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Subject: The Lutheran Hour: December 20, 2015 "The Gift in the Manger"

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"The Gift in the Manger" #83-16

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Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 20, 2015
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(What Does the Incarnation of Jesus Mean?)
Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Luke 2:8-12

There were shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks at night and an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angel of the Lord said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people for today in the City 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 swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. There were shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks at night and an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angel of the Lord said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people for today in the City 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 swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2:8-12).

Grace and mercy and Christmas peace be to all of you in Jesus' Name. Amen.

If you are going to have a big family celebration at Christmastime, it would be good for you to be there, wouldn't it? Right? If you're going to plan a trip that is the trip of a lifetime, if you go to the Holy Land to see these things, it would be good if you made it onto the plane and were on the ship, right?

It wouldn't be a family celebration if the family didn't come. It wouldn't be the trip of a lifetime if you weren't here presently seeing these things for yourself. Well, today we learn an even more incredible thing. We learn from the shepherds a lesson even more important than our being at the most precious family celebrations this time of year. We learn of the fact that there is a real presence of God in our lives. In fact, Christmas is the knowledge of the fact that God really came, that God is really here, that God is the One that makes our celebrations what they are. 

That's what Christmas is all about. Without Him, without His real presence, there is no good will. There is no peace. There is no forgiveness. There is no salvation. But with Him all of it is here for all people as a gift. 

The shepherds teach us that there is a Baby that each one of us must receive anew each Christmas. This story is absurd without the fact of the Baby who is Christ the Lord. 
Their message is romantic drivel without the Baby lying in swaddling clothes and Jesus, Baby Jesus, is not only the Reason for the season, He is the season and that's what we celebrate today So, you are privileged today as you listen. Your privilege is to come to worship the King of Kings, to come to the manger, and see that all this is here for yourself. Have you been to the manger lately? Well, come today and see and believe.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. Terrified. 

The angel comes. Jesus comes. And that's good news. Now amazingly He comes to shepherds. Now, think about it. We've heard some of this. In the ancient world the shepherd was about the dirtiest person you could be, right? He was ceremonially unclean. There wasn't enough soap, even if you got that good soap from the Dead Sea. There wasn't enough soap to really clean these guys; and metaphorically we see what the Bible is talking about here. They were not only unclean but in many ways they represent all of us. We're not only unclean on the outside, but we're also unclean on the inside. 

But you know what the Bible says? The Bible has a word even for those who are that dirty. You ready? Here it is. "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us not because of the righteous things we had done but because of His mercy." He saved us through the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. You see God is no respecter of persons. He can wash anyone. 

Christ came. And that's good news. But they were afraid. Why were they so terrified? Why were they so terrified? Well, the shepherds, they knew who they were. They knew they were sinful people even among their peers. And the reality kind of hit them; they knew their unworthiness to receive this incredible thing. In fact, if you ever have that experience of something that powerful like the angels, that beautiful like the angels, what really is going to happen? You're going to sense your own unworthiness. Your own ugliness, if you will. 
But the great good news of the Bible is that not only does sin bring judgment, not only is sin really the breaking away from God, but God still comes for sinners with His beauty, with His grace, with His love, with His joy. 

Deep down, many of us, if we're honest today, if you're listening in, we have the same fear of the Lord. We have the same fear of His awesome presence and beauty. But if you're a shepherd listening in, God doesn't come to judge you eternally. He comes to save you even from yourself. 

Godly fear does not incapacitate us. Godly fear finally causes us not to rely on ourselves alone but to rely on Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior in all things. You might say it this way. The fear of God caused them to listen that day. It didn't incapacitate them; it turned them to listen to His message. God's invitation, then, overcame their fear. 

The angel said this, "Fear not, for behold I bring you good news for to you is born a Savior. He is Christ the Lord." So the angel invites them. He says "Journey to the manger and see what I'm talking about." And so what did they do? They ran to the manger. See, believers run. They receive the message and then they literally run to the message, and they run to that manger to see that good news that is there for them.

There is something more important this Christmas season than running to the store, than running to the party, than running even to the family celebration. The most important thing you can do this Christmas is what? Run to the manger and see the Gift that keeps on giving. 

So the shepherds, they said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about. Let's go. Let's see. Let's believe." 

Now that's the other point for you today. That's the point for all of us today, my friends. The good news that I'm talking about is not just for the shepherds back in the day. This good news is for us and for our salvation. That's the whole point of Christmas; that God comes, that God's part of life to bring His life to people like you and me. 

I like to say it this way; God's in the giving business and we're in the receiving business. Would you agree with me on that? That's really the message of the Bible. God's in the giving business, we're in the receiving business. God's in the giving business. He gives gifts to sinful people who have a real need. He gives gifts to sinners who don't deserve the gift but can have it in full measure. That's what the Bible is all about. 

