O Little Town of Bethlehem


But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed;
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child. (Once in royal David’s City: 1)

During these Christmas days, our thoughts easily turn to consider the little town where mother Mary gave birth to our Savior. The story of that ancient and sacred village engages us still today. Before its gates Jacob buried his beloved Rachel (Genesis 35:16-20). In the fields of Bethlehem pious and faithful Ruth gleaned and gathered her sheaves for her master Boaz (Ruth). On the hillsides above her great-grandson David tended his father’s flocks. The little brook from which the hunted shepherd king so longed to drink in his great thirst (2 Samuel 23:15) still murmurs in the green valley lying at the foot of the town. To the little town of Bethlehem came Joseph and his young wife when great David’s greater Son was born in a lowly cattle shed.

How wonderful are the ways of God! The Ruler of Israel, the everlasting King of mercy, the Lord of peace is not born in some lordly mansion in Athens or in an imperial palace in Rome, but in the poor, little hill village, insignificant Bethlehem. But our God and Father in heaven always does this: A virgin with child; a faithful husband with the proper blood lines; a difficult journey because of a census; choirs of heavenly hosts sing the great Good News to societies lowliest members, the shepherds. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:51, 52).

King David no longer sat on his throne and his hometown was nearly forgotten in the Judean landscape. Yet the promise of salvation was not forgotten. “But our eyes in truth should see him through his own redeeming love, for that child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heav’n above” (Once in Royal David’s City: 3). And lowly Bethlehem, poor and forgotten Bethlehem, is exalted and becomes again the hometown of Israel’s King, the long-expected King – Jesus Christ!

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel! (O Little Town of Bethlehem: 4)

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The Nativity of Our Lord and Christmastide


The season of Christmas begins with evening prayer on Christmas Eve (December 24) with the first celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, and ends with midday prayer on January 5.

The evening services of Christmas Eve mark the beginning of the Church’s celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord. The season continues after December 25 over a period traditionally known as the twelve days of Christmas or Christmastide.

This season includes a number of lesser festivals: The festival of St. Stephen, the first martyr, occurs on December 26. St. John, apostle and evangelist, is remembered on December 27. The death of the babies in Bethlehem (Matthew 2) is observed on December 28 as the Festival of the Holy Innocents. The circumcision and naming of Jesus on the eighth day after His birth (Luke 2:21) is celebrated on January 1.

The liturgical color for Christmas and Christmas tide is white. Continue reading

Luke 2: 1-20 – The Nativity of Our Lord–First Service (Christmas Eve)


It’s A Boy!

(Christmas Eve)

St. Luke 2: 1-20

“…the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (St. Luke 2: 1-20)

It’s a boy!

Mary had a baby!

It’s a boy!

Can you imagine Joseph’s joy?

I shall always remember the great joy God gave me each time I became a father. You have seen it too, haven’t you? You grandparents have gotten that phone call “It’s a baby, it’s a boy! Everyone is doing fine!”

We have added so much decoration and glitter and fuss and bother to Christmas that the basic story easily gets lost.

It’s a boy!

While Mary and Joseph knew this Son was special, at the same time they celebrated: It’s a boy! Mother and Baby are doing fine! When God blesses us with the miracle of birth, there are generally three things we want to know:

First: Is it a boy or a girl?

Second: How is the mother doing?

Third: Is the baby healthy?

St. Luke answers these basic questions concerning Jesus’ birth in our text. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he did his homework before he wrote his Gospel. Many people believe that Luke talked directly to Mary and had her direct testimony

First question: Is it a boy or a girl?

“[Mary} gave birth to her firstborn, a son. ”

It’s a boy! More than that, he is her first child.

Firstborn sons are important in Jewish families. We remember that the firstborn sons in Egyptian families died when Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. After that, all the firstborn sons of Israel belonged to God, but they could be bought back through the sacrifice of a lamb at the temple. A firstborn son received an inheritance twice that of any of his brothers.

It’s a boy! A firstborn son!

Second question: How is the mother doing?

“[Mary] wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger. ”

Mother Mary is doing fine. She is up on her feet. The same night she received visitors, the shepherds. Luke tells us that after the shepherds left, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (2:19). A woman in pain doesn’t concern herself with singing angels and smelly shepherds.

Mother Mary is doing fine. It’s a boy. And Mary cared for him.

Third question: Is the baby healthy?

“[Mary] wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.”

