The You Means Me

by Jason Micheli

Length: 9:50

Luke 2  (click to see Scripture text)

December 24, 2021

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A couple of Advents ago, I sat incognito in the second pew from the front and I watched as three- and four-year-olds portrayed the heavenly host to the best of their ability and kindergartners dressed in shaggy browns and grays played the friendly beasts gathered at the bedside of the incarnate God. 

One of the sheep, righteously angry about being thrust into such responsibility, cried angry tears where the pulpit normally stands.

“Gosh,” the man’s voice behind me said, “if I could be her age all over again, I wouldn’t make most of the decisions I’ve made … I’d do my life different if I could do it over again.” 

I could feel his breath hit the back of my neck as he spoke. 

His honest, almost reflexive declaration struck me as the perfect distillation of what we mean by the word, church. 

His was a confession given freely, even winsomely, as a reaction to the gospel and in the trust that he was in a space made safe by grace.

As the pageant proceeded, Mary, played by a fifth grader, appeared not only to be pondering the gravity of the angel’s annunciation to her but her next lines; meanwhile, the Gabriel delivered his glad tidings so fast you’d think there was an angel labor shortage and he had places to be. 

When Gabriel announced his goods news of great joy to the shepherd petting his cottony sawhorse flock of sheep, I heard a different voice behind me whisper to the man, “Can you imagine getting a message like that from God? Wouldn’t you love it if God said something like that to you?”

And the man behind me replied with the same astonished honesty, “If God spoke to me, I don’t expect I’d care much what he had to say to me. Just God speaking — to me — would be enough. @#$, that’d be a miracle.”

“You know my favorite part of that story?” the man behind me said to the woman seated next to him at the pageant’s end, “The you. ‘This shall be a sign for you.’ That you means me.” 

I didn’t have to look behind. I could hear that he was crying.

He’s right. 

We don’t ever dress it up in a felt costume or give it a speaking part in the cast of Christmas pageant, but the most important part of the nativity is not Caesar Augustus with his census decree or Mary who carries the Lord in the ark of her womb or the wise men who bring to a birth gifts for a death. 

The most important part of the nativity story is that ordinary, little word, “you.” 

The same little word makes its way into the heart of the first sermon after God raises Mary’s boy from the dead, “The promise is for you,” Peter preaches to all the guilty bystanders to the murder of God. 

The promise is for you— the very same sermon the heavenly host deliver tonight to the shepherds, who, mind you, according to the Law have no business coming within a country mile of Israel’s messiah. 

No matter the pageants we perform or the costumes we put on, the Gospel does not come to us as history about something that happened in a Galilee far, far away. 

Nor is the Gospel a story that has the same unchangeable application in all times for every person. 

No, the Gospel is a message. 

The Gospel is an invitation that applies immediately. 

The Gospel is a person-to-person, right now greeting from God. 

The Gospel is an address not to us abstractly but to you directly. 

The promise is for you. 

This shall be a sign for you. 

The carols tell us that Christ comes into the world to forgive sins “as far as the curse is found.” 

But think about it— does forgiveness really require Christmas? 

If God is good and loves to forgive sins, did God really need to become incarnate and tabernacle among us? 

If God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and mercy, then is it truly necessary for the Word to become flesh? 

That the Lord is merciful and full of grace is already the major theme of the psalms, indeed of the entire Old Testament. 

We don’t need great David’s greater Son to learn what David himself has already told us: God is love, God forgives misdeeds, God heals all  wounds. 

The shepherds, if they were even C- Jews, already knew what you no doubt know without having to come to church tonight: that the Lord is loving and forgiving. 

What the shepherds did not know, what they shepherds had not heard, what the shepherds could not receive simply from scripture was their God saying to each of them, “I forgive you. I love you.”

Tonight God comes down the up staircase; so that, in Jesus Christ we might hear firsthand God say to us, “Your sins are forgiven.”

I bring you good news of great joy. 

This shall be a sign for you. 

The promise is for you. 

God proclaims to each of them. 

It’s likewise tonight— God’s speaking. 

You didn’t need to come here tonight to hear the story of the nativity. 

Linus can read it for you just as easily as he reads it for Charlie Brown. 

And our musicians are great but no doubt you already have spectacular, A-list covers of Christmas carols on your Spotify. 

You didn’t need to come here tonight to sing “Silent Night.” 

And good lord, EVERYONE already knows that God is love. 

Even the terrible Christmas episode of Ted Lasso Season Two has more substance than a vanilla, My Little Pony sentiment like “God is love.”

But what you did need to come here tonight to receive, the gift the church has to give that you can get nowhere else, is the living God speaking to you every bit as directly and individually as those shepherds minding their flocks by night. Tonight, the God who took flesh in Mary’s womb takes up accommodations even more modest than a manger. 

Tonight, in my words, in wine and bread, addresses you. As the catechism puts it, “the proclamation of the word of God is the Word of God.” 

So come to the table. 

Receive and believe that when God says, “My body given for you,” that you means me. 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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