Gustavi Domkyrka, 1957 Translated by Bror Erickson
Text: Luke 2:1-20
“The Promise is for you.” (Acts 2:39) So Peter says in the sermon that was the first sermon of Christendom, that which was preached on the day of Pentecost. And there he said something that is a chief point of the Gospel.
“The Promise is for you.” When the Gospel comes to us, it does not come as just a story about something that has happened or about something that applies the same and unchangeably in all times. No, it is a message that applies to us, and it applies right now. It is a greeting from God, an invitation. The promise is for you.
And this also means the Christmas gospel. It is not just a story about something that has happened and had important consequences for the world. There also lays in this story a greeting and a message for us, a greeting that gives understanding and a tiding that is full of meaning for those able to hear it.
We can listen to it word for word just as the angels on Christmas night carried it.
1. “I bring you good news of great Joy.”
A great joy. This could only be the truth about something good which has always been and always will be found. So it has been for many people. But the great joy is in that it is something much more.
“I bring you good news of great joy.” In the Bible’s own language it says “I proclaim the gospel (the evangel).” The gospel is the good news of great joy. For many, it has become a little worn out, old and uninteresting. This is because people miss the little but infinitely important word “you.” “I bring you good news of great joy.” The gospel has come to mean something different than a greeting from God. It has become, yeah, what? What is the gospel? Many people are trapped in embarrassment if they are asked to answer that question.
That it means a joyous message, they know well enough. But what is this joyous message? One has a notion that it means something to the effect that God is good, that he loves to forgive sins. And so it is perhaps also something about Jesus coming into the world. But why did he do that? If God is good and loves to forgive sins, did his Son really need to become man? Perhaps a person tries to join these two together in some vague notion that it is Jesus who has shown us that God is good. But the two won’t really meld together. That the Lord is merciful and full of grace is already the key note of the Psalms. That he forgives you all of your misdeeds and heals all your wounds was already known to King David. Such a gospel is “unclear.” And not only unclear, it is also uninteresting. When one hears it a few times, it loses its ring and freshness. It has no address. One notes that is so, that God is good, and that he loves to forgive our sins. This is nothing new. This is not news. Maybe one comes to church once in a while to receive confirmation again. Perhaps it is good to have that in the background. Of course, eventually a man will die. But it doesn’t have much to say today.
This is a false gospel, a gospel that becomes faded and washed out beyond recognition. What is the real gospel? Let us hear it again?
“I bring you good news of great joy.” This was said to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. Otherwise they didn’t have so much joy. They had a tough job—the hardest job, Israel’s proletariat—alone at night on the edge of the great wilderness with the sheep they had to watch over.
“I bring you good news of great joy.” It wasn’t an old well-known truth to them. It was news. Something had happened. God sent a greeting to them. God cared about them. God wants to help them. In the midst of the dark and the cold, during the hard and heavy work, in the midst of all the burdens life had put on them, God came so close to them, so near and did so much in order for them to understand it. It really was good news.
And this “you” applies to all who are in the shepherd’s situation. “The promise is for you.” It is for them who know the pressure of work and obligations, those who have it hard in one way or another, possibly in the midst of wealth. It applies to all housemothers who have to get up in the middle of the night so often to watch over their little flock, who have so much to fuss about, who have so much to think about in the last hours of the evening and find it so hard to manage everything and get it all together. It applies to all the dutiful working men, who do their best whatever their job or duty might be but only see the job grow at the same time their strength, desire, and interest is depleted by the monotony of working so many years. It belongs to all the forgotten, passed over, and misunderstood who have been given to do and be what others have refused to do and be. The shepherds have so many peers of all ages and walks of life. And now a greeting from God comes to all of you, “I bring you good news of great joy.” What does this message consist of? What is this joy all about? We hear the greeting.
2. “For unto you is born this day a Savior.”
A Savior has been born. Even this can be just a truth about something that has happened, something that one has heard so often before and always remains the same. It has become so for many people. And then it is something that fades away and withers. That Jesus is a Savior can be a dead truth, something that one doesn’t oppose, and does not directly deny, but which means very little today, in my worries, in my fatigue, and in my failures. Or it means something in the midst of work when I am happy and think I am effective and nothing during my free time when it is filled to the brim with carefree and fulfilling pastimes. A savior is born; perhaps it has to be Christmas time again, which the Christmas songs and pictures conjure up the atmosphere around the stables in Bethlehem, in order for me to think about it. But when the work begins again the atmosphere is lost. And when the worries return in earnest, one looks for more practical resources to resolve them. Things like a loan or bond or new medicines, and eminent specialists—but not a Savior. They never think of turning to their Savior, when it comes to the soul’s distress and feelings of failure and shame because so much hasn’t been what it should be. Because one has no greeting from God. One has missed the little word “you.”