In fact, if you start at the very beginning, God gave Adam and Eve in the middle of their disobedience and sin, He gave them a promise; a promise that would literally hold them and hold the generations who followed in their footsteps. 

God, then, began to fulfill that promise and He literally gave that promise a name. There was a baby born named Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, why? So that that promise would be rooted in history. And then God gave the Scriptures to continue to prophesy about this Messiah who would come to save His people. 

And in our reading today, God gave the shepherds a pronouncement from the angels that Jesus was born. God gave the Wise Men a star to direct them to this Jesus who was the King of Kings. And God gave the world through Mary the One Who was the Wonderful One, the Counselor, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. God's in the giving business and we are in the receiving business by grace through faith.

So God's in the giving business through a manger to a cross for a resurrection life for all of us to receive and believe. So God came to shepherds and these shepherds received it, they believed it, and then they told everybody about it. This is not just good news for the night; this is good news for eternal life. And that's what we get to receive and share today. 

That's some gift receiving, gift giving that I think will make every Christmas celebration full of joy, right? That's a gift that makes life worth living. How do I know that? Well the Bible tells me so and so does Charlie Brown. Let me say that again; the Bible tells me so and so does Charlie Brown. 

You know about the Charlie Brown Christmas special, right? Do you know how that all came to be? The Charlie Brown Christmas special, which is a cultural phenomenon in America, it was back in the 1960s, a phenomenon named Peanuts was born. The guy's name was Charles Schultz and he began to write these story lines of simple characters, modest story lines, and it became a perfect placebo, they said, for millions looking for a dose of innocence in the craziness of the '60s. 

None of this was lost on Madison Avenue and they thought let's try to market this thing. Let's see if we can get something out of this. So they approached Charles Schultz, the creator of the comic strip, and they said, "Hey, we've got this idea. We'd like to do an animated Christmas special with your Peanuts characters. Would you do it?" What did Schultz say? "Absolutely!" 

So here it comes. He starts to get to work on the opening screenplay and here's some of the things that he said. The opening scene has Charlie Brown on his tiptoes peeking into his snow-covered mailbox hoping to find a Christmas card but to no avail. Feeling dejected, he stops by where? Not church, but Lucy's psychiatric booth to mourn the commercialism of Christmas. And Lucy agrees with him. 

Here's what she said. "Christmas is nothing but a lot of stupid toys, Charlie Brown. What we need is real estate." Do you remember that? CBS loved it. "Oh, this is great stuff." So, it keeps going on. The next scene Charlie Brown becomes further disillusioned as Snoopy is decorating his doghouse with strings of lights and gaudy decorations in hopes of winning the contest of the neighborhood. "Good grief," says Charlie Brown. CBS says, "That's great!" And they ate it up.

As the story progressed, Lucy sent Charlie to pick out a Christmas tree. You remember this, right? It's for the neighborhood pageant and the instructions are to find a big, shiny, aluminum tree, maybe painted pink. But Charlie couldn't do it. Instead he brought back a real, albeit small, pathetic, lifeless tree and the kids hated it. What did they say? "You blockhead, Charlie Brown." "That's really good," said CBS. 

They were loving every minute of it. And then finally Charlie said this, "What is Christmas about anyway?" And now you remember, right? Who steps up to the mic? Linus. He steps up to the mic and this is exactly what he says, "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not. Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.'"

"Hold everything!" said CBS. "Hold everything. You cannot recite Bible verses on national television, and especially the King James Version. You'll alienate our viewers," they said. "You'll chase away our advertisers." 

"The tree can stay," they said, "but the Bible has to go." Schultz stood firm. He said, "If I can't tell the Christmas story, then you can't have the Peanuts cast. If the Bible reading goes, so do they." 

Well, CBS looked at the fast-approaching deadline and they gulped, "Okay, it stays but we're going to pay a terrible, terrible, terrible price." And sure enough, on the night of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, the CBS switchboard was flooded with calls from all around the country and everyone asked the same question, "When can we have more Charlie Brown Christmas specials?" And, of course, what did the CBS execs say? "You'll have them real soon." 

What a phenomena. It won an Emmy. It won a Peabody. That night a TV tradition was born. 50% of America tuned in to watch a Charlie Brown Christmas. TV Guide said this. They claim that Linus' reading of the Bible was one of the top 35 moments in television history. And Charlie Brown Christmas became the longest-running Christmas special on CBS. 

This story needs to be told. It came to shepherds and they couldn't stop telling it and we can't stop telling it either. If Charlie Brown can't stop telling it and Linus can't stop telling it, and there are people who still need to hear it. Also you and me, anyone listening today, the promise is given, but it's given for you. It's given for me. 

Have you been to the manger lately? It can change your life. In faith you can come to the manger. In faith you can lead a joyful life that only Jesus Christ can give. With faith in Him you can go back to your houses. You can go back to your families. Back to your friends. Your Savior has come and it makes all the difference in your life and it makes all the difference in the celebrations that you have now and forever. 

