What Child is This?
Christmas Eve – 12/24/2023
Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer
That portion of God’s holy Word for consideration this morning is our third reading form the book of the prophet Isaiah in the ninth chapter, with special emphasis on verses six and seven which read as follows:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Thus far the Scriptures.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” So begins a much beloved Christmas hymn by the nineteenth century Englishman William C. Dix. This question was not new in 1865 when the song was penned. In fact, some version of this question had been asked since the very beginning. The disciples asked themselves a variant of this question when, as recorded in Matthew chapter eight, Jesus calmed a storm that had arisen. Through the centuries it was debated at all of the great meetings of the Christian Church which are called church councils. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, from which we get the original version and name of the Nicene Creed, this question was the central issue. And through the many centuries, this question has been asked by seekers, skeptics, and believers alike.
Today, this question is no less relevant than it has ever been. In fact, due to the ever present reality of social media, it might be more relevant now as a cultural issue. The simple reason for this is that the number of possible options seems to have never been greater. Due to the ease and availability of information and conversation on these platforms, it is possible to encounter any and every idea under the sun about who Jesus is and what His presence here in this world is meant to accomplish.
In order to answer this question, we must take us a related one as well: where do we get our information from about this Jesus? What is the source of our knowledge of this man? Perhaps this would be a good place to start from.
It seems that everyone these days loves to distrust institutions. And, well, I guess in some ways its hard to blame those who distrust them. So many have failed us and let us down. And this skepticism bleeds over to call into question the traditional Christian teaching on who Jesus is. After all, as some smug know-it-all said in a Facebook post, it’s the Church that teaches about Jesus and we all know that the Church can’t be trusted, so the Church must be wrong or is hiding something about Jesus!
To be fair, this does have a point. The Christian Church’s authority is not her own, rather, it is her Lord’s. To cut to the chase, the place we come to knowledge of Jesus is from His words and the words of those who were around Him. And where do we find these words? Recorded for us in the holy Scriptures. The teaching of Jesus and His apostles is recorded in our holy Bibles and yet these are so often dismissed in the question of who Jesus is in favor of other, more socially acceptable sources. The critics of Christianity in the ancient world dismissed the writings of the Apostles and the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels in favor of fan-fiction written well after the Lord’s death by people who didn’t know Him at all. Often these authors presented themselves as from Apostles and for this reason these forgeries still confuse people today as, for example, the so-called “Gospel” of “Thomas”. Even worse, people today will trust any talking head or dim social media poster so long as he or she teaches something different than what was taught in Sunday School. Despite the obvious foolishness of trusting a twenty minute old source over a two thousand year old source, many people are seduced this way and are led astray. This is no surprise, Jesus did warn us that many would come to lead us astray. Besides this, the Apostle Paul notes that people have itching ears that burn and itch to hear what they want, rather than what God says.
Suffice it to say, the Scriptures give us the real Christ as they are the product of His disciples, men who knew Him in His earthly ministry and who sat at His feet. And what do they remember Him saying? That He is God in the flesh. That He came to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. Those very things that people who apparently have never read the Bible so smugly assure us that it doesn’t say.
One of the more common iterations of a false Jesus trying to steal the identity of our Lord looks this way: an emphasis on “the way” or the “teaching” of Jesus as opposed to His person. A lot of talk of “loving God and loving neighbor” but precious little about why Jesus died or what His death accomplished. Basically, the modern false Jesus is not God and Savior, but guru and social engineer who came not to destroy evil, sin, and death through death, but to teach us to share our toys and not hit when we play together.
Dear friends, does this anemic, dull, and impotent Christ sound like the one foretold by Isaiah the prophet? How can we call such a lifeless dullard Wonderful Counselor or Mighty God? How could such a coward and weakling ever rule or bring about peace and security? Besides all this, love and service are great and indeed a mark of the Christian life, but what do these do to bring us eternal life or salvation? How can our feeble attempts at these things bring about salvation or innocence? What can these things do to remedy our sins or earn us back into the good graces of God? Distressingly, the Jesus who comes only to teach us to be nice is a Jesus who refuses to diagnose the problem of sin and thereby robs us of the true remedy for it, namely faith in the crucified Lord who gave His life so that we might receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.
No matter how nice it might sound, no matter how much it butters up our self-esteem, no matter how winsome and encouraging it may seem to focus on cultivating works of love to God and man, these cannot save. And if they could, we would have had no need for God, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be born of the virgin Mary. There would have been no need for His death. And, to confess that Jesus comes not to save, but to merely instruct, we turn our Lord’s death from a victory into the pathetic last gasp of an impotent loser.
But dear friends in Christ, our Lord is not this way. And while He certainly does instruct us to live in love and service to all, He comes to do greater things than this! For this Jesus was born not merely to point us in the right direction, but to drag us along that way. His life and word is powerful, not empty, and does what He wills it to accomplish. This Christ is no impotent guru, but the powerful Lord of all heaven and earth whose might is such that He earns salvation through the weakness and poverty of a human life and death. His might is revealed by submitting Himself to die a death He did not deserve and therein to earn for us life and forgiveness.
Yes, this is the real thing of Christmas: that Christ was born among us as a man, to redeem and save, to forgiven and reconcile, and to be the author of everlasting peace. And this was no accident of history but was from God’s own design the plan since the very beginning. In the garden of Eden God Himself foretold that a male child, born of the race of Eve, would crush the head of Satan and thereby destroy all the fruits of the latter’s wretched reign.
This is what Christ came to do. This is what He did.
So what Child is this laid to rest? This is our God, the destroyer of death. Our Redeemer. The One who vanquished sin. The one who defeated and bound the Devil. Our Lord. Jesus Christ.
In the Holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 Matthew 24:24
 2 Timothy 4:3