“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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.’” (Mt. 1:18–23, ESV).
Today, we hear the lost, frightened and suffering mankind increasingly more often putting this question to the Church of Christ, “Where is your God?” And although the world always changes, the Church has for centuries given the same unchanging answer, “God is with us!” The world asks, “Where exactly is your God?” And the Church boldly proclaims, “In the Child Jesus! In the incarnate Word, in the Means of God’s Grace.” And just as the Lord Himself promised, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” the same holds true today. God is with us!
For the Word of the Lord does not change: just as in those days long ago there was no room in the inn for the Savior to be born, so today there’s no room for Him in some human hearts. Just as in those days the King of the Universe was born in a poor stable, so today the Son of God doesn’t find shelter in the resplendent palaces among the powers that be, but among those who need help and protection — among the afflicted and lonely, near those who need comfort and encouragement.
Truly, something incomprehensible happened in those days: the Word became flesh. However, the same Word is proclaimed also today and God’s grace is given to the faithful in the Sacraments of the Church.
Immanuel! God is with us! Christ is among us!
For centuries, the joyful news of the Nativity has been proclaimed across the earth, and whoever proclaims it asserts one thing: the universal nature of this message.
The angels heralded to the shepherds, “We bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” After them, the Apostles, the Church Fathers, and Christ’s pastors echo back, “Joy for all people! Salvation is for all people! Mercy is upon every living man!” And our Church, too, joins in with this chorus and prays the Prayer of the Church in this period, “[May] there be no nation or dwelling left in the world where they do not rejoice in Your glorious coming.”
God is with us! Christ is with us!
In Christ we become close in spite of distance, in Christ we can rejoice in spite of sorrows and afflictions, through Christ we find rest and peace in spite of the fear that holds sway around us. By Christ we are set free from the bondage of sin, and already here on earth we are resurrected to a new life, having a confident hope for the life everlasting.
God is with us! Christ is born!
And in these days of Christmas, we are once again reminded of the events of the Gospel, whose course does not stop at the Nativity Scene, but takes us further, revealing the fullness of the ministry of God’s Son among us:
He is in the manger — and we rejoice and each person can draw near to Him without fear! God is with us!
He carries out His ministry — and we hear the words of eternal life, we are healed and fed. God is with us!
He is on the Cross — and we are convinced of the unconditional love of our Heavenly Father and each person can in faith receive the forgiveness of all sins. God is with us!
He rose from the dead — and hell is powerless, death has no power over us any longer. God is with us!
He ascended to the Father — and He sent a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, into our hearts, so that each of us can confess not only with our mouth, but also with works of love and mercy, with our service to our neighbor, and with our entire life: “God is truly with us!”
And if today, in times of hardships and trials, we hear in our hearts the tempting whisper, “Where is your God?” — we know the answer: “God is with us!”
I wish you a blessed celebration of hope, peace, and joy, the Feast of the Birth of Christ!
Ivan Laptev, Bishop of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria