4th Advent Sunday
December 24, 2017
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith — to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
“To God be the Glory…Forever! God’s Gospel Mystery Revealed:
1) ‘A Savior has been born’
2) ‘Good News for All People’
Dear Disciples of Jesus Christ, our eternal Savior,
What is a Christmas mystery? We might ask, “What is inside a beautifully wrapped present under the tree, a present with my name on the tag?” A gift is normally a mystery. Name tags tell us who gets a gift, but wrapping paper stops us from seeing what we are about to receive. Gift-givers know what is inside, but presents remains a mystery until we open our gifts. Unwrapping presents – now knowing what we have — we normally thank the giver, which is what Paul urges us to do today.
Gifts opened, we routinely put on our new clothes, play with new toys; start using new appliances – unless a gift remains a mystery. If I do not know what I have, even after it is unwrapped — for me it was a neatly folded, nicely hemmed rectangular piece of khaki cloth with a long tail my sister sent our first Christmas in Alabama — I simply offer a generic ‘thank you’ as I set it aside unused…until my sister sends directions for a “southern snow shovel” I was to soak with water & stick into the freezer until it is stiff (by which time any snow that might fall would have already melted). Told how to use my gift, it made some sense. No longer a mystery, this shovel might have even worked. But it never snowed that winter. This gift was not needed.
Paul does not, of course, refer to needlessly wrapped presents under a tree as he mentions a Christmas mystery. Encouraging us to give thanks; to glorify God forever for our very first Christmas present – a plainly wrapped baby boy Mary places in a Bethlehem manger – Paul highlights the gospel mystery, good news ‘about Jesus Christ,’ news ‘hidden for long ages past, but now revealed, now made known through prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God.’ What mystery is revealed as we unwrap God’s Christmas gift? Angels announcing Jesus’ birth uncover critical truths Paul will highlight for us: first, ‘a Savior has been born,’ secondly, ‘a Savior has been born for you;’ finally, God’s gift of a Savior is ‘good news for all people.’
Closing his letter to Roman Christians with a thankful word of praise – ‘to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!’ — Paul circles back where he began with an opening declaration, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’’[ROM 1] Paul’s pen gets personal, addresses us individually as well as collectively. Writing ‘To him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ,’ Paul would lead us to look beyond the universal truth Jesus is born as ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,’ to stress the individually applicable fact God sent Jesus ‘to establish you’ – to securely place you on the foundation of salvation, putting you in place as one of the ‘living stones’ comprising his holy Christian church – God sent Jesus to anchor your soul in Christ’s redeeming cross — to center your eternal trust in Jesus’ death winning forgiveness for our every sin as the Holy Spirit, working faith with the gospel, opens your heart’s eyes to see God the Son living, dying & triumphantly rising to deliver salvation for your soul.
With angels announcing, ‘Good news…a Savior has been born;’ with Paul recalling his ‘gospel proclamation about Jesus Christ,’ we would unwrap a major Christmas mystery: Who is this baby boy angels identify as our Savior? How will he ever redeem us? How will he re-route us from hell into heaven? Worldly minds still ask this critical ‘Christmas mystery’ question: What kind of baby boy can possibly substitute his heavenly holiness for my hell-heading guilt? When God gets ready to send my Savior into our world, a long hidden gospel mystery is revealed as we hear angel Gabriel explain to virgin Mary, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you; the power of the Most High will overshadow you…the holy one to be born will be the Son of God.’[LK 1] What is hidden from human eyes is clearly revealed to faithful souls as an angel of the Lord reassures Joseph, ‘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; you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.[MT 1]
What kind of baby boy can possibly substitute his holiness for my guilt? Immaculately conceived – not inheriting Adam’s original sin – God the Son, is born the Son of Man, the Son of Mary. ‘Born under the law to redeem those under the law’[GAL 4] – (a beautiful gospel truth we will touch more deeply tomorrow morning) – baby Jesus is not only obligated, but will now be able to perfectly fulfil the Lord’s law for us because he is human, as well as divine. Being true God from eternity; also being born true man at the perfect time, Jesus will be able & willing to die the death sin demands as our Substitute, our Savior. A major Christmas mystery, our Savior’s identity, is a mystery to us no more: Baby Jesus, Mary’s Son, is the Son of God – my Savior, your Savior! At his birth, gospel-singing angels, singing to you as if there were no one else in the room, are emphatic, ‘A Savior has been born for you! Christ the Lord!’
