The Sign of the Child
The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
December 24, 2022
“The Sign of the Child”
Each year, our earlier Christmas Eve service at 5PM is designed specifically for families with young children. It’s always a joy to see all of these children and families together in worship. That said, it’s not a quiet and reflective worship experience; very much the opposite. With all those little ones who are so excited that Christmas is finally here, who have all this bottled-up energy, who are struggling to use their inside voices, this is a worship service that’s loud and lively, rowdy and rambunctious. And I love it! I affectionately call this the “Joyful Chaos” service. Lots of people will say that children really make Christmas, and there is truth in this. Kids have a way of helping us see things through fresh eyes, rediscovering what is most important, and finding joy once again. Children say what they think, and they laugh easily. They’re not afraid to show their feelings. Children help us to rediscover ourselves, and find what is true and most valuable. Christmas brings joy to little ones with lots of gifts and surprises, but there can be a dark side to this. Things like visiting Santa Claus and sitting on his lap can go horribly wrong. Not getting the gift that you thought you were going to get can lead to a major meltdown. And yet, behind all of this is a Child – the Child; the Christ of Christmas, who came among us and was born to give his life for us. The sermon on this Christmas Eve, drawn from the promise of the Lord through Isaiah found in tonight’s Old Testament lesson, speaks of this Child: “For unto us a child is born, unto 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” (Isaiah 9:6). The promise made and the promise kept with the coming of this Child, born of Mary, is the focus of tonight’s message, entitled “The Sign of the Child.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Centuries before Mary gave birth to her firstborn Son there in Bethlehem’s manger, the Lord provided this sign of the One who was to come. Isaiah lived some 750 years before the birth of Jesus, and yet here in the words from tonight’s Old Testament lesson, is a clear, unmistakable sign of his coming. And countless centuries before Isaiah was the promise first given by God to Adam and Eve in Paradise. After they listened to a voice other than the Creator God, after they ate the forbidden fruit which God had commanded them not to eat, after they had tried to hide themselves from the presence of God, after they had plunged themselves and all of humanity into a downward spiral of sin and death, God made this promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The whole story of God’s great rescue plan weaves its way throughout Scripture with sign after sign of that promised One, woman’s offspring, who would bruise – crush – the head of the serpent, the source of sin and death. Like Adam and Eve, our first parents, we also have listened to other voices. We, too, have done what God has commanded us not to do; both what we have done and what we have left undone. We, too, have tried to run and hide from the presence of the Lord. But as with Adam and Eve, so with us today, the Lord who fashioned and formed each one of us, creating us in his own image, breathing into us the breath of life, comes looking for his lost children. And what the Lord called out to Adam and Eve there in the Garden of Eden, he calls out to us today: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). The Lord seeks us out, not to condemn, but to rescue, redeem, and restore.
The One who spearheads God’s rescue mission is this promised Child. He is the One who will redeem and restore us and all creation according to God’s gracious plan for all things. Look at the list of names for this Child – “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6b). Wow – pretty impressive, right? But God has a way of doing things in a way that we would never expect. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9), but the Lord God is true to his Word and faithful to his promises. The sign of the Child is fulfilled in a very counter-intuitive way that nobody was looking for. Someone who has names like “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” we would expect such a One to be born into the lap of luxury in some magnificent palace with every possible privilege and resource at his disposal. That’s what we would expect, but that’s not what God did. No, instead of luxury, this Child was born into poverty and scarcity. Instead of a magnificent place, this Child was born in a place where the animals are kept and fed. Instead of every privilege and resource at his disposal, this Child left behind his eternal glory and power, to take upon himself the frailness of our humanity, becoming like us in every respect except for sin (Hebrews 4:14-16). The sign of this promised Child is his humble birth in Bethlehem’s manger (Micah 5:2). Looming behind that manger is another sign: the shadow of the cross. That is why this Child was born: to suffer and die upon the cross, to give his life for our sake, taking the punishment of our sin upon himself. God’s rescue mission centers in this Child, who is Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer.
In the darkness and cold of this winter night, this Christmas time is often called the season of light, and for good reason. Soft candlelight, twinkling lights on beautifully decorated trees, strings of lights outside our homes – these point us to a greater truth. In this Child, born of Mary, we have received the true Light (John 1:9). Jesus, the Light of the world shining from that manger, is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “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). The sign of this blessed Child is what Paul the apostle writes in tonight’s Epistle lesson: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11). The sign of the Child is for all people – not just a select few, but everyone. The good news of great joy that is Jesus’ coming among us is for all people: the great and the mighty; the weak and the poor; the strong and the powerful; the marginalized and the dispossessed; you and me. This is what Christmas means. [On this Christmas Eve, temperatures are dropping and there is a big risk of hypothermia for the homeless population. Some caring individuals have put together care packages to help the those in need in the cold days ahead. Inside each care package are winter supplies, personal care items, a Wal-Mart gift card and a list of emergency winter shelters. We encourage you to grab a bag on the way out and offer them to those in need. In so doing, the sign of the Christ Child is seen through us.]
“Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmastide our care and delight to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger. Therefore let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child” (Bidding Prayer for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols). A blessed and happy Christmas to you in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
other sermons in this series