Summary: The truth about the meaning and joy of Christmas rings out loud and clear in Paul’s opening remarks to the Roman Christians.
It brought an out of control party animal named Augustine to faith in Christ, and Augustine went on to become one of the most prolific and influential Christian thinkers of his generation. It sparked the Reformation, as a monk named Martin Luther discovered in it that the righteousness God demands is also the righteousness God gives to sinners. It brought a young Anglican pastor named John Wesley into a life-changing relationship with Christ. What is “it”? It’s the book of Romans!
Luther loved this book so much that he said that every Christian should memorize it and meditate on it every day. Why did he think this particular portion of Scripture was so important? The explanation is found in his study of the verses that serve as our text for this morning. In his commentary on the book of Romans he made this remark about the opening verses of this influential letter: “Here the door is thrown open wide for the understanding of Holy Scripture” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 25, p. 4). Through this book God have him the key to unlock this treasury of divine wisdom we call the Bible. In the opening verses of this letter, Luther hears the voice of the true God announcing the source code through which all of Holy Scripture is deciphered. That’s why Luther loved this book – and that’s why he loved the words that serve as the sermon text for this morning. So perk up your ears and listen attentively as we ask ourselves: Do we hear what he heard? As we listen to the voice of the true God speaking to us in these first few verses of the letter to the Romans we will hear the incredible news that Luther heard. We will hear 1) God reveal that his Gospel promise is fulfilled. We will hear 2)God’s call to faith through the Gospel.
What did Luther hear in these verses? He heard God reveal that his Gospel promise has been fulfilled! What was that promise? It’s the promise of Christmas that God gave to our first parents after Satan brought death and destruction into this world when he succeeded in leading Adam and Eve to sin. While Satan may have won a battle, he would not win the war. That’s what God proclaims when he promises that rebellious serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). It’s the same promise that was repeated again and again by many different prophets at many different times throughout the Old Testament, like when the prophet Jeremiah said, “’The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5,6). The prophet Isaiah adds even more specifics about what this ruler, born of the line of David, was coming to do when he proclaims, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5).
But it’s not just a promise! It’s a reality. That’s the powerful revelation that the angel made to those shepherds outside of Bethlehem 2 millennia ago, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:10-12). The promise of Christmas first made nearly three thousand years earlier – had finally arrived. The promise of Christmas is the promise of the Savior. He was born to Mary, a descendant of King David, just as the prophets had foretold. He was the fulfillment of God’s promise with a real human face, and real, human flesh and blood.
But the Apostle Paul points out that the fulfillment of God’s promise was more than just a birthday party. If Christmas were nothing more than the story of an unfortunate boy whose first bed was an animal feeding trough, who later became an influential leader, and who died as a martyr for his cause – then the best that Christmas could be is an opportunity to celebrate religious diversity, about enchanting children with societal folklore, and helping boost the bottom line for retailers. But if that’s all there is to the promise of Christmas – then it ain’t very much at all. But the Apostle Paul shows us that in order to understand the significance of Christmas you first need to understand what happened at Easter when he says, “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” (Romans 1:4). Christmas isn’t really about the birth of a baby – it’s about the birth of God’s Son as a baby boy. Christmas is about the birth of God’s Son in human flesh who would face death on a cross. He would even experience death, but he would not be conquered by it. Instead he would grab death by the throat and crush its power when he could come back to life on Easter morning! Christmas is the inauguration of the fulfillment of God’s promise – the consummation of the fulfillment of God’s promise is found on Easter morning!