Dear people of Zion,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Christmas story is full of politics. We are reminded that the emperor was Caesar Augustus, that Quirinius was governor of Syria, and that there was census in order to tax all of the Roman Empire. But the true ruler of the world was the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Those swaddling cloths could not restrain his control of the universe. As we just sang, “The virgin Mary’s lullaby Calms the infant Lord Most high. Upon her lap content is He Who keeps the earth and sky and sea” (“We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth” LSB 382.3).
We cherish democracy, perhaps even hold it sacred in the Western world. And it all goes well until the one elected by the majority is not the one you want to have authority over you. Then come the protests, the accusations, the dirt digging and mud slinging, the media manipulation, and perhaps even impeachment, or the call for a new head of the opposition party who can displace the elected leader in the next election. Or, we bypass one parent and go and ask the other in order to get what we want. It starts very early in life and seems to go on until we no longer need our Canada Pension payments.
After a long and storied history of failing kings and rulers, after the threat of domination and captivity, the people of Judah and Jerusalem were given a promise from the LORD through the prophet Isaiah, that there would come a ruler who would “not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isaiah 11:3-4). He would not be influenced by those who could get close enough to whisper in his ear, or who could manipulate what he saw of the conditions of his people. He would advocate for those who could not speak for themselves, and bring justice to those who could not pay to get their own way.
That is the kind of ruler that the world needs and never sees. For those who we think would admirably fill the post, seem to get corrupted by the power that they are given. When we cast our vote for them they seem to be on our side, but once they begin to be immersed in all of the appeals from every side they soon forget from whence they came. They seem to leave us to wallow in our difficulties. Their cares seem to be for their own enrichment as the people suffer.
We have election results come in to us over the news outlets as the polls send in their returns across the country, and gradually we begin to see who it will be that will head our government. In more ancient times the decision was not made at polling stations, but more commonly on the battlefield, and the people remaining in the cities and towns would only find out the news when a messenger was sent back from the battle. The watchmen would be standing on the towers in order to get the first glimpse and be able to announce to the anxious people of the city, who their new ruler would be. Would the same king return to be the same disappointment? Would it be one of his greedy sons or a ruthless commander of the army? Would it be the head of a foreign nation come to take them into captivity and to remove anything of value or promise from the nation?
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” (Isaiah 52:7). It isn’t a foreign dictator come to oppress you. It isn’t a harsh military captain to enforce your servitude, it isn’t a greedy upstart looking to see what policies he can enact to his own advantage. This is your God who comes to reign, not a foreign god, but your God, the one from whom you can expect every good and blessing.
The watchmen see messengers running across the mountains and they take up the good news and cry out with joy to the people of Zion as they see not only the messenger, but close behind the LORD Himself is on His way. The cry of joy breaks out in the streets and the destitute begin to have hope. The oppressed and harassed are comforted by the news that their God is coming to relieve them of their burdens and to shelter them with His mercy.
Perhaps you are one of those destitute and oppressed. You may be poor in cash or poor in spirit, having trouble getting along day to day. You may be burdened with the demands heaped upon you by family or work or even demands you place upon yourself. There is good news. There is peace for your soul. Your God reigns. The God who created you, who has provided every blessing along your life, the God who has rescued you from every danger and called you to be His child in Holy Baptism, the God who guides and protects you with His Word and forgives all your sins, the God who feeds and nourishes you and has secured for you everlasting life, this is the God who reigns.
It is so easy for us to forget. It is so easy for us to focus on our own struggles and difficulties and see that they are not being resolved the way that we would like. We blame the government, our parents, anyone who has any kind of authority over us; and yes they all make their mistakes and they all do act selfishly and sinfully as do we. But we have comfort in knowing that truly our God reigns.
How beautiful upon the hills around Jerusalem were the feet of those angelic messengers who brought the good news, who said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the LORD” (Luke 2:11). The voice of the shepherds—they lifted up their voice together as they sang for joy; for eye to eye they saw “the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (2:12).
The LORD came to reign, for you. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). “The LORD has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations” (Isaiah 52:10), that little bared arm escaping out of the swaddling cloths to redeem His people. That is the mighty hand and the outstretched arm that delivered His people from oppression in Egypt (Exodus 6:6). It is the mighty hand and the outstretched arm that embraced a people for His own (Deuteronomy 4:34). This is the mighty hand and outstretched arm that revealed His might among the nations (Psalm 77:14-15) by rescuing His people with inexplicable wonders.
When the angel messenger brought the good news to Mary that the Son of the Most High would be born to her and reign forever, she broke forth into singing: “His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty” (Luke 1:50-53). Mary knew that the LORD who had done these things for His people was going to do these things for her, and He was going to do it through the Child that she bore.
That bare arm stretched out to heal the sick and to calm the storms. That bare arm stretched out in compassion and mercy. That bare arm wielded a whip of cords to drive out those who would oppress, and steal, and manipulate in His kingdom. That bare arm took a little girl by the hand to raise her from death, and touched the coffin of the widow’s son to restore him to her. And that bare arm was stretched out upon a Roman cross where your reigning God gave His life for you, for your sins, for your salvation.
That bare arm, pierced and bleeding, bore the full weight of all oppression and greed, and that includes our selfish complaints when we see others have it better than ourselves. It includes our sinful resentment against those who have power and authority over us. It includes our forgetfulness of God’s reign and our “trust in princes and mortal men who cannot save” us. That bare arm that slipped out of swaddling cloths was wrapped in a burial shroud in order to bring redemption to us, in order satisfy God’s justice to punish sin and at the same time to save His people in mercy and grace.
That bare arm was raised in triumph as the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead. He sent forth angel heralds to tell the women at His tomb that He was not there, but had risen. That bare arm stretched out to show Thomas the marks of the nails in His hands. And Thomas confessed, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). Yes, Thomas, “Your God reigns.” Yes, people of Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Today we celebrate Christmas, the revealing of the arm of God, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, who reigns for us, who came to save us, and even now brings comfort and grace to us as we await His return to Zion. God reigns in the flesh since that day He was incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was made man. Today we celebrate His appearing, His birth, and the good news rings out again for all to hear, especially you. For you need to hear it.
In the deep struggles of your life, you need to hear that your God reigns. The God who rescued the children of Israel through the sea, has rescued you in the water of Holy Baptism. The God who gave His life upon the cross for the sins of the world, gives Himself to you in the Lord’s Supper. This is your God who reigns and He will come again to Zion to remove all oppression and injustice and fear. He reigns and none of those other things can destroy you. They cannot hold you captive. He will break you free from them all, and not only you, for “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:10).
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.