The Birth of Jesus Christ
2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
– Luke 2:1–14 ESV
“O, little town of Bethlehem …”
On this holy night, Christians will be singing this beloved carol. If ever a hymn captured the depth, the wonder of Luke 2:1-14, I’d say this is the one. Four verses that many will come to know by heart—four verses that speak to the predicament, the person, the promise and the plea that are wrapped up in the story we celebrate this night.
The predicament? The shadow of the Cross falls across the manger-bed that awaits the wee Babe. All the accumulated hopes and fears of humankind would be heaped on this Jesus. He would grow up and go to the Cross, for us and our salvation.
The person? None other than God in the flesh, the second person of the most holy Trinity—Son of God the Father, Son of the Virgin Mary. The gift of life would lay swaddled in bands of cloth that eerily resemble the burial garment that would enshroud Him in the tomb. We behold Him, the one who set aside the privileges of His divinity for a simple, makeshift cradle, every bit as willingly as He went to the Cross.
The promise? Nothing less than the blessings of His heaven for all who will believe Him and receive Him in humble faith and childlike trust.
The plea? I cannot say it better than Father Phillips Brooks (1835-93), an Episcopal priest who wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for his parish’s Sunday school children in 1867.
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 angels
The great glad tidings tell;
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel!
Be born in us today, Jesus! That’s our plea. Jesus is born in us when we daily remember our Baptism into the fullness of Jesus the Christ—His life, death and resurrection. And when the new life of Christ takes root in us and flourishes in our discipleship, well, that’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.
Prayer: O come to us, abide with us, Lord Jesus, Emmanuel. You know too well the hopes and fears that burden us. When we reflect on your holy birth, your sacrificial death, your glorious resurrection and your coming again, turn our reflection to action on behalf of our neighbors. Stir our hearts to treasure your life that gives us life, both now and into eternity. Stir us up to cherish life at every age and every stage of development. Swaddle us in your grace and mercy. Stir up our will, make it wholly Thine. Amen.
Pro-Life Action: In the coming 12 Days of Christmas, remember those who find the holidays difficult at best. How can you share the light and love of Christ with them in word and in action? How might you continue to be a “little Christ” to them throughout the year?
Today’s devotion was written by Rev. Dr. Cathi Braasch, STS. Rev. Braasch is a member of the NALC Life Ministries Team and pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Jackson Center, OH.
This year’s Advent devotions are written by the members of NALC Life Ministries. The devotional follows the daily Revised Common Lectionary for Advent and includes a Bible reading, commentary, prayer and pro-life action for every day until Christmas Eve.
As we move through the season of Advent, Scripture reveals the anxiety of an unplanned pregnancy, as Mary and Joseph ponder this miracle and seek to understand who this precious child might be. This devotional examines our responsibility to protect all human life in light of Mary and Joseph’s protection of Jesus, the savior of the world.
Our authors include Rev. Dr. David Wendel, Rev. Mark Chavez, Rev. Dr. Dennis Di Mauro, Rev. Dr. Cathi Braasch, Rev. Scott Licht, Rev. Sandra Towberman, Rev. Steve Shipman, Ms. Rebecka Andrae, Rev. Melinda Jones, Rev. David Nelson, Ms. Rosemary Johnson, Rev. Mark Werner and Rev. Steve Bliss.
Isaiah 7:10–14 (ESV)
The Sign of Immanuel
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Psalm 110:1–4 (ESV)
1 The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
1 John 4:7–16 (ESV)
God Is Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
Matthew 1:18–25 (ESV)
The Birth of Jesus Christ
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
[Luther writes]: “If I am to examine the spirit I must have the Word of God; this must be the rule, the touchstone, the lapis lydius, the light by means of which I can see what is black and what white.” … “ is is decisive; it does not matter what name he [the preacher] has, if he only teaches faithfully … has the Word of God as a plumb line.” … “What then, will you do? Will you condemn them? No, I do not want to condemn Benedictum and others, but I will take their books and go with them to Christ and his Word as the touchstone and compare the two.” … “If one says, the church or the bishops decided this, then answer: Come, let us go to the touchstone and let us measure with the right yard- stick and examine whether it agrees with the Pater Noster and with the Articles of Faith and whether he also preach forgiveness of sins. If it agrees with what Christ taught us, then let us accept it and do according to it.” (81)
[Luther writes:] “Paul takes them all together, himself, an angel from heaven, teachers upon earth, and masters of all kinds, and subjects them to the holy Scripture. Scripture must reign as queen (haec regina debet dominari), her all must obey and be subject to. Not teachers, judges, or arbiters over her, but they must be simple witnesses, pupils and confessors of it, whether they may be the Pope or Luther or Augustine or Paul or an angel from heaven” … —“I let you cry in your hostility that Scripture contradicts itself, ascribing righteousness now to faith and then to works. It is impossible that Scripture contradict itself; it only seems so to foolish, coarse, and hardened hypocrites” … — “We abandon the talk of the Jews and stick to St. Paul’s understanding which, not without cause, emphasizes the little word ‘seed’ and thereby indicates that Holy Scripture in Gen. 12:3 and 22:18 speaks of a single seed not of many, and says plainly that Christ is such seed. Paul does so out of a genuine apostolic spirit and understanding. We Christians do not care if such interpretation does not please the Jews. Paul’s interpretation weighs more with us than all glosses of the rabbis” … — “One letter, even a single tittle of Scripture means more to us than heaven and earth. Therefore we cannot permit even the most minute change.” (82–83)
–Johann Michael Reu, Luther on the Scriptures
This daily Bible reading guide, Reading the Word of God, was conceived and prepared as a result of the ongoing discussions between representatives of three church bodies: Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The following individuals have represented their church bodies and approved this introduction and the reading guide: LCC: President Robert Bugbee; NALC: Bishop John Bradosky, Revs. Mark Chavez, James Nestingen, and David Wendel; LCMS: Revs. Albert Collver, Joel Lehenbauer, John Pless, and Larry Vogel.