Our text is Luke 2:8-14: 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV)
In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve as perfect creatures, with a flawless humanity. But then, into their garden home came a thief. He came, flattering with his tongue, smooth with his words, like a con man swindling the unsuspecting out of thousands of hard-earned dollars. This thief told Adam and Eve that they were missing out on a great deal that God was keeping to Himself. If they would just eat of the forbidden fruit, then they would no longer be merely creatures but divine, like God Himself. Turning them from God’s words to his own deceitful words, this thief, the devil, robbed them blind. Enticing Adam and Eve to think that they could be on the same level as the God who created them, the devil stole away their flawless humanity. He pilfered their very lives.
We sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are in the very same shape. We want to be the gods of our lives; we want to be in complete control, answerable to no one. But we are not gods; we are not even flawless in our humanity, as were Adam and Eve at the dawn of creation. In spite of our abilities and achievements, the fact is that we now possess a flawed humanity; we are a disfigured shadow of the perfect human creatures God had originally created. Our flawed