There is no event in the history of salvation that so expressly calls forth joy as does the experience of Christmas. Into the world of fear and worry, right into the midst of all our troubles, comes the proclamation of great joy, “Today a Savior has been born to you!”
The coming of the deliverer among people who groan under their need in loneliness and death must truly be a source of abundant joy. One is born who brings us the greatest thing of all: fellowship with the living God! Here is One who through his life and death brings God to all those who are willing to accept him.
Christ’s birth was a prelude to his death. The lowliness of his birth, the immediate persecution by Herod, and the terrible massacre at Bethlehem – these are the signs over the manger signifying the life that awaited him; they are the sign of the cross. But they are also the sign that the broken bond between us and God will be restored.
This brings us great joy! Here is someone who will sacrifice everything in order to free us and redeem us. This little child is our Savior because he is born to redeem us from our sins. His life and death, the action of his spirit, proves that he is the Son of the living God. This is the gospel: what was promised through the prophets is the Son who in the flesh is born of the seed of David and whose power is proven as Son in the Spirit.
This living, risen Son can only be known by faith. “The real, blessed faith that God’s word and work demands,” Martin Luther says, “is the firm faith that Christ is born for you and that his birth is yours, that it took place for your sake; for the gospel teaches that Christ was born for our sake and that he died and suffered all things for our sake. The angel does not merely say that Christ is born; he says, “for you,’”for you he is born. He does not say, ‘I bring news of great joy’; he says, ‘to you, I bring news of great joy.’”
The birth of Jesus took place under the sign of light. If we want to become united with the One who was born, we will give ourselves wholly to him – with all our sins! For, as Luther reminds us in the old words of the mystic Angelus Silesius, “Were Christ born a thousand times in Bethlehem and not in you, you would still be eternally lost.”
For Luther the Redeemer is identified with the sinner. “See, Christ takes our birth from us to himself and immerses it in his birth and gives us his, so that in it we might become pure and new, as if it were our own. Thus every Christian may rejoice and glory in this birth, as if he, like Christ, were born of Mary.” Therefore, Christ must become ours and we his. To us a child is born, to us a son is given. Born to us, to us, to us!
As published in When the Time Was Fulfilled (Plough Publishing, 2011).
Article edited for length and clarity. View original document here: “The Joy of Christmas”.