As I was closing with this, it just came to my mind again that this story is a story unlike any other in the world. I know there are other religions. I know there are other philosophies, but they're nothing like this. 

If you're listening today and you've never heard this message, hang in there with us. Come back every Sunday because I'm going to tell you the implications of this message for you. There is no other story like this. Think about it. When three kings come to a little Boy, He must be the King of Kings. When a message like this comes to shepherds who then run to a stable claiming a message from angels, running through streets praising God, they're either nuts unless there's the Lord of the Lords in that manger.

And when Herod, you know the story, when Herod slaughtered the infants because he heard there was a new King in town, well, he's nuts anyway. But the threat was real because Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Come to His manger this Christmas. Receive the life and salvation that only He can give. Open that gift today because it will bless you forever. Why, He promises that to all who believe. In Jesus' Name. Amen. 

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for December 20, 2015

Topic: What Does the Incarnation of Jesus Mean?

ANNOUNCER: The incarnation of Jesus. What does that mean? Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Well, that's something we hear about a lot during the Christmas season. What does the incarnation of Jesus mean? 

SELTZ: Incarnation is a powerful reality taught in Scripture. So, let me ask you, Mark, how would you describe it? 

ANNOUNCER: Well, it's based on the Latin. It means to become flesh. I think I've heard you describe it as the 'enfleshment' of Jesus, His becoming human.

SELTZ: Well done. That's exactly right. Jesus, truly God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, becoming a human being.

ANNOUNCER: All right. So that's what the word incarnation literally means. But, what is its significance?

SELTZ: And, that's where we find the power of the term. The significance of the incarnation is huge. It can be summed up by John 3:16, that beautiful and concise summary of the Gospel: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life"(John 3:16 ESV). God loved us so much, He sent Jesus to become human in order to save us.

ANNOUNCER: How did His becoming human save us?

SELTZ: The answer to that question unfolds the Gospel message. The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians, chapter two: "Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped ... He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-9 ESV). Paul goes deeper with that significance of Jesus' humanity in 2 Corinthians 5. He says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

ANNOUNCER: So we see that Jesus humbled Himself by becoming a human being--but even more than that--He also willingly became sin itself for us.

SELTZ: Yes, Jesus became human like us, but He lived a perfect life. And incredibly, upon Him was placed all of our sin and imperfection, our faults and failures. Jesus was punished by God the Father in our place for our sin to save us from the consequences of our guilt, our disobedience, and our brokenness. He was that Sacrifice that saved us when He died on the cross.

ANNOUNCER: The writer of the book of Hebrews summed that up, that sacrifice, when he wrote: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV). Hebrews 10 goes on to say that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. It says "We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10 NIV).

SELTZ: That's a great verse. Those are great verses. They tell the significance of the incarnation of Jesus. It says, "We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus once for all." You see, Jesus became our Substitute. Where we failed, He succeeded. He became like us, but instead of sinning, He lived a perfect life in our place. 

ANNOUNCER: And, amazingly as the sinless Son of God, all of our sin was still placed upon Him and He took the punishment for it. 

SELTZ: Even more amazingly, Mark, He rose from the dead and His sacrifice was confirmed as acceptable before God the Father. Now God looks at each one of us, through faith in Jesus Christ, and He sees us perfect because all our sins have been paid for in Him.

ANNOUNCER: I guess you're really saying the incarnation of Jesus changes everything.

SELTZ: Without it, we would still be lost eternally. Only God Himself could save us. Only Jesus in the flesh, God in the flesh, could do that.

ANNOUNCER: Here we think of St. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15: "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:21-23 ESV).

SELTZ: That's why Jesus is sometimes called the "Second Adam." He fixed, repaired, restored what the first Adam broke and so that incarnation shows us the remarkable love of God. If you are listening today, God Himself is inviting you to put your trust in Him, inviting you personally to have faith in the Savior who did pay for your sins, who rose from the dead. One day we will even see Him face to face. We will see the wounds that earned our grace. We will receive His physical embrace. But in the meantime, He is with us always even to the end of the age. 

ANNOUNCER: And that's the comfort, isn't it? That He is with us always, even to the end of the age. 

SELTZ: Exactly.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Action in Ministry for December 20, 2015
Guest: Yvette Seltz

ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action in Ministry. We're here back in the studio now with Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm thinking about your travels to Israel and what it must have been like for you to preach today's sermon in the places where it all happened.

SELTZ: Yeah, seeing where Jesus walked, Mark, and taught, and spent time among His disciples; it impacts how I see the Scriptures and I know it did for all the people there. And then, of course, the account of how Christ came to earth as a Baby, wow! To see it.

