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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus


Christmas Eve

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Matt. 1:18-25

In a beautiful mansion, high up in a pine-covered mountain, a father and daughter have just finished a very serious conversation. Standing in the center of a bright room with windows all around, they look tired – like they’ve just finished carrying a heavy load up a steep flight of stairs.

The daughter, who’s in her early teens, breathes a deep sigh and gives her father a hug. Her long hair shines in the bright light. Her face radiates warmth and joy. She’s wearing a simple white dress with brightly-colored roses embroidered on it. Around her neck hangs a string of perfect pearls.

The father wipes a tear from his cheek as he says goodbye, and he sends his daughter away. She turns and leaves the house, and gets into a limousine. The chauffeur starts the car and begins driving down a long, twisting road to the valley below.

After driving for many miles, the car enters a large city, heads straight for the ghetto, and stops in front of a vacant, vandalized apartment building. The chauffeur opens the car door and lets the girl out, says a polite goodbye, and drives away.

The young girl stares at the building in front of her. Its windows are boarded up. The yard, the porch, and the sidewalk are all strewn with garbage and broken glass. She shudders, takes a deep breath, and climbs the creaking stairs. On the door she reads a notice: “Warning – This Building Has Been Condemned.”

She steps inside and closes the door behind he. She waits a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness – and then she walks into the kitchen. There, among the broken dishes and other debris, a half-dozen rats are rummaging for food. The girl shudders again, and then sits down on the floor, and waits.

Slowly, the bright beauty fades from her face – from her whole body. She bows her head. Her dress and her pearls lose their luster. Gradually her form grows smaller and smaller – and then changes completely, until – until, in the middle of the kitchen floor, another rat stirs as if awakening from a deep sleep.

Is this the script for a horror movie? Not really! It’s a story from a lesson on the 2nd Article of the Apostles Creed, in one of our Confirmation lesson books “Called to Belong,” from Concordia Publishing House.

A human being turns into a rat? Who could do it? Who would want to do it?? Some people ask similar questions about Jesus Christ. Did God really become a man? Was that man really God?

And Gabriel said to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” Jesus Christ, born of a woman, a true man; a man who got hungry and thirsty, and slept and wept, and needed help to carry His cross; a man who died.

And Gabriel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called Holy, the Son of God.” Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit – true God: the Word who was God become flesh, as John put it, the creator of everything there is, becoming a creature; the Son of God incarnate (that is, in the flesh) taking on a true human nature at His birth; God, who for 33 years emptied Himself and did not use the divine powers He had as God, except for occasional miracles.

And since His resurrection, Jesus continues as true man and true God. As Isaiah prophesied, “Unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given.”

God becoming a human being? He could do it alright, but why would He want to? You think my story of a beautiful girl turning into a rat was gross? God the creator becoming man the creature was a much greater “come down.” To make the story more comparable, maybe the girl should turn into a cockroach, or an ant, or an amoeba!

Just think: God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, becoming one of us! Why did He do it? That’s a big question, isn’t it? But it has a simple answer – one word really – Love! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” A simple answer maybe, but a love so deep, so profound, that we can only marvel at it.

For God looked down at His creation and saw people condemned, separated from Him, lost, wandering around like sheep without a shepherd. And because of His love for us sinners, He came to be one of us – to be the Good Shepherd, to lead us back to our Heavenly Father. That’s the story of Christmas!

A number of years ago I heard Paul Harvey tell a story of Christmas, as only he can tell a story. It was Christmas Eve, he said, and a family was getting ready to go to church. All but the father, that is. He said that the mother and children should go on without him, that he’d finish the decorating and cleaning up while they were gone. (Actually, he didn’t see what was such a big deal about going to church Christmas Eve anyway!)

Well, a little while after they left, he heard a “thump” against a front window. “Probably some kid throwing a snowball” he thought. But a minute later, he heard another “thump” against the window. “I’ll put a stop to that,” he said, and went out the front door.

But he was amazed when he saw what had caused the thumps. Two birds lay dead with broken necks below the window, and a whole flock of birds were flying wildly around! A storm had come up unexpectedly – and the wind and snow was blowing round and round – and the birds were caught in it, frantically looking for a safe place.

And while he watched, a third bird tried to fly through the window and was killed. “This is awful,” he thought, ‘they’ll all be killed if I don’t do something.” So he ran to his garage, opened the big door, and turned on the light. But they didn’t go in! So he tried to shoo them in, yelling “Go in the garage – you’ll be safe in there!” But they just flew around all the more!

Then he had another idea. “I’ll coax them in”, he thought. And he grabbed a loaf of bread and ran to the garage and started tearing it up and calling to the birds to come in out of the storm before they all perished! But they wouldn’t come to him!

“What am I going to do? How can I save these birds? If only I could be a bird for a little while, maybe I could lead them to safety!” What a crazy thought! Dumb birds!... And just then he heard the church bells ringing. It was midnight – it was Christmas! And then it hit him! “What I’ve been trying to do with these birds is what god’s been trying to do with us. And when we didn’t respond, He came to be one of us, to lead us to our Father in Heaven. And I’ve been too dumb to see it!”

Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. True God and true man. Come out of love to save people – people who are like sheep without a shepherd, like birds in a blizzard.

So what’s our response going to be? How are we going to react to the Good News that god so loved the world that He sent His only Son? Well, we could keep it to ourselves. Or we could have courage like Mary had, and be willing to share the Good News with others. In fact, we could tell about Mary, maybe something like this…

Look at Mary! The angel told her she was going to have a baby and she wasn’t even married! “How shall this be?” she asked, “I don’t have a husband!” And the angel told her not to worry, that God would be the Father.

Now she may have thought, “Who’ll believe that? My father? Joseph? The neighbors? The religious leaders? My reputation might be ruined! I might be disowned! My fiancé might leave me! I might even be stoned to death as an adulteress!! How shall this be?”

Do you ever have questions like that? Do you ever have pressures to conform to the world around you? Do you ever have plans that get upset by illness, or death, or by other people letting you down? Do you ever find yourself full of questions?

Well, Mary had faith in a great God, and she surrendered her reputation to God’s will. And she did have a Son who was hers – and God’s – a Son who has the answers to our questions.

You ask, “How do I know that’s true?” I know because of His life and teachings – because of His death and resurrection – because of His ascension into Heaven to prepare a place for us.

Would you like to hear about those things? Well, that’s the rest of the story!


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