Written by: The Rev. Nathan Stomberg
December 24th, 2020
The Lord has sustained us through a long year, and we have once again arrived at the Nativity of our Lord. Indeed, for this year in particular, in God’s perfect timing, the celebration of the Incarnation could not have come at a more appropriate time. And it is most fitting for God to use His Church to achieve this end; Our Advent anticipation now culminates in the celebration of the birth of our Savior, which is our greatest reminder of His Coming Again in Glory, and which serves as a beacon of light shining forth in a dark world.
Yes, we as God’s people, peculiar sojourners in a pagan world, pause at the intersection of the end of the calendar year, and the beginning of our Liturgical year, looking to the Incarnation as a source of renewed hope for the days to come. And this hope is built on a firm Foundation: God by the Holy Spirit sent us His only Son to take on flesh, born of the Virgin Mary. He lived as one of us, yet without sin, bearing our sins on the cross for our salvation.
When we look back on the Birth of Christ, we are reminded that we serve a God who loves us so much, He stooped down from Heaven to take on our human nature, and so sympathize with our weaknesses, and understand our every temptation, yet without sin. We are reminded that just as God was faithful to send His Son once to save His people, He is Faithful to come again and receive His Bride.
Jesus Christ, that baby laying in a manger, is the Word Made flesh, the audible Word of God now made visible, the Light of the World bursting forth in the darkness. Sisters and brothers, we have an unshakeable Hope, which gives us a powerful witness in a dying world.
The Prophet Isaiah has this to say to the faithful of Israel and Judah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2, ESV). The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Certainly, many of us feel this way after the year 2020. We proclaim, “This is the worst year ever!” And yet, trials and tribulations are nothing new for God’s people. In this passage, Isaiah is prophesying to the Jews who are caught in the grip of the mighty Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians have crushed the Northern Kingdom, and now the Southern Kingdom of Judah is wringing its hands: do they take the easy way out, and pay tribute to the Assyrians in order to appease them, or do they trust God’s promise of deliverance? In the midst of it all is a remnant, God’s faithful people, to whom Isaiah shares the promise of a Messiah:
“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 forevermore.”Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV
This is our reminder at Christmas. God will always preserve His faithful remnant, no matter how dire the political or cultural circumstances. He sent us His only son to seal that promise. And lest we think that no Hope can rise from a year in which nothing went as planned, we are reminded that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was born in the lowliest of places and in the unlikeliest of circumstances.
Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary went up to Bethlehem to be numbered for the census. “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7, ESV).
Jesus was born of a Virgin, in the dirt and darkness of a stable, in an insignificant rural town, within a powerless nation run by a corrupt tyrant, who was a puppet to the most powerful empire the world had ever known. God brought forth the light of the world amid the darkest of circumstances, and He continues to cast out the works of darkness through the faithful today. “For the Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (Titus 2:11-12, ESV).
Beloved, God sent His Son to be a light to the nations. And since God desires to dwell among His people, it is precisely His people who are chosen to bear that light to the world. In this present age, Jesus is empowering His Bride, the Church, in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, to take the light of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is our responsibility! Yet while God’s grace is extraordinary, He uses ordinary means, and ordinary people, to do His will. Just look at what we’re told in Luke’s Gospel:
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.”Luke 2:8-9, ESV
Who do the angels tell of Jesus’ birth? Not the wealthy, nor the powerful, nor the educated, nor the good-looking, but shepherds, one of the lowest social strata there was at the time. Yet the angels reveal the birth of Jesus to them, and they witness Him, and they go and bear witness. Brothers and sisters, we too have witnessed this greatest of miracles. If we really believe this to be true, then just like the shepherds, it must motivate us to praise and worship God, and to shine brightly with the light of Christ in a dark world.
Surely, in the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of political and cultural turmoil, our family and friends crave hope, perhaps more than at any other point in our lives. Last November, when the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was put up, NBC News ran a short video on the Rockefeller tree’s history, and particular importance at the end of this year. I was struck (but not surprised) by the language they used to describe this Christmas tree, which pointed to something innately spiritual:
“Many of us feel we really need the tree, and with all the loss, anxiety and pressure of making ends meet, the tree will bring welcome light, and though darkness will give way for but a few weeks, we will gaze, and dream… of better days ahead” (Harry Smith, NBC News).
These words point to humanity’s need for a Savior, our God-given reflex to hope in something greater than ourselves, and the great need for us to let our unshakeable Hope in Christ be our witness, now and throughout the year. We know a mere Christmas tree cannot provide lasting hope for a sinful world. Even the article admits, that darkness will eventually overcome the light of the Christmas tree. And yet, we know the True Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome Him! We can find encouragement hearing these words, because they point to the fact that our friends and family are still searching, yearning for the Hope that only Jesus can provide.
So, this Christmas, let us follow the example of the Virgin Mary, and treasure up all these things, pondering them in our heart. Let us remember as we celebrate tomorrow, that our God sent His only son to be born a human baby, so we could be born again and be adopted into His family. And may it overwhelm us and overflow into every part of our lives, empowering us to boldly live out our faith and share the Truth in love.