The Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, 24 December 2021
A Sermon on 1 John 4:7-16 by Samuel D. Zumwalt
1 John 4:7-16 [English Standard Version] 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.
SO THAT WE MIGHT LIVE THROUGH HIM
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.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You know how we say each Easter: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Tonight we say: Christ is born! Glorify Him! Let’s try that: Christ is born! Glorify Him!
I want to talk to you about love tonight. And not just any love, like the love I have for my wife, or the love I have for my children, or the love I have for my parents and siblings, or the love I have for my friends. I want to talk about the love God has for you, for me, for everyone.
But, first let me introduce myself. My name is Shmuel, or Samuel as you are more likely to say it. But my name is not important. No, what you need to know is I am a shepherd, a keeper of sheep. It can be for us like the life of a warrior: hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror. For, you see, there are predators out there, wolves after the sheep. We shepherds know what it looks like when wolves attack a sheep. Usually, you will find them hunting in pairs or maybe a small pack of three or four. Living in a more desert-like climate such as ours, they are not large, so they aim for the easy prey, for the smaller animals. They may even attack small children. It’s not a pretty sight.
So, we have a rod, a wooden club with nails on the end that can protect both us and our sheep when we must contend with wolves. I tell you having a rod is a good thing when we and our sheep are in danger. We also have a staff we use like a walking stick that can help us in this hilly terrain and even pull out a sheep when he is stuck in a crevice. The staff will reach 5-6 feet, and so it, too, makes a good weapon. You need any weapon you can lay your hands on with wolves.
Some say we shepherds are always the youngest child like King David as a boy. Others says we are older men. A few even say we have been trained as priests and help to select the lambs to be sacrificed, yes, especially the lamb without blemish sacrificed at the Passover. All you need to know is a shepherd guards his sheep. He leads them to where food can be found. He takes them to where they can drink, whether from a slow moving stream or from a cistern or well. But enough already about that.
I want to talk to you about love tonight. And not just any love but the love God has for you, for, me, and for everyone. But first, just a little more you need to know.
So, there I was with my friends watching over our sheep out in a field after it had been harvested. It was a quiet night, but, as I said, that could change quickly when wolves start sneaking up to steal a sheep. My eyes had adjusted to the dark. We kept a small fire. I tell you it can get cold out there even with a woolen outer garment. We were talking among ourselves. We each had a small, dried skin bag containing our food (bread, cheese, dried fruit, and olives). We were eating, yes, but we were watching our sheep. That was why we were there: to guard. To protect.
Suddenly, it was so bright it hurt our eyes. Squinting at the brightness, we saw someone in that light. It was more terrifying than when wolves suddenly attack and the sheep start bleating. From the light came this voice, “Do not be afraid.” Sure. You see something like that and aren’t afraid? What? You think otherwise? You think: not me? I wouldn’t be afraid? You should have been there.
But. I want to talk to you about love tonight. And not just any love but the love God has for you, for, me, and for everyone. But first, just a little more you need to know.
So, who shows up making such a scene in the dark? It was an angel, a messenger from the Lord God. The Sadducees, those big shots in Jerusalem, say there’s no such thing as angels. They should have been there. They wouldn’t be talking such foolishness. There are angels, I tell you. And this one said after, “Don’t be afraid,” Uh huh! He said: “For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
So, I’m here to talk to you about love tonight: the love God has for you, for me, for everyone.
Now, you want to know what the love of God is? I tell you it’s a baby, and, not just any baby. It’s the King for which we have been waiting six hundred years. It’s the Messiah from David’s family. And not just any king, but a savior. And not just any Savior, but Christ the Lord: God Himself born into our history and born into the world as a baby. Try to wrap your head around that! You can’t. It’s too big. It’s too wonderful. Maybe, you think impossible. And that is love!
And not just any love but God’s love for you, for me, for everyone… even the big shots in Jerusalem, even the Romans who despise us, even the people who have done the worst things imaginable. Have you admitted to God the worst thing you’ve done? God sent His Son into the world to be our Savior. From what, you may ask? Please, ask away. So, I’ll tell you. From sin, from death, and from the wolf of all wolves, the old fallen angel himself, the devil. You talk about a predator. Like the gray wolves we have here, he always goes for the weakest, the most vulnerable. You think maybe there’s no devil either? Guess who he’s having for dinner.
So, why did God send His Son on a cold winter’s night? He loves you. He loves me. He loves everyone. Why did God send His Son to be born as a baby? So that we might live through Him. Now, what does this mean? Nice question. You should know what we shepherds know. We know that a lamb without blemish is sacrificed at Passover as when Israel was in bondage in Egypt. We know that the blood of the lamb without blemish was painted on our doorposts with a hyssop branch. We know that when the angel of death saw the blood of the lamb without blemish, he passed over the houses that were marked with the blood of the Passover lamb.
So, now you want to know why the birth of the Lord God Himself as a baby is love like no other? Because that Baby like no other, that King like no other, that Savior like no other is the Lamb of God, the sacrifice for the sins of the world. This means God loves you more than His own life, because He loves everyone and everything He has made. And He wants everyone to be saved from sin, death, and that ravenous old wolf who hates everyone and everything God has made. Because of sin, we die. What? You think it’s just planned obsolescence? No. God sent us a Baby, a King, a Savior, a Lamb, because God is the Good Shepherd, who wants none to be lost forever and none to be devoured by the old wolf forever. He sent His Son that we might live through Him. He died that we might live. That is God’s love for you, for me, and for everyone.
So, there we were in all that light, yes, the glory of the Lord: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’” (2:13-14). It was a sight and a sound I could never forget. Something like that changes you forever. And you realize that the Shepherd of Israel sent good news to a nobody shepherd like me. So that, with these own eyes, I could see the Baby born in a place for animals and born to the humblest of parents. God’s Son born to a young woman little older than a girl. God’s Son placed in the care of a pious carpenter from a nowhere place like Nazareth in Galilee. Why shouldn’t such Good News be told to nobody shepherds?
So, I came to talk to you about love tonight. And not just any love, like the love I have for my wife, or the love I have for my children, or the love I have for my parents and siblings, or the love I have for my friends. I came to talk about the love God has for you, for me, for everyone. It’s yours. The best gift you ever got. Better than all the gifts you’ve ever gotten. Yes, a gift. I saw Him with my own eyes. We all went to Bethlehem and saw the Baby Jesus. What a gift!
So, we still live among wolves, and some of them come dressed in sheep’s clothing and even shepherd’s clothing. So, you don’t want to be out there all alone in the dark… looking like what’s for dinner to any ravenous wolf. Don’t let the old wolf keep you isolated. Vulnerable.
I’m a different kind of shepherd now. They call me pastor, which means shepherd in Latin. The Lord God uses me to guard the sheep. I wash them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and then, joined to the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection, they live in Him. I feed them with Christ’s true Body and most precious Blood for the forgiveness of sins. I watch over them and guard them from wolves. So, you don’t have to stay out there in the dark. There’s room for you in the flock. I’m really just a sheep dog who points the sheep to their Good Shepherd. They have the eternal life and love of God through Him. And you can have it, too!
So, now, let’s say it again. Christ is born! Glorify Him!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA