Dear friends in Christ. Come with me and let us look together into the stable in Bethlehem. What do we see? We see the little town of Bethlehem all crowded with people for the Roman census and all that that brings with it. Of course, we see St. Mary—the young virgin mother who had just given birth and we see St. Joseph her husband. If we look a bit more closely we will see a manger, which until just recently will filled with food for cattle but now the newborn Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in it. We see various farm animals lying or running about. We even see a few bewildered shepherds coming in. This scene, or something similar, is depicted on in every nativity scene wherever it may be.
Except for the virgin mother and shepherds coming in with reports of seeing angels, there is nothing too much out of the ordinary. But when we, with the eyes of faith, take a closer look—and in particular look at the Newborn Baby—then the scene changes and becomes the most spectacular scene. We see that the heart and core of Christmas is made up of the most amazing of contrasts and that’s what makes Christmas the true miracle and blessing that it is. When we look at the Baby Jesus what do we see? We see that the almighty eternal God, the Creator of heaven and earth of all things visible and invisible, is now a creature. We see that the One who preserves the world and everything in it and holds it all together is now dependent upon His mother for life and sustenance. We sing in the hymn about Jesus [#105]: [That He] In want and lowliness must pine Who heav’n and earth did make; He nestles at His mother’s breast, Receives her tender care, Whom angels hail with joy most blest.
The Church Father, Hilary of Poitiers, also writes: The firstborn of God, one with God in His ineffable origin, enters the womb of the Blessed Virgin to grow as a human fetus. He who contains all, in whom and for whom all things are, comes into the world like every other man. He whose voice makes angels and archangels tremble and melts the skies and the earth and all the elements of this world makes heard his infant wailing. He who is invisible and incomprehensible, who cannot be measured by sight, sense, or touch, is laid down with care in a manger.
This great contrast that we see at Christmas is what St. Paul talks about in our text: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich. As we ponder the words of the blessed Apostle for a few moments tonight in the light of Christmas, we will see that Christmas is all about Jesus’ enriching poverty—that is, Jesus, the true eternal God entered into our poverty so that we might receive His riches.
Why was there the first Christmas? Why did Jesus enter our poverty? St. Paul tells us in our text: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s grace is why there is Christmas. God’s grace is His wholly undeserved favor toward us. He didn’t owe us anything; He wasn’t obligated to us in any way. Instead, there was Christmas because of God’s free kindness and favor. God’s eternal love for humankind was the only reason and motive for Christmas, for Jesus to enter into our poverty. This is in no way an obscure thought of Scripture found only here. Instead, God’s free grace and favor motivated by His love for us is a thought that permeates Scripture. In the Christmas Epistle, St. Paul describes Christmas—the coming of God in the flesh—this way [Ti 2.11]: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. Jesus is the living manifestation of God’s grace. God’s grace is not just some abstract thought in God that stays there in God. Instead God’s grace shows itself—visibly and tangibly, the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared. Jesus was born that first Christmas. Here we see that this is the way God works—He makes His grace visible. Not only did He do that at the first Christmas but He continues to make His grace visible to us in the waters of holy baptism and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. To put it differently: if you deny the sacraments, you deny Christmas. God makes His grace visible to us material, physical creatures: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas and beyond.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor. Jesus, the true God and also true man, came that first Christmas and entered into our poverty. But what is this poverty of ours? If we look around that first Christmas we will see the stable that Jesus was born in; we will see a poor Galilean family in the midst of farm animals huddled around a poorly clothed Baby; soon we will see that family fleeing for their lives from a king wanting to destroy that Child. Is that the poverty that Jesus entered into? Yes, but it’s more than that. All that is merely the symptoms of our true poverty. Our poverty is a spiritual poverty; and it was for this spiritual poverty that Jesus came in grace, that visible manifestation of divine grace, on that first Christmas: though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor.
That first Christmas, when the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, what was humanity’s spiritual poverty? Our spiritual poverty was that because of the fall into sin by our first parents, Adam and Eve, we had lost paradise—now earthly life is a struggle in every way; by the sin and guilt of our first parents and added to that is our own sin and guilt, heaven is shut to us; because of the sin of our first parents—its guilt and corruption passed down through the generations until it comes to us, to which we add our own sin—there is, left to ourselves, no hope of salvation. That’s our poverty in just what we lack. But every person in poverty isn’t just lacking something, they also have something —like debt, unpaid bills, stress/ anxiety about where the next meal will come from. Our spiritual poverty means also that we have something—we have sin and guilt condemning us; we have a conscience always accusing us of sin, we have death and damnation in hell awaiting us. This is the spiritual poverty we have all been born into and suffer with. Left to ourselves there is no way for us out of this spiritual poverty. It’s like poor people playing the lottery—because they spend what little money they have on lottery tickets hoping to “strike it rich” but all in futility—they only get more poor. We are born in this spiritual poverty and try as we might—with all kinds of things we think are good works—heaven and salvation will still be shut to us, and sin, guilt, death and damnation will still be our lot. That’s our condition and that’s how it would remain except the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people and our text: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor.
In grace toward us poor sinners Jesus came that first Christmas and for [our] sake He became poor. How unfathomable is this grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came from the glory, majesty, holiness, perfection of heaven to our sin corrupted and contaminated world and for [our] sake He became poor!
But what was this poverty of Jesus—the true God who became true man born of the virgin in Bethlehem? The first thing to remember is that when Jesus became man and was born that first Christmas, He did not stop being God. Instead, what Jesus was that during His time on earth He laid aside the use of His divine attributes—His glory, power, majesty, might, etc. He still had them but He did not always or fully use them. At the same time as Jesus was lying in the manger or nestled at the virgin’s breast, He was still the true God. He was just laying aside, not using His divinity and looked/ seemed like any other baby boy fully dependent on His mother. Remember He was rich—not just when Jesus was in heaven but also on earth because He is not only true man but also true God; just like a millionaire who decides not to use his wealth is still a millionaire with millions in the bank even though he lives like a beggar on the street.
- And here is where Jesus’ grace shines forth so brilliantly: He was rich, He was the true God but during the time of His earthly work He became poor, that is, He did not use His wealth/ His heavenly power and glory and majesty so He could be our Savior. We catch a glimpse of this as we look into Bethlehem’s stall and see Jesus lying in the manger. Jesus—the true God—emptied Himself of His heavenly glory to join our humanity to His divinity—God becoming man, that’s the Christmas miracle—and the reason He did that? So He could suffer and die for us.
And here we see Jesus’ true poverty. Even that first Christmas when Jesus, the true God, came and became also true man and became poor, not using His divinity that He had and could rightly use, He was still wrapped in swaddling cloths; this pointed forward to His greater poverty that would show itself later, when He completely emptied Himself of any use of His divine glory and hung on the cross naked as the once for all perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. Look into the manger and see the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and there see His grace as on the cross suffering for the sins of the world—yours and mine--He would later be completely in abject poverty.
But rejoice! He was rich, that is, He is still the true God. He is true God lying there in the manger and He is true God hanging there on the cross. Because He is the true God, we not only see His great grace and mercy toward us sinners in doing everything necessary and possible to save us from our sins--the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people; we see that because He, Jesus, is true God His work, then, has value and worth to save all people from sin.
Why did Jesus who though He was rich… [become] poor? So that [we] by His poverty might become rich. Jesus had to become poor—that is, not always and fully use His divine glory and majesty that were rightfully His—so that He could suffer and die for the sins of the world and reconcile us sinners to the holy God so that we might become rich in His salvation. By Jesus’ lowliness and poverty—which began and showed itself already with His conception and birth—He obtained heavenly and spiritual goods for us so we might become rich in soul.
A wonderful exchange happens beginning that first Christmas—Jesus becomes poor so that we might become rich. He gives us of His heavenly wealth as we give Him our spiritual poverty. By His poverty Jesus removed our guilt as He took our sins upon Him, made them His own, and in the abject poverty of not making use of/ laying aside His divine glory, honor and holiness was declared the world’s sinner and there on the cross suffered and endured all of God’s wrath and punishment over sin. As in confession we give Jesus our sins and guilt, He gives us His perfect holiness. Beginning already in the womb of Mary and continuing throughout all His earthly life, Jesus lived a holy perfect sinless life for us. It is this holiness and perfection—this heavenly wealth that Jesus gives us and covers us with in the absolution and sacraments. By His poverty in suffering and dying, Jesus suffered the curse for us and destroyed sin and the devil and their claims on us. Now Jesus gives us His riches—the forgiveness of sin, heaven and eternal life.
With the riches of Jesus He bestows on us true happiness is now ours, Christmas cheer is ours throughout the year and into eternity! What a glorious Christmas gospel: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich. INJ