Behold the Child
  • Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day Readings

Isa. 9:2-7 • Ps. 96 • Titus 2:11-14 • Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined” (Isa. 9:2). Joy increases and an undying hope is revived again that the king to be enthroned will be the one to save his people. The enthronement is a beginning, the king imagined as a child, a son given. “He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The king “is the embodiment of God’s own kingship” (Reginald H. Fuller, Preaching the Lectionary, p. 15). Such astounding hope invested in a frail human being. He, the king, it is hoped, will break the “rod of the oppressor,” and throw instruments of war to a consuming fire. He will bring endless peace, “uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore,” and the promise is firm: “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isa. 9:7).

When will the Lord do this? Hamlet’s murderous and devious stepfather, Claudius, his uncle, says something true about kings: “Why should we, in our peevish opposition, take it to heart? … To reason most absurd, whose common theme is the death of fathers” (Hamlet, Act 1, scene 2). The grass withers, the flower fades. The boy king is going to death. Most of the hopes invested in him will not be realized. Another enthronement, another celebration, another hope. But when, when will there be endless peace? When will bloody boots and blood-smeared garments be thrown to the fire?

Now we are faced with a story and a claim: “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Titus 2:11). And yet, looking at the world we see it is not yet as it should be, and so we are encouraged to “wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). God has broken into the world in the person of Jesus Christ and yet the world did not know him, could find no room for him. To the simple and lowly — to the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night — the message arrives. “I will bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12). In this familiar passage there are prepositions and objects of these prepositions which, in a few small words, say everything. The announcement is “to you” and “for you.”

Let’s test this. “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Let us recite the angelic words to Mary and Joseph, let us see the child. Look at him. He is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. The story and the storyteller want you to see this, ache for you to know it.

This is our peace, but a peace amidst affliction. This is our hope, a hope amidst trial. But our peace and hope and faith, grounded in this holy child, is stronger than death itself. He is the peace that passeth all understanding. He is the way home, the truth to live, the life to celebrate. Only faith can see this, and what is faith but that inscrutable gift. “My faith invokes you, O Lord, which you have given to me” (Augustine, Confessions, Ii).

Look It Up
Read Ps. 146:1. Liberate your jubilation.

Think About It
The story is the power.

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