This mysterious, one-of-a-kind Christmas birth of a Savior brings us face to face with a second gospel mystery urging each of us to ask ourselves, as we hear the good news about Christ being born in Bethlehem so he can innocently die at Calvary to redeem me, “Why will a holy, just God judge me ‘righteous?’ Painfully aware of my own unworthiness; seeing & sensing my own life’s sinful disobedience better than anyone, I can only question, ‘Why will God declare me ‘forgiven?’ No longer an unsolvable mystery – although it remains illogical & unreasonable — Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem clearly illustrates; Jesus’ holy birth undeniably demonstrates for each one of us the fact ‘God so loved the world – God so graciously, undeservedly loved me – he gave his one & only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.’[JN 3] Again, at his birth, gospel-singing angels, singing to you as if there were no one else in the room, are emphatic, ‘A Savior has been born for you! Christ the Lord!’
Surprisingly, especially when this letter is written – Paul unwraps a final Christmas mystery for us this morning – the angel first appearing to shepherds outside Bethlehem announces right away, ‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…a Savior has been born for you.’ A Savior has been born for all people? Is Jesus for everyone? Absolutely, Paul exults, Jesus – your savior; my savior – Jesus is the one; the only Savior for every individual! Picture God wrapping Jesus in strips of cloth, laying him in a manger, like a loving parent wrapping a desperately needed Christmas present, placing it under our tree. Is your name on the gift tag? Yes, it is! But this tag attached to Jesus is not one name written on paper. This tag is like an electronic billboard where the message keeps changing. Reading this tag, the Holy Spirit shows you your name. Rejoice! Thank God! Jesus the Savior is sent for you! Keep reading this rotating tag. Reading the name of every family member, every friend, we have even more reason to rejoice; to glorify God. Jesus the Savior is sent for every soul I know! Truth be told, as we keep reading this rotating tag, seven billion, six hundred million different names will appear on this little Savior lying in a manger. God sent Jesus to redeem every individual living in our world today.
What a wonderful Christmas mystery God specifically reveals through the apostle Paul — his ‘gospel mystery hidden for long ages past but now revealed so all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith!’ Step back in time to better understand what God is unwrapping for his people. Ever since the Lord promises to give Abraham a special land; to make Abraham into a great nation – even more so as the Lord lays out his civil, ceremonial & moral laws for people Moses is leading out of Egypt’s slavery into their promised land — the Lord’s law intentionally builds a barrier between Jews & gentiles. God’s prophets, addressing Abraham’s Jewish descendants, almost appear to promise a Messiah – descended from David, ruling on David’s throne forever – almost appear to promise a Messiah only for David’s & Abraham’s Jewish descendants. But the fact is, Abraham is promised, ‘through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.’[GEN 22] The fact is, our Lord’s law invites non-Jews (like Syrian leper Naaman) to trust his promised Savior for their redemption. In fact, in Bethlehem, not only Jewish shepherds, but also eastern wise men worship the baby Jesus. In fact, the Holy Spirit will fill Gentiles hearing Peter preach Jesus’ saving truth in Cornelius’s house the same way he fills Jews hearing Peter preach the crucified but risen Christ on Pentecost. As God designates Paul his ‘chosen instrument to proclaim his name to the Gentiles,’[ACTS 9] all doubt is erased: Jesus’ life, death & resurrection (God’s good news) delivers salvation for Jews & for Gentiles (like me & you).
May the gospel’s Christmas mystery be a mystery no more! Who is; what is Mary’s Son, the Son of God? My Savior! Do I need a Savior to free me from sin’s guilt? Absolutely! Do we know how to use a Savior? God’s instructions are clear: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus; you will be saved.’[ACTS 16] ‘If we confess our sins, God is faithful, God is just, God will forgive us our sins & purify us from all unrighteousness…because Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice, not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world.’[1 JN 1;2]
Unwrapping again God’s first Christmas gift of our Savior, thank God! Sing with Paul, ‘To him who is able to establish us in accordance with the gospel message about Jesus Christ…to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!’ Sing with the hymn-writer who succinctly says, ‘To God be the glory great things he has done! He so loved the world that he gave us his Son, who yielded his life an atonement for sin and opened the life-gates that all may go in. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! …Oh, come to the Father through Jesus the Son and give him the gory – great things he has done!’(CW #399)