would not have established earthly governments. And since sin will be eradicated once and for all, no earthly kingdom will last forever. The governments of this world do not deal with eternity. The goal of any government is to secure temporary peace. The government's obligation to you is to protect you and your property from criminals and provide justice when crimes are committed. The government does not, however, promise to keep you alive forever. Nor does the government preach the Gospel to you or have any control over your life after death. The government's obligation to you ends once you die.
Not so with Christ's government! There will be no end to Jesus' government. This doesn't just mean that Jesus' rule will endure as each generation passes away, but Jesus will continue to govern even the dead! And so, Jesus has no dealings with the earthly governments even as he comes to establish his own. All these earthly governments will pass away at the appointed time. Christ's government will continue forever.
And so, Jesus does not go to war with our physical enemies or over throw earthly kings. Rather, Jesus wars against our spiritual enemies: sin, death and the devil. And this leads us to another major difference between Christ's spiritual government and earthly governments. Governments here on earth take. They tax, confiscate property, send your sons (and if possible, even your daughters!) off to war. Jesus, however, gives. He doesn't take anything from us, except our sins. He doesn't tax us or make us his slaves. Rather, he comes and serves us in a way no earthly ruler ever would or could.
St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson that we are "waiting for the appearing of the glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession..." The child born is a human being, just like us. Yet, this Son given to us is also our Mighty God. His coming as a baby in a manger glorifies God. That is why the angels sing, "Glory to God in the highest." An earthly king is glorified when his army wins a major battle or if his congress can pass a tax plan. Our God is glorified when God the son reclines in a manger as a little baby.
This glorifies God more than any victory on a battle field could, because this is how God wins the spiritual battle for us. Sin has condemned all mankind. None has escaped sin's poison dart. We are all guilty and deserve God's wrath. We must be punished. So, our God comes and joins our human race. This baby will not grow up to be a mighty prince, but to be a sacrificial victim. He gives himself to redeem us. He took on our human flesh and blood, so that he could give his flesh over to be scourged and his blood to be shed on our behalf. This is why it is so important for all Christians to celebrate Christmas! For us to escape hell, our God needed to give himself for us! And he did! Sleeping in that manger is the only being, who can pay the ransom price for our sins! He is a human being, just like us! This means he is able to live under the Law, which accuses us of sin. This means he is able to die a human death. Yet, he is forever without sin. So, he does not die for his own trespasses, but for ours. And he is the mighty God. This means his death is not merely the death of a good man, but the death of God. Now you see the scale rise. What amount of heinous sins could be measured against the death of God?!
And this is why the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes remains no threat to the governments of Caesar and Herod, yet he sends Satan and his demonic legions fleeing for the hills. He comes to stop God's Law itself from condemning us! This little baby conquers our spiritual enemies by means of his own blood, the only blood that is both human and divine by the mystery of Christ's two natures united in one Person.
Our Prince of Peace purifies for himself a people for his own possession. We, who have received this child in faith are that people. We are the citizens of Christ's heavenly kingdom even now as we live here on earth! We hear often how we are heirs of eternal life and of the kingdom of heaven, which we are. Yet here, the Holy Spirit makes clear through the Apostle Paul that we are Christ's inheritance. We are his special people, which he has redeemed for himself by giving himself as the redemption price! As Jesus himself says in John 10, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." (vss. 27-28) You are Jesus' inheritance. Jesus will not lose his inheritance. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.
Now Jesus bringing a spiritual kingdom has thrown many people off. It's easy to find an earthly kingdom. How do you find a spiritual kingdom? The angel told the shepherds, "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." That is how they knew how to find the Prince of Peace and how to recognize this Spiritual Government, which has come to rule their hearts. But what sign should we mark? How do we know how to recognize God's Kingdom?
In Luther's Small Catechism you learned, "How does God's kingdom come? God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity." We recognize where God's kingdom is here on earth by recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit through God's Word. How did the shepherds become citizens of the baby Christ's kingdom? They believed the words spoken by the angels concerning Christ. This is the only way you can become a citizen of heaven, through faith in God's Word.
So what signs has God given us? Well, there is Baptism, water and the word. Not only does Jesus command that all nations be baptized, but he promises that it saves, gives rebirth, and washes away sins. So, just as the angel says, "This will be a sign for you, you will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger," so our Lord says to us, "This will be a sign for you, you will find me in Baptism." And through remembrance of our Baptism, we know that Christ fights for us. Christ gave us the Sacrament of his body and blood to eat and drink. This will be a sign for you, our Lord says, you will find me wrapped in bread and wine, given to you to eat and to drink. Here we receive the fruit of Christ's cross, the food meant for the citizens of his spiritual kingdom.
And so, Jesus' kingdom comes to us today very similarly to how it came to the shepherds that night. The shepherds heard a sermon of good news, the Gospel, from the angel. And then they heard a hymn sung to God by the choir of angels. Then they followed the signs to see Jesus. And so, in church today, we hear a sermon of good news, the Gospel of salvation through Jesus, we sing hymns to God (even the same hymn as the angels sang), and we follow the signs to our Savior.
Jesus continues to rule his kingdom. Yet,he does this through his Word and Sacraments. Jesus doesn't rule from the outside by means of force. Rather, he rules your very heart by making his dwelling there through faith. The shepherds weren't compelled by force to bow down to Jesus as their king. They ran to him with haste, because they believed the message of the angels. Jesus became their Prince of Peace through faith. And through that same faith he governs our hearts by forgiving our sins and giving his Holy Spirit to us without measure.
Let us pray:
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled,
A quiet chamber set apart
For you to dwell within my heart.