O God, you have made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Grant that as we have known on earth the mysteries of that Light, we may also come to the fullness of his joys in heaven; through your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Gelasian Sacramentary, 7th Century)
God of majesty, on this holy night your light and life broke into the darkness of our human condition. Grant that your light and life will continue to shine through us into a dark and weary world until that time when your glory reigns forever; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Thoughts on the Readings
The Common Thread
A decree was once made that the entire Roman Empire should be counted, so that taxes could be levied for the support of the empire. However, a greater proclamation went out long before the empire of Rome, that the government of all people would rest upon the shoulders of the child of light. That government will increase, forever adding citizens to his kingdom. So we see that God used the Roman Empire that no longer exists, to advance a better royal edict, that the glorious reign of the Prince of Peace would have no end (Luke 1:33). “He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness,” bringing salvation through his grace to all people. Now we await with blessed hope the final appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself to redeem the world.
First Reading - Isaiah 7:10–14
The Lord always has a greater blessing in mind. Salvation from an oppressing nation was on the king’s mind, but God had something extraordinary in view. Though Ahaz would not live to see it fulfilled, Isaiah foretold the Savior of all people who would be born of a virgin. We too, have miracles we would like to see the Lord perform, for there is always an enemy ready to carry off health, wealth, family, or national security. Ask for that miracle of the moment but remember that God has already performed the greatest miracle of all: salvation for all people through Jesus Christ our great God and Savior (Titus 2:11-13).
Psalm - Psalm 110:1–4
The Anointed One is of a different and superior order than King David and all the other kings of Israel. The enduring kingdom would be led by priestly king, not known since the days of Melchizedek. This righteous king has “no beginning of days or ending of life.” The King of kings is a “priest forever.” (Heb 7:3) The Lord has sworn, and his promise is fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God.
Second Reading - 1 John 4:7–16
John speaks of Christian love, that unique brand of love that sacrifices self for the good of others. This sort of love comes from God. We cannot muster it from within or muscle it into existence. When we confess that Jesus is the Son of God, his Spirit comes to live in us, and we in God. That is when his love is first, birthed in us and finally, perfected if we endure with abiding faith in God’s love for us.
Gospel - Matthew 1:18–25
Think of Joseph’s great faith. Who among us would be so bold because of a dream? Yet, it was in a dream that an angel told Joesph to take the young, pregnant Mary to be his wife. The messenger reminded him of Isaiah’s prophecy, that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son. When he awoke from his sleep, he did as the angel had instructed and took Mary to be his wife, calling her son Jesus. May we also awaken from our slumber and cry, Immanuel! God is with us—“even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20 NASB).
The Sola Devotion from January 6, 2015, includes an additional Scripture graphic for your use.
Some of the early creeds (for example the Old Roman Creed) state “only begotten Son” instead of “only Son,” as we find in later versions of the Apostles Creed. I was taught a variation of the creed in catechism class a few score years ago different than was in the service book we used even then (Service Book and Hymnal, 1958). The wording there is the same as we see in other modern service books: “His only Son.” It is still difficult for me to simply say “His only Son” when saying the Apostles' Creed. Unless I am looking at the words, I will usually sneak “begotten” into my confession. There is some controversy about which is the proper usage but I think we are confessing the same thing, whether we slip in “begotten” or not. As Luther says, we should “with simple faith follow the Word, which so teaches us about these things [and] and avoid arguments” (Luther’s Works, vol 12, p 53).
We believe that Jesus Christ is the only one who is “eternally begotten of the Father,” as we profess in the Nicene Creed. He is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,” yet at the same time man. He is God in the flesh. This is the point that the creed is making about“only Son.” He is God incarnate. He is utterly unique in that he is man and yet not created. He “is in His very nature true and eternal God” (ibid, vol 22, p 25), yet a son to Mary. He is eternal God but sent into the world in person to be its Savior.
“This is certainly not a fiction of men that this man born of Mary is said to be God and to be begotten of the Father from eternity. The Scriptures alone teach this. We should, therefore, believe it as an article handed over and shown to us by the Divinity...” (ibid, vol 12, p 53).
Old Testament:Isaiah 7:10-14 — Our plans and desires are never as lofty as the Lord’s. No matter what King Ahaz may have asked, God’s sign would be far greater. Ahaz would have never asked for such a sign. His fear of attack would have him beg an immediate outcome, such as, “Destroy my enemies now!” God’s plan is far-reaching. His sign is sure. As you gaze upon the mystery this evening, as you ponder by candlelight the birth of the incarnate God, know God’s great love for you in that he gave this sign: God will dwell with you no longer between the wings of the ark, no longer in tabernacle and temple. Now he dwells with you as the Son of Man, born in a stable.
Psalm:Psalm 110:1-4 — “From the womb of the morning ...” comes your salvation. From the beginning, God had your deliverance in mind. Nothing may now overwhelm the believer, for God is her deliverer. Christ sits at the right hand of God, the very image of the Father and the radiance of his glory (Heb. 1:3). Because he loves you and intercedes for you at God’s right hand (Rom. 8:34), nothing will separate you from his love (Rom. 8:35). Not even death will separate you from his love since “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” is born in you (Rom. 8:39).
Epistle: John 4:7-16 — “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Yes, we should love one another, but we can do so only because God loves us, instilling within us this desire to love. The one who truly loves — loving those who do not love, those who seem unlovely — is the one who has been reborn in God’s great love. She is the one who knows God, who is himself love. True love is not in our loving others but in God loving us — the unlovely ones, the ones who did not first love him. He loved us first, when we were unloving, giving us the grace of his indwelling Spirit to love him and, by happy result, to love one another.
Gospel:Matthew 1:18-25 — Here is the proof that God loves us: He sent his only Son into an unloving world. Long had been his plan to do so, for so it had been foretold. Behold! The virgin shall conceive and birth a son, and they shall call him God With Us. Though Joseph’s plan had been to discreetly divorce Mary, God’s messenger instructed Joseph to love the virgin at all costs and take her as his wife. Joseph would never have made such a social sacrifice without God’s prompting grace. We make our proper plans, but God’s grace directs our steps (Prov. 16:9).