ANNOUNCER: Well, as we look ahead to celebrating Christmas, let's take a glimpse at your life beyond the broadcast studio...

SELTZ: Okay.

ANNOUNCER: Would you please introduce for us today's special guest? 

SELTZ: Well, I'd love to. Being a pastor, to do it well, it's always great to have a wonderful helpmate and I have one; my wife Yvette. And Yvette, we've been married, what, thirty years now. 

Y. SELTZ: Thirty years.

SELTZ: She's my biggest fan. More importantly than that, she's also very wise counsel in my life and a great sounding board, and even much more, Mark.

ANNOUNCER: And Yvette, you also have a Master's Degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology. You're a PhD candidate in clinical psychology which enables you to be a real blessing to others as well. So, thank you for joining us today.

Y. SELTZ: Well, thank you, Mark, for having me here and also for saying that I'm a special guest because I really think I am. (laughter)

SELTZ: Yes you are, dear.

Y. SELTZ: Thank you. Thank you. 

ANNOUNCER: We're talking about Christmas today. Maybe you could share with us some of your favorite Christmas traditions? 

SELTZ: Very early on into our ministry, you have Christmas Eve and the specialness that goes on there. Yvette would say, "Let's have our own after it's all said and done." And so she'd tell me to take Devin home and we'd have a quiet time at the house. But here's what she did that made even that more special. She'd run to Bennigan's and get us a little food, but then what she would do before she came home was she would veer off and she would take some gifts to these folks who were working at the Village Inn. But what she did is she focused on them even that night. That night we needed together. And then she'd bring all that joy back to us and then we'd listen in our quiet time to Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel by Mannheim Steamroller. And think about the fact that Christ was willing to do all this for us. And all I can tell you is that extra special thing of adding a little gift here and there for those who matter made such a difference into how I actually enjoyed Christmas.

Y. SELTZ: I think I'm particularly vulnerable. I'm aware of a lot of people that are by themselves during this time of year. I think police officers and health care workers; so just going and saying, "I see you and I thank you for everything you've done." It just fills you up because they're not expecting it.

SELTZ: They're not expecting it. They actually bring more joy to us in how they receive it, but it's part of our tradition.

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Seltz, given your busy schedule during the year, how do you intentionally slow things down in order to focus on Christ and the real meaning of Christmas? Yvette, I'm sure you play a big role in that.

Y. SELTZ: I do. I play a tremendous role. (laughter)

SELTZ: Well, tell the young man about that, Dear. 

Y. SELTZ: Because he's constantly on the go and it's hard to pull him away from his work, but we have to make the most of the small moments we get; during family meals, evening prayers by the fire, playing music in the home, and just really refocusing on the things that are important in our family.

SELTZ: One of the things that she does that I try to do for myself too but she does it with me; and that is she'll send me a text of the Bible verse for the day that keeps me focused no matter what's going on. It gives me something else to think through.

Y. SELTZ: It's usually pretty relevant too.

SELTZ: Isn't that amazing. But the things she was just talking about; structuring time so that you're focusing on your family, those you love, as well as those you serve so that you don't get out of balance. 

ANNOUNCER: And in that way you maintain that connection between the two of you but also it's that connection that you have with Christ and His mission which is the reason you're out there being busy anyway.

Y. SELTZ: Absolutely.

SELTZ: Right. 
ANNOUNCER: Now, beyond the time crunch, Christmas is also a time where many people could be struggling with the loss of a loved one, a broken relationship, maybe a failed expectation; with your background in psychology, what would you say to those folks who are experiencing that kind of a Christmas? 

Y. SELTZ: The holidays do bring up a lot of emotions; melancholy, my grandmother would cry every Christmas.

ANNOUNCER: Why did she cry?

SELTZ: That's what I'm saying. She wasn't crying because of melancholy. She wasn't crying because of all the things we cry about. She was crying because Jesus had to die on the cross for her. And she thought of that on Christmas Day. 

Y. SELTZ: Every Christmas.

SELTZ: So it used to overwhelm her and I said that's what made her so special. Even there she was showing us; focus on Christ and then focus on another person because of Christ. 

Y. SELTZ: You know I think it's really an important time to sit and try to think about not to push those feelings away but to realize that they're there and to face them head-on. 

ANNOUNCER: Well, this is our Action in Ministry segment for today; to bless, to empower...

SELTZ: And to strengthen your life in Christ for others.

ANNOUNCER: And thank you, Pastor Seltz and Yvette, for being with us today giving us a glimpse of a Seltz family Christmas and we wish you and your family, including your daughter, Devin, a very blessed Christmas. 

Y. SELTZ: Thank you and Merry Christmas to everybody.

SELTZ: And I just want to extend a blessed Christmas from Yvette and from me to all of you who make Lutheran Hour possible. God be with you and your families today and always.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Come, Your Hearts and Voices Raising" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)



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