This is the last in our midweek series of sermons for Advent based on Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Understand the Manger
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The Formula of Concord, the last of the Lutheran Confessions, quotes Martin Luther in its article about Jesus: We Christians should know that if God is not in the scale to give it weight, we, on our side, sink to the ground. I mean it this way: if it cannot be said that God died for us, but only a man, we are lost; but if God’s death and a dead God lie in the balance, his side goes down and ours goes up like a light and empty scale. Yet he can also readily go up again, or leap out of the scale! But he could not sit on the scale unless he had become a human being like us, so that it could be called God’s dying, God’s martyrdom, God’s blood, and God’s death. For God in his own nature cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is called God’s death when the man dies who is one substance or one person with God.
Tonight, the Holy Spirit, through Paul brings us our last piece of Advent understanding. He wants us to understand the manger which brings forth our worship and praise. He wants us to understand that God’s Son, who was born according to the flesh, is God who died for us! He wants us to understand that the manger is what made the cross possible. He wants us to understand that the manger leads necessarily to the resurrection! And the Spirit does it in the context of the opening words of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul was called and set apart by Jesus, for one thing – the gospel of God. He was set apart to proclaim this good news. And this Gospel is the culmination of thousands of years of promises made by God through His prophets. It is the promised-beforehand Gospel of the Old Testament, regarding His Son. In other words, if you dive into the Old Testament and come up with anything other than Christ, you’re not reading it rightly. The manger is to be interpreted in the light of these writings and no other.
And what is the good news about this Son? Who as to his human nature was a descendant of David. Paul confirms the words of the LORD in Eden. A child born of a woman will be the Son of God, and not just any woman, but the child born of a Jewish virgin, from David’s line, as Matthew and Luke take great pains to point out that Mary was. The manger is where this happens. In the manger divinity and humanity meet. In the manger time and eternity meet. In the manger the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. In the manger is Immanuel! God is with us! In the manger is the Baby in whom all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form. In the manger there lies a true human being, like us in every way but one – He was without sin. Which means you must understand that the manger declares Jesus to be your substitute, the One who can and will stand for you, the One who will be offered in your place as the atoning sacrifice for your sins, and for the sins of the whole world.
But there’s more. He’s not just a descendant of David. He is the Son of God. Isaiah foretold, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He’s called those things because He is those things. He is God, true God, equal to the Father as to His divinity, of one substance with the Father, even though He doesn’t always look it. Hence, who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. Much like James tells us we see with our eyes that someone is saved by the works they do, this passage is telling us that Jesus was marked, appointed, and shown to the world to be the Savior by the mighty act of His resurrection. Jesus is the one true God, no doubt about it. There were glimpses during His ministry, but with His resurrection, every knee must bow. His birth, according to the flesh, revealed Him to be a son of David, humbly born to Mary. His resurrection from the dead, according to the spirit of holiness, revealed His holiness, His power, and His divinity.
But more than that. Jesus resurrection was not just an exercise in identification. Paul closes his greeting to the Romans saying: To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. He calls sinners saints. He says that grace and peace is theirs. How? It comes from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Understand this about the manger: only the God-Man in the Manger can (and did) bring you grace and peace. When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that they might receive the full rights of sons. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
Understand that getting the manger and getting who is in the manger is not a dogmatic exercise in nitpicky theological details. It is the place where our salvation lies. It is the place where God put Himself into the scales for us. It is the place where we can say, “Here is Mary’s son. Here is our God.” Which means that we can say the same about the cross. Paul wrapped up his second letter to the Corinthians saying: For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives in God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you. We live because He died for us. We live because He rose for us. His resurrection declared Him publicly to be the Son of God. And it declared beyond doubt – God died for me! It began in the manger. Understand that. Without the manger it wasn’t possible. Without the manger we are still in our sins. Without the manger, there is no Easter. There is no hope. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David, this is our Gospel. Amen.