“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” He was born there… in the city of David… in that place, at that time. But of course, we wish for him to be born anew into our hearts here, in this place, at this time – in the city of our great leader. We want him to renew our faith. We want him to give us joy and peace. And we want him to save us—from our personal and collective failures, such as our tendencies to fight, to self-destruct, to give up; and from our guilt, our weakness, our fears. As such, we have gathered here this evening not just to remember, but also to pray and to listen.
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David…” Luke emphasizes the time and place in his telling of the story. Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus, in Bethlehem. Other Gospel accounts have other emphases. This coming year the church will have us read the story of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel. We already read, last Sunday, Matthew’s short description of Jesus’ birth. There we heard no reference to the city of David, but rather a reference to the Son of David. A reference to family, not place. There too it was an angel who spoke the words, saying: “Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”
When Matthew begins his Gospel account he does so through the giving of Jesus’ genealogy. It’s very important to Matthew to show that Jesus is an actual descendant of David, not just one who is part of the greater family of faith. Matthew explains that there are 14 generations from Jesus back to the time of Israel’s last king at the time of their deportation to Babylon, and, before this, there were 14 generations back to the time of David, Israel’s greatest king.
But Matthew doesn’t stop there. He goes back even further. As he says in the first verse of his Gospel, Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. And so, the genealogy goes back 14 more generations to Abraham—the man known as Israel’s father of faith.
With the listing of these two men in Jesus’ family history Matthew is showing us more than just a royal lineage. He’s telling us something about Jesus’ calling. Jesus is called to be the great king promised to Israel, patterned after David. And, Jesus is called to be the one who carries out the promise of bringing blessing to all nations—as first told to Abraham.
Son of David. Son of Abraham. Jesus had quite the calling. And Jesus fulfilled his calling. As a king, he reigned justly and mercifully over the people of his day—not as their political leader but as one who healed their illnesses and taught them about God. He explained to them what the kingdom of God really meant—that it was not a place with borders but rather a faith with works of service. And then he offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross—showing what kind of service the kingdom is about, and making atonement for the sin of the world.
Jesus was a king patterned after David, and yet the reign that Jesus brought is even greater than David’s. It is greater because it harkens back to the promise to Abraham. It is for all people. It is based on faith—a trust that God is speaking to us, guiding us and leading us to the heavenly place he has prepared for us.
Son of David. Son of Abraham. Jesus understood his heritage and his calling. What about us? What about you? Do you understand your heritage and your calling?
One of the neat things about my heritage is that I was born in a hospital in Denison, Iowa. The “neat” part is that my father’s name is Dennis—so I am truly Dennis’ son! But more important to my heritage is that my father is a great man. I am blessed to have him as my father. I was also blessed with a wonderful mother.
Looking back on my heritage I see that I was also blessed to have other great mentors and teachers in my life—as I’m sure you had. One of my favorite mentors growing up was Pastor Ron Goodsman. He had such a profound impact on me, that in many ways you could say I am the son of Ron as well. Pastor Goodsman died a few weeks ago, after a long battle with cancer. I’ve been thinking a lot about him recently and how much he taught me. I know much of this I’ve shared with you over the years, but some things bear repeating. He’s the one who taught me: “The people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” He taught me that a good pastor should live and act in such ways that the people say, “In matters of theology he stands like a rock, but in all other things he’s the most accommodating man I know.” And then there’s the one that still convicts me: “The later a man gets up in the morning the less the world cares whether he gets up at all.”
And it wasn’t just the pithy sayings. Pastor Goodsman taught me it was good to laugh. He himself had a great laugh—a truly memorable laugh. He taught me you could tease someone in a kind and appropriate way—although thinking back on this I would add that you have to be pretty talented at that to carry it off. He was. He also taught me that you didn’t always have to follow the book, as he modeled when he began each sermon: “Come Lord Jesus quickly, many of us are waiting for you and not one of us will be disappointed. Amen.” I’ve never heard another pastor say those words. They’re not in the book. But they’re certainly consistent with what our church teaches—and I remember them, as did so many others.
And there was one other bit of advice that he gave me on preaching…advice that was not “in the book,” so to speak, but advice that I think is good. He said, “In the history of Lutheran preaching there is one small word… a very small word indeed… that we’ve been taught not to use. But I think that, in moderation, it can be used effectively. That word is “I.” Don’t use it to express an opinion. But use it to tell a story, about you, because the troubles and concerns that you face are those that your people face too. And through God’s care of you they can see God’s care for them.
And so, I’m telling you some stories from my life, and how God used a man to teach me, inspire me and shape me. I am a son of Ron, and a son of Dennis, and a son of David and a son of Abraham. And you are sons and daughters of great men and women too. Christmas helps us to remember them, and moves us to give thanks.
Jesus was the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham, but above all, Jesus was, and is, the Son of God. He was born into the world as a child, with a calling, to make his Father known and to carry out the work of the Father—saving the world from its sin.
As Christians, we believe that we too are children of God. Oh, not in the same way as Jesus is. He is the only-begotten Son of the Father. He is God who took on flesh. We are flesh alone, born into a fallen and sinful humanity. And yet, because Jesus fulfilled his calling and did the work of the Father, we can be called children of God too. Our second reading today, from 1 John 4, begins by referring to this status of ours. It says: “Whoever loves has been born of God” (v. 7). If we were to read a chapter earlier in that epistle we would hear even more direct words: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” We are children of God because we were adopted into the family of God, when God worked his love in our hearts—forgiving our sins and moving us to confess our faith.
Because we are children of the same Father we should then love one another. That’s the point John wishes to make for us. Hear it again: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
On Christmas night as we think about God’s great love in sending the Son to be our Savior, let us think about how and who we need to love. Is there someone in your family, or in your circle of friends, or in your workplace, or in your neighborhood, who you need to love a little better? Do you need to exhibit more grace and patience? Do you need to forgive them? Do you need to be a father of faith to them like Abraham? Or a servant leader like David? Do you need to share the good news of salvation in Jesus with them?
Christmas calls us to be sons and daughters of God. Jesus was born to connect us with our heavenly Father, so that we could know of His great love for us and then love one another as family.
I’m going to conclude by saying one final thing about Jesus as Son of David and Son of Abraham. Maybe I’m pulling more out of these words than is intended by Matthew, but I see in them a distinction which speaks to a tension we Christians all must live with. In one way, we are children of David. David was a king. We live under the reign of Jesus, the Son of David, as our King. As such, the church—those who also call him king—is our family, and we seek our identity as members of this family. We support one another, we care for one another and we lift up Christ Jesus as our leader.
In another way, however, we are children of Abraham. Abraham was to be a blessing to all nations. He was not a king of any one kingdom here on earth. He wandered from place to place, living only with a future promise. As such, we then are to see the world, too, as our family… supporting all people, caring for all people, and celebrating our common humanity.
Living with this tension is not easy and I offer no particular advice toward it in the remaining moments of this sermon, other than to say that we must recognize this important task of ours, and that I am planning to address it quite frequently in this coming year’s sermons and Bible Classes. Matthew’s presentation of the life and teaching of Jesus, and its strong emphasis on what Jesus calls “the Kingdom of Heaven,” will certainly help us to do that.
“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Whenever God’s message about Jesus is proclaimed, considered and trusted our Savior is born anew in our hearts. May God then lead us to understand and appreciate the great gift of the Savior we have been given, and may God’s love, too, be born again in you—that you may share it with your family of faith, and with all the world. In the name of Jesus, amen.