Is this a true story? Was Jesus really born in Bethlehem to a virgin mother? Is Jesus an historical person like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? Many ask themselves these questions and answer, “no.” They’ll object that very little is written about Jesus during the time he supposedly walked on this earth apart from the Gospels, and well, you can’t really take the Gospels seriously, can you? After all, they are filled with miracles and wonders and were written by religious fanatics!
Yet, why can’t you take the Gospels of the New Testament seriously? Are they really ahistorical legends? Well, let’s consider them. Four different individuals wrote four different yet complimentary and corroborating accounts about the life of Christ. They give dates, locations, names, list additional witnesses, everything you would desire from an historical report. The Gospel of Luke especially fits this description. Written by a physician named Luke, a companion of Saint Paul and other disciples of Jesus, Luke goes to extraordinary lengths to write a faithful account of what he has seen and heard. The Gospel begins:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
In other words, Luke did his research. He interviewed eyewitnesses, recorded their testimonies, compared his notes with others, and wrote a narrative which agrees with other writings of the same events and which was accepted by those who witnessed these events. Luke is meticulous in his writing, telling us this happened when a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Who, what, where, when; he answers all relevant questions. Humanly speaking, there is no reason to doubt what St. Luke writes in his Gospel concerning what we just heard tonight except for a bias against the supernatural; a virgin conceiving and giving birth and angels appearing before shepherds. If not for these supernatural events, Luke and the other Gospels would be accepted as the finest historical documents of their age.
Yet, there is much more reason why we, who have stifled our natural bias against the supernatural, should accept what was read tonight besides the fact that Luke followed the highest standards of historical research. Listen to how Luke’s Gospel relates to the prophecies of Isaiah.
Isaiah says in his 9th chapter, “For to 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 forever more. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” Compare these words with what the angel said to Mary when he told her she would conceive the Savior, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. 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.” (Luke 1:31-33)
Mary asks the angel how this can be since she is a virgin echoing back to the saying of Isaiah in chapter 7, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Of course, King Ahaz never saw this sign. Rather, 700 years afterward the angel said to the shepherds out in the fields outside of Bethlehem, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12) It was fitting that the angel announced this sign to shepherds outside the city of David, since David himself was a shepherd in those same fields, and it was to him God promised that he would set his son on his throne forever, referring to the Christ (2 Samuel 7:12-16). It is also fitting that the whole company of angels celebrated the birth of this Prince of Peace by singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace good will toward men.”
These are just a few examples of how the Gospels fit together with the prophecies of the Old Testament like pieces in a puzzle. Indeed, there would not be enough time between now and the return of Christ for us to discuss sufficiently all the prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled in the New by Jesus. And this is why we should regard what we have heard tonight so highly. The reason the Gospel of Luke fits so well with the writings of the Old Testament is not simply because Luke was such a brilliant scholar. It is because Isaiah and Luke have the same author, although they were written over seven hundred years apart by two different men. The Holy Spirit himself is the author of every book of the Bible.
Scripture is reliable, because it was caused to be written by God himself. Indeed, the Bible is the word of God. This means that we should regard what we have heard tonight from St. Luke’s Gospel with as much certainty as the Shepherds did the words of the angels on that holy night.
Not only does this teach us that the Scriptures are reliable, but this tells us to whom they are written. That the Holy Spirit caused these words from St. Luke to be written to be passed down generation after generation, means that they were written for us. It is as St. John wrote in his Gospel, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) This means that the words of the angels, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” are not words only for the shepherds, but for you, and me, and indeed all people. Jesus is our Savior.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel the angel told Joseph that the child’s name will be Jesus, which means the LORD saves, because “he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus saves us from our sins. Indeed, Jesus only came to save sinners. For Jesus to be your Savior, you must be a sinner. This doesn’t mean that you must go out and break God’s commandments in order for Christ to be your Savior. You do that enough already without putting any special effort into it. But this does mean that you must become aware of your sins. Jesus saves sinners. If you are not aware of your sins and that you need to be rescued from them, you will not understand what it means that Jesus is your Savior. And you will not be able to welcome him as your Savior. Yet, if you recognize that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness, the news that Jesus saves sinners is truly splendid. Jesus comes to save idolater, adulterers, liars, murderers, thieves, gossips, drunks, people who skip church, he comes to save them all. Jesus comes to save you.
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” the Prophet Isaiah writes. Who is us? Who is speaking these words? Having been given these words by the Holy Spirit, we do. Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. Jesus was born for us. This means that the following words apply to us as well.
“The government shall be upon his shoulder.” This is not an earthy government, which taxes and makes trade deals, fights wars and desperately clings to power. No, this is a heavenly government, one where Jesus rules with all authority. This government is not limited to national boundaries, rather, you are a citizen of this government when Christ rules your heart through faith in his word.
“His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor.” Jesus is our counselor. This means that he counsels us. We listen to his words and he guides us through this life as a shepherd guides his sheep with a rod and staff. He draws us to repentance, forgives our sins, and guides us in the path of righteousness.
“Mighty God.” Jesus is our God. This means we trust in him with all our heart, soul, and mind. We rely on him for all things. We trust that God will give us all good things for the sake of Jesus, who died for us. The greatest of these things is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
“Everlasting Father.” Jesus teaches us that if we have seen him, we have seen the Father. Scripture makes clear that the Father and the Son are two distinct persons in the holy Trinity and Jesus is God the Son. He is not God the Father. The Father was not born of the Virgin Mary nor did he die on the cross for your sins. Yet, Jesus is to us an everlasting Father. He provides for us eternally, as a father provides for his children and rules his household with honor.
“Prince of Peace.” Peace. That is the word proclaimed by the angels at Jesus’ birth. That is the word Jesus declared to his disciples when he rose from the dead. Peace. Not as the world gives. This is peace the world cannot understand, peace between God and man. This is peace that can only be won through the shedding of Jesus’ blood, which removes every stain of sin from our souls. The Prince of Peace does not win peace for us by conquering our enemies with bombs and missiles. Our real enemies cannot be conquered by such warfare. Christ Jesus conquers our enemies, sin, death, and hell by removing your sin from you, by giving you eternal life, and by making you a citizen of heaven.
The message of Christmas is for you. God caused it to be written for your benefit. In fact, all of Scripture applies to you and your life. Jesus was born for you. He is your Savior. And all of his words are written for your learning, so that you may grow in faith and confidence in your salvation. We celebrate tonight not just a story that happened long ago and far away. Tonight, we celebrate the Gospel truth that unto you is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Amen.