Theme: “Be Born in Us Today”
This week’s lessons help us to prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ by
focusing on three miracles seen in the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary.
Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
At this point I have spoken of three great miracles of Christmas: that God should become man, that he should do so by means of a Virgin Birth, and that Mary should have believed the angel’s announcement. But now I want to say that the last of these miracles needs to have its counterpart in us. We too need to believe the good news concerning this child, that he is the Savior sent by the Father to deliver us from sin, and that we need to commit ourselves to him in wholehearted trust and obedience.
Moreover, I want to say also that if we do—and believing God requires no less a miracle in us than in the case of Mary—then there is a sense in which the other two miracles happen also: God is born in us, and that it is accomplished by God alone, apart from any human contribution.
I think the Apostle Peter must have been thinking along these lines when he wrote of Christians, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). That means we do not become Christians by anything we do or any other human being does or can do, but by the miracle of a divine birth. And if we ask, how this can be sine we are sinners, the answer is: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Jesus taught this truth to Nicodemus when he told that teacher of Israel, “Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
Martin Luther does not say it quite this way, but he was thinking along these same lines when he wrote of Mary, “She held fast to the word of the angel because she had become a new creature. [That is, she had been born again.] Even so must we be transformed and renewed in heart from day to day. Otherwise Christ is born in vain. [For] this is the word of the prophet: ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given’” (Isa. 9:6). Luther then adds, “This is for us the hardest point, not so much to believe that [Jesus] is the son of the Virgin and God himself, as to believe that this Son of God is ours.6
I do not understand miracles. I do not think anyone does, otherwise the miracles would not be miracles by definition. But I believe in miracles, and I know that there would be no Christianity—no Christmas, no Savior, no hope, no gospel, no salvation at all—unless these miracles truly happened. Moreover, I know that the miracles need to continue in us if Christianity is to continue as true Christianity and sinners are to be saved. What needs to happen?
Well what needs to happen is what we sing about in that simple little carol written by Phillips Brooks after a visit to the Holy Land in 1866. In “O Little Town of Bethlehem” the carol describes the sleeping town in stanza one, the miraculous birth in stanza two, and the quiet of the moment in stanza three. Then comes stanza four, the most important of all:
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 angelsThe great glad tidings tell:O come to us, abide with us,Our Lord Emmanuel.
The hymn begins with Christmas in Bethlehem, but it ends with Christmas in our hearts. And so it must be for each of us, if Christ is not to be “born in vain” where we are concerned, to use Luther’s terminology. The mystical seventeenth century poet, Angelus Silesius, wrote:
Should Christ be born a thousand times anew,Despair, O man, unless he’s born in you.7
That is what Christmas is about, and it is what I urge on you this Christmas. Do not stop with the story of the birth of Christ itself. Do not stop even with the miracles of that first Christmas, great as they are. Press on in the matter until you can say, as Christians have always said, “The miracles of Christmas have happened in my heart. I have been born again, and therefore I now place my entire trust for this life and for eternity in him who came to earth on that long ago day and far away land to be my Savior.”
Miracles happen quietly. I do not expect any loud noise if that greatest of all miracles takes place in your heart. But I know that if it is happening or has happened, the angels are singing about it—if not where you can hear them, at least in heaven. Jesus himself said that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents and believes the good news than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not think they need it.
From the lesson, how do the three miracles find their counterpart or expression in us?
What can cause people to stop with a knowledge and even love for the Christmas story, and yet not have it lead to their salvation?
6Martin Luther, The Martin Luther Christmas Book, ?. 23.
7From Frank Colouhoun, Hymns That Live: Their Meaning & Message (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), p. 59.