Christmas is for Children
Christmas is for children. You always hear adults, particularly older ones saying this. They might not put up a tree, and if asked about that will say, "Well, we don't have any kids coming this year." Younger people too get a sudden zest for all things Christmas when they start having kids. There has to be decorations, brightly wrapped gifts, special food. Why? For the children. And they're right; Christmas is for children.
Only kids accept Christmas as is. The miracles of Christmas are accepted by kids easily, happily. Flying reindeer? A living snowman? A Miracle on 34th Street? No problem. A castle at the North Pole? Elves making all the toys? Santa being able to deliver them all in one night? No problem. It's the same with the major miracle of Christmas as it is with all the minor ones. A young woman named Mary pregnant with God? God taking on human flesh and blood? All of God fitting into the cramped spaces of the Virgin's womb? No problem for kids.
Christmas is for children, and not only Christmas but the results of Christmas too. The results of Christmas aren't just the birth of God in flesh and blood. The results of Christmas are peace on earth and good will toward men. The separation between God and mankind being bridged by God. The defeating of sin, death and the power of the devil. Sin? Death? Devil? Guilt? Worry? Fear? No, problem to a kid, right? You tell a child her sins are forgiven, and she skips happily away. Tell a child that everything will be all right because thunder and lightening are in God's hands, and that's good enough for him. Tell a child that he will rise from the dead, live forever because Jesus has carried his sins away, and there is no problem.
Christmas and the results of Christmas are most certainly for children. Only they can hear the miracles of Christmas rightly and find peace in the results of those miracles. So, don't you want to be a child again this Christmas? Not hardly. Adults usually get very upset when they are treated like children, don't they? "I'm not a child," they say. When you speak to an adult in terms that a child can understand, often times you'll get the response, "Don't talk to me like a child." The simple explanation that God became a Man to carry away the sins of the world is too easy for us adults. That's for children.
So if Christmas is ever going to be any good to us, we must become as little children. But that doesn't mean giving up our intellect. We need to become as a child again, not become childish. But that's no more possible for us than to be born again. That's right; only the power of God can make us children again. God makes kids out of adults by His holy Law.
Do you remember when you were a child what it was like to be afraid? I was afraid of the basement in one of the places we lived. I was afraid of a vacant house in another. I was always afraid of my Dad. All my mom had to do to regain control of me is start a sentence with, "When your dad gets home." But then we grow up, and we're not afraid of much are we? That's why God preaches to us the Law. We ought to be afraid of sinning; we ought to be afraid of offending the holy God; we ought not think that it will be no big deal for sinners when the holy God finally comes.
So God comes down to with the Law to Mt. Sinai and shakes and bakes it, and sinners cower in fear. He tells us, "Souls that sins die!" He tells us our righteousness must be beyond that of the most religious people or we're going to hell. He tells us we must be perfect because He is perfect. He tells us that He knows every promise we break, every thought we think, every breath we take and will call us to account for them.
Doesn't talk like this make you feel helpless? What do we have that we can set against our sinfulness? Do you think our church-going or money-giving can make up for our sin-doing and lust-thinking? Do you think our sorrowing over sins can merit anything before God? Well, then you're not a kid yet. Don't you remember what dad said after you broke your second lamp? "Sorry, isn't going to replace that lamp." Sorry is not going to make up for your sins, it's not going to turn God's wrath away. There is nothing you can do think or say that is going to satisfy God's law.
Now you've got a sense of what it means to be a child. Afraid and helpless. All your adult coping skills are useless before an angry God. All your discipline and hard work aren't able to help you keep or do God's Law. What can a child do against the dark night? What can a child do to solve complicated problems? What is left to a child but fear and helplessness?
Did you see both of these things in Mary who wasn't much more than a child herself when the angel Gabriel came to her? The text says she was afraid when the angel started talking to her. The text says she was helpless in response to what the angel said. "How will this be,"she asked in utter helplessness? O that we would be as Mary was, as all children are, this Christmas. O that we would have nothing but fear and passiveness when the Christmas message comes to us. O that we would have no resources, no wisdom, no way to respond to the Law and holiness of God...for then we could be helped.