The word that Luke the physician uses for “gave birth” is a technical word which implies the live birth of a healthy child. Had baby Jesus been sick, Mary would not have put him in a feedbox. Mary would have cradled him in her arms and rocked him and prayed over him and kept him warm with her own body. Had he been sickly, Joseph would have gone for help.

Baby Jesus is doing just fine. Thank you for asking.

Jesus’ heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to answer the first three questions we ask at every birth: It’s a boy. Mother Mary is doing fine. Baby Jesus is healthy.

So what? What does this have to do with us? Millions of healthy firstborn sons have been born to healthy women. Why do we make so much fuss over this one birth nearly 2,000 years ago?

LET’S LOOK AT THOSE ANSWERS AGAIN.

First: It’s a boy!

A human baby boy! We call this evening the first service of the Nativity of Our Lord. The Word became flesh. God himself became a human being. He is one of us!

Consider just what that means. When Coach Neumeyer, wants to send a new player into the game, he looks to the St. Luke bench. He does not send a Trinity Warrior or St. John Eagle into the game to play for the Mustangs. It is the same way with God the Father.

When he needed a substitute to die for our sins, he sent neither a dog nor a horse, nor did he send an angel. He sent a human like us. Jesus could pay for our sins because he was born a human being.

It’s a boy!

You and I needed someone to substitute for us.

Just look at what we have done to Christmas. Do we worship the Lord of Bethlehem? Or do we worship at Lord and Taylor, Sears and L. S. Ayres? Is our Christmas full of the Holy Spirit, who came to us in our Baptism? Or is it mostly some undefined and nebulous “spirit of Christmas’? Is you heart full of angel songs, or does your Christmas cheer come out of a box or a bottle? Do we hear sweet voices of children singing “Mary had a baby”? Or are homes full of the sounds of Nintendo, Sega and Play Station?

O Lord forgive us our Christmases! We need a substitute to pay the price of our corrupted Christmases. And we have a substitute worthy and willing to come for us. It’s a Boy!

Second: Mother Mary is doing fine.

Jesus was born into a human family. Like you, Jesus had a mother, brothers and sisters, and a step-father –Joseph. He knows from firsthand experience what it is to have parents who do not completely understand him. He knows from firsthand experience what it is to have squabbling brothers and sisters. He knows from first hand experience what it is to have siblings whodoubted him and who deserted him when he was hurting. Mother Mary had to be healthy to give Jesus a normal human family. She and Joseph were there to teach him basic Jewish family values. Mother Mary is doing fine.

We are blessed because Mary was blessed. Jesus was born to die for us. A sword pierced Mary’s heart when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus also was born to live for us. Jesus lived a perfect life for you in a family much like yours.

In order for his death in your place to mean anything, he had to live a perfect life for you. Jesus lived perfectly for you in the face of the same temptations that come to you. Mother Mary was part of God’s plan to make possible Jesus’ perfect life for you. Mother Mary is doing fine. Thank you for asking.

Third: Baby Jesus is healthy.

He had to be healthy. Look at what he faced as he grew up:

• less than two years after his birth, he and his parents became nighttime political fugitives.

• The Gaza Strip is not a healthy place for travelers today. The Gaza Strip was not safe for the fleeing holy family either.

• Life as the son of a carpenter in the hills of Nazareth was as hard life.

• He served a preaching and teaching ministry on the road.

• He organized a traveling seminary for 12 men.

All this hard work.

Then his body and spirit bore the mockery of the crowds, the agony in the garden, the beatings, the scourging, the thorns, the cross. Only a strong healthy body could carry all of this, and the sins of the world.

Baby Jesus is healthy. He grew up to be a strong and healthy man He lived perfectly for you He died perfectly for you. His Father in heaven said. “This is my Son! I delight in him!” It is as though the Father were saying. “It’s a boy! I am so proud of what he is doing. I shall raise him from the death he did not deserve!”

Now Jesus sits on the throne in heaven with a resurrected and perfect body. Soon you and I also shall stand before him with perfect bodies. Our sins forgiven. Our Christmases forgiven. Jesus is still a human. He still knows the troubles you have. He knows you and speaks on your behalf before the Father. He can do this because he has been here. He has lived among us.

It’s a boy!

Today, part of our world says, “Ho,! Ho! Ho!” Another part of the world says: “Bah! Humbug!” You and I have a different message to share: “Look! Look! Look, it’s a boy!”

Amen.

Adapted from a sermon series, Concordia Pulpit Resources