“For unto you is born this day a Savior.” This was said to the shepherds in the midst of their meager and hard daily routine. So they also received the greeting. A Savior means a Rescuer and Helper. They, of course, knew of the promise about him who would come. It was such a message that they all had, one of the common truths. But in this moment it became a reality and applied to them. Now they knew that God would come and help them. Maybe they didn’t know how. But one does not need to know this either, but we are certain that God really cares for us in body and soul. And now the shepherds knew this. They took notice of this little word “you.”
And this same “you” that now applies to them who are the shepherd’s peers, all those who bear burdens and live with anxiousness, all who are not satisfied and are not happy with themselves. A Savior has been born to you. “A Savior” means one who can help even with the most hopeless situations. The hopelessness can be that one has such a past behind him that he thinks it is impossible to find any way back to God. It can be that one within him has such a temperament or weak character, or such an inability to control himself that one sins and sins again, even though he doesn’t want to. And it can be external hardships so depressing and so hard to bear that one wants to give up.
To all these, our own day’s wretched shepherds, comes a greeting from God today: Unto you a Savior has been born. He is born even to others, but others doesn’t mean anything here. Had you been the only one who needed help, then he still would have become man and descended to you. For your sake he is born, for your sake he has lived, and for your sake he has died and been resurrected. It is he who is now the bond so that you may be children of God. All your sins count for nothing. They are atoned for by him. All your difficulties need never be reason for you to doubt. It may be poor for you, you may be sick and ashamed that you do it so often. Still you are in God’s hand, so long as you believe in this Savior who was born for your sake. This is God’s way of reconciling all of your difficulties however hopeless they look. First he eliminates all your debt and makes sure that all the stupid and crazy things you have done, what you yourself are responsible for and are your own fault, can no longer keep you from God. Then he takes everything else into his hand and in his care. He answers that everything will work out in the end. Because his is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.
But how shall I know that it applies to me? You shall listen to the third part of this greeting from God.
3. “This is a sign for you.”
They would find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. One might think that the hymns of angels and heavenly glory would have been a better sign. But no, instead, it was this newborn child that meant so much more than all the heavenly visions and glorious revelations. For here was God. In him lived the fullness of God bodily, in this little body of a boy. This is the great mystery of God, his way of helping us. God became man. He entered our world. Here he lived, here he suffered. Here he remained, for here he established his church where he would always be with us. He is in these signs he has given us: the water of baptism, the word that is proclaimed, the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
This too can be a common teaching, something one hears so many times and knows so well. Then it begins to become dusty and faded again. Certainly, the church is there, and it is, of course, God’s church. One baptizes his children there. One attends their confirmation, marriage, and burial, perhaps one or two other high feasts and occasions, but in between it is not needed. Then one has forgotten the most important again, what gives life to doctrine, what makes the truth a living truth. Once again it is this little word “you.”
“And this will be a sign for you.” The word got the shepherds going. They hurried away, and they found the sign just as it had been told to them. They knew that if they received the greeting from God, then they must follow it. It applied to them. It gave them great joy. It was their own Savior, their opportunity to come from their bleak and hard world to God’s glory. The sign was not a doctrine. It was something that is here on earth, something that was just for them, something they had to go and see.
And this same “you” applies today to all those who want to find God, all those who are in distress of some sort and would like to believe that there is a Savior even for them. This shall be for you a sign. God is here the same as then. He has descended to earth. God himself slept that night on straw. The heaven’s blessing lay swaddled and in a crib. So has God taken his dwelling in the most insignificant of insignificant when he chose the means of grace through which the Jesus child and the crucified Savior would come to us today. There Christ hides in a word that can be read and heard, and mocked and scoffed and opposed if one wants to do it. Here he rests on the altar, mysteriously contained in the cup and the wafers. Here the sign has already touched you and has been put upon your forehead when you were baptized.
This is now the sign that can make a man certain. It is this means that creates faith. But if one wants to be certain, then one must get up and go, come and see, expose himself to mysterious power in these means of grace. A common teaching about Christ, that he is and has a church does not help us. We must grab hold of the signs, consider them, live by them, and let them work.
“This promise is for you.” Is it for you now? Bethlehem’s sleeping citizens who had closed their doors to Mary and her child, they didn’t hear it. They didn’t concern themselves with it. It is the only way in which the promise can be made to nothing. This way you shall not follow in the future, but follow with the shepherds and receive the sign, so that it becomes a sign for you, a Savior for you, a great joy for you.
But for all those who wonder if they may, wonder if Christ is for them too, the word comes to them, “This promise is for you—you, you, you.” It is the greeting from God. Amen.
The Rev. Bror Erickson serves First Lutheran Church, Tooele, Utah, and he blogs at http://utah-lutheran.blogspot.com. He has also translated several other words from Bo Giertz including, Then Fell the Lord's Fire and The Knights of Rhodes.
As an extension of LOGIA, BLOGIA understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed on BLOGIA are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.