Christmas is for children. It's for the fearful and the helpless who can't do anything. Christmas is all God's doing. Neither Mary's or our holiness brought God down at Christmas. No, "We have found favor, literally grace, with God." God didn't come to Mary because she had faith, because she had holiness, because she was better than all the other virgins in Judea at this time. Grace is in the heart of God, not in our hearts. There is no explanation for grace. If grace can be explained, it's not grace, it's works, merit, or payment. The Christ-child comes to us for the same reason as He came to Mary. Only because of grace. We don't deserve Him. We don't merit Him. But He comes.
Friends, we are Ruldolphs who never do learn to fly. We are Scrooges who haven't become more generous, and we are Grinches who hearts don't get bigger. Yet our God comes to us. He places Himself under the oppressive exacting Law that hangs over our heads, and He keeps it for us. He places Himself on the cross that we deserve to suffer and die on and suffers and dies for us. He doesn't do all this because we're sorry or because we believe. No, the Scriptures say that while we were still sinners Christ died for the ungodly before we had any faith or repentance.
Christmas is all God's doing. It's God coming to sinners as they tremble in their sins. He comes to Marys who can only fear the holiness of God and says, "Stop being afraid." He comes to shepherds who can only be soar afraid and says, "Fear not for I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the city of David a Savior: Christ the Lord."
I know what happens right about now. Just as you begin to thrill and rejoice, just as your heart begins to be light and merry at the thought that you really have a Savior who has come to rescue you from your frightful sinning, you grow up. Rather than go skipping away safe and secure that you have a Savior who is stronger than your sins, mightier than your doubts, bigger than your fears, you start to think like an adult. You're not quite so helpless; you start to get helpful in fact. Yes, yes, you have your sins forgiven, your guilt removed, your fears relieved, but you have a whole host of problems. I mean you're not a child are you? You have bills to pay; you have a family to raise; you have a marriage to make work; you have sickness to deal with and unlike a child you know exactly what medical tests mean. You can only give so much of your heart to rejoicing. You've got to grow up and face the music.
O no you don't. Mary's response to what the angel told her, "How will this be?" is a grown-up type response. Hey, Mary knows where babies come from. Mary is no child. She knows that there's a big problem in the way of her conceiving just an ordinary human baby let alone God in flesh and blood. And so God let her sulk away burdened by this problem. God left her to figure out how in the world He would do such great things for her. Not hardly. God sent His angel, Gabriel, to tell her that He will take care of everything.
And God has sent you this angel to tell you the same thing. You really don't have to grow-up and face the music. God tells you through me what He told Mary through Gabriel. But He doesn't just say as the bulletin translates, "For nothing is impossible with God." That leaves it too vague, too up in the air. What He really told Mary and I now tell you is, "No spoken Word of God is powerless." God ties your comfort, your hope, your peace of mind, your joy this Christmas straight to His spoken Word.
No spoken Word of God is powerless. The power in your life dear friend is not your adult coping abilities, problem solving skills, or money making capabilities. The power in your life is the spoken Word of God. That Word spoken in your Baptism made you His child. You take care of your children; do not think that God fails to take care of His. Your children don't think that just because they can't take care of something, you can't. So don't you think that just because you have no idea how take care of something that your heavenly Father is likewise stumped.
God's Word spoken in absolution is a powerful. It really sends your sins away from you. Your sins may be as pesky as pets or as wild as junkyard dogs that chase you here and there. Not to worry. The spoken Word of God is stronger than your sins are. Though you may not be able to see or feel any distance between you and your sins, what does God say in His Word? As far as East is from West that's how far I've put your sins away from you.
No spoken Word of God to you is powerless. When He says to you today, "Take eat; take drink. This is My Body. This is My Blood," He gives you exactly what His Words say: His Body, His Blood for forgiveness. Now if Mary could take great comfort in the fact that she was carrying the Christ-child in her womb because surely where Christ was so was all the power and protection of God, how much more can you who will walk away from this altar with Christ in you?
Be a child again this Christmas. Take God at His Word; take the Word made flesh in the Virgin's womb as God's Word of peace and joy to you this Christmas, and celebrate as only a kid can. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent IV (12-19-99) Luke 1: 26-38