Luther’s old Christmas carol, “Vom Himmel hoch” (“From Heaven Above”), is bright and cheerful when you come to verse 2:
“To you this night is born a Child of Mary, chosen virgin mild; This little Child of lowly birth shall be the joy of all the earth.”
(Lutheran Service Book 358:2)
The holy Christ Child comes to be the joy of all the earth. That is so very true. But it wasn’t really Luther’s idea. He got it from God Himself, Who commissioned the Christmas angels to sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (St. Luke 2:14).
God is sending Bethlehem’s Good News out across the world once again this Christmas. His Christ is coming into all sorts of lands and situations. He is there where people are terrified over the spread of Ebola, because they have witnessed loved ones and friends cut down in the prime of life and cannot see the end of the outbreak. He wants to enter into homes and families in eastern Europe, worried that they won’t get enough natural gas to heat their dwellings as the days grow colder, and sore at heart over the shooting and bombing which have killed their neighbours and blown up large sections of their towns and cities.
He wants to come close to the comfortable and often very self-satisfied inhabitants of prosperous nations, who imagine they are doing quite fine on their own and don’t need a god to help them with much of anything. The little Christ is seeking admittance to hospital units, prison cells, and lonely bedrooms where somebody lost a life’s partner this year and now faces the first holiday season alone.
“This little Child of lowly birth… shall be the Joy of all the earth.” Yes, He has come to be the joy for all those various situations, and a hundred others you cannot even imagine. He has come to be the Rescuer Who lived and died to win God’s pardon for the needy and often rebellious human race. He has come to make clear that the Lord of heaven and earth wants you badly, is on your side, and stands with you in your troubles. This includes the troubles you caused and the ones that overtook you like a hurricane you couldn’t stop. He has come to bring you and God together again. In so doing He also works to plant into you the kind of heart that comes together with other people from whom you are distant, for whatever reason.
He isn’t offering you magic or quick fixes. He never tells you that the political strife, the ravaging diseases, the economic wreckage, and your personal struggles will all dissolve and blow away immediately when you open your heart to Him. But He comes with love and mercy for your wrongs. He promises to hear your cries. He helps you hold up under your burdens so they become more bearable.
He’s not bringing you a fairy-tale world to live in. But He offers you Himself, all the kindness and help He came to bring. He presses it all into your hand, not because you earned it or have a right to demand it, but because He, your Saviour, wants you to have it. There is no life, no home, no town, no country, no person in any situation whom He does not want to have. It does you and me good to remember that as He comes toward us again this Christmas. Luther had it right: “This little Child of lowly birth… shall be the joy of all the earth.”
Whatever situation you find yourself in and wherever you are located as you read these lines: I wish you this joy very strongly and personally as God’s Christ once again makes His way to you.
Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.