Here is my homily for Christmas Eve. I hope that we will be able to have our service. I am looking forward to hearing our choir’s Christmas Cantata. If it is not tomorrow night, it will be re-scheduled for Sunday evening, at which time this sermon will be preached.
St. Matthew 1:18-25
Rev. Paul L. Beisel
Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ:
It was a sad night, a pitiful night, a night of gloom and despair, a night of regret and remorse, of shame and disappointment, the first night that Adam and Eve slept outside the doors of that heavenly paradise called Eden. “O unholy night, when the stars refused to shine, it was the night of our first parents’ death.” It was a sad night for the whole world, indeed, for every descendant of that cursèd and unholy couple, for God had pronounced a verdict on all humanity because of them, and that verdict was “guilty.”
They had failed the test of tests. Would they listen to the voice of their Creator, or would they listen to the voice of the Serpent? Would they be faithful and obey the command of God, or would they be unfaithful and take what was not given for the taking? God said: “You shall surely die,” and the devil said, “Did God really say…” A little leaven leavens the whole loaf. A little lie was all it took. A little misinformation, a little twisting and turning of the sacred Word and down into the grave they went. Did they not know that with every bite of that forbidden fruit they were sticking daggers into the heart of the human race?
And now, expelled from the Garden, removed from the gracious presence of their Creator, Adam and Eve would have to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. No longer painless, child bearing would forever remind Eve of her sin; no longer effortless, work would forever remind Adam of his failure to resist the devil. Life without God—that is what they chose for themselves, and for their descendants. By that one act of disobedience, the many were made sinners. By that one act of rebellion against their Father, Adam and Eve wreaked more havoc than any terrorist attack, any hurricane, or any nuclear weapon could ever unleash.
In shame and regret they hid themselves. Unable to walk before God with a clear conscience, they huddled in fear for their lives. That is what sin does. That is what sin brings: fear, despair, gloom, and regret. Every toss in the hay with the neighbor’s wife, every drunken stupor, every glance at the images on the computer screen ends, at some point, on some level, with shame and guilt. With every lie told, with every act of rebellion, with every word of disrespect towards parents and authorities comes that old familiar friend: guilt. You know it, and I know it. Adam and Eve continue to huddle and hide in the shadows of guilt and fear and shame.
That is the great lie, you see, the grand illusion—that sin actually delivers what it promises. That it actually makes one happy, that it really does give one pleasure. Satan uses this to his advantage. He uses the weakness of our flesh to make us believe with all our heart that what we are doing will make life better, that it will result in happiness, that in the end, if we could just give it a chance, it will all work out for the best. And then he leaves us to wallow in our despair and misery when it falls through, when we get caught. He does what He did to Adam and Eve so long ago: he laughs, he jeers, he mocks us in our pitiful state. He hates you.
It was a sad night, to be sure, when Adam and Eve gave birth to sin. But it was not without a hint of joy, not without a silver lining. For God had pronounced another word to them: a word of comfort, a word of reconciliation. “He will crush your head and you will bruise his heel,” said the Lord to the crafty serpent. One of Eve’s offspring would undo the damage that the devil had done through Adam and Eve. The world had a glimmer of hope.
That promise was passed on from generation to generation. Generation after generation hoped in the Lord, and longed for the day when Adam’s fallen children would return to the paradise of Eden. That promise was not fulfilled in the generations of Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Moses. It was not fulfilled in Isaiah or Jeremiah, or any of the Prophets. The prophets all spoke of a time when this promise would be fulfilled, when God would send help from above, and rescue fallen humanity from the curse of sin and death. Isaiah spoke of a son born to a parthenos, a Virgin, whose name would be Immanuel. Jeremiah spoke of a new covenant that God would make with his people, one in which He would no longer remember the sins of men.
All of the prophets looked for that day when Eve’s promised Seed would finally come forth, when the branch of Jesse’s tree would sprout, when Aaron’s staff would bud once more. That is how God’s Old Testament saints were saved: through faith in that promised Seed. They were not saved from their sins by their works anymore than we are. Faith in God’s promises—that is always and forever what makes sinners right with God.
For many centuries God’s people waited, until finally, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those who were under the law. “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.” There in the arms of the Virgin Mary lay the fulfillment of God’s promises to Adam and Eve, to Moses and David, and to all of his people. “He shall crush your head and you shall bruise his heel.” “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Emmanuel.”
It was a happy night, a night full of joy and holiness, full of peace and mirth, that night when the firstborn Son of Mary was born in a Bethlehem stable. For it was the night that the doors to Eden swung wide open once again to let in Adam’s fallen children. It was the night that God gave to the world a full and holy cure for sin and death in the person of His Son. Eve’s promised seed had come to undo the damage that the Serpent had done through Adam and Eve. A happy night indeed, and one worthy of remembering year after year, as we do in the Church.
It is that holy night that gives us reason to be joyful and full of mirth on this night. It is that night that gives us a reason to sing God’s praises, to give thanks to Him who is Emmanuel: “God with us.” It gives us reason to defy the devil, who always wants to rob us of the joy that Christ would give to us. In the child born to Mary, in Jesus the Son of God, and specifically in His death, the Father has pronounced another verdict upon his creation: “not guilty.” “Not guilty” he says to the world in Christ. “Not guilty,” he says to you who believe in Him. No need to cower in fear; no need to huddle in shame and regret. All who believe and are baptized will be saved.
This promise, says Holy Scripture, is for you and your children, and for all who are far off. It says: “Come, O Sons and Daughters of Adam; return to Eden. Return to your heavenly Father. Cast off the works of darkness and enter the light of Christ.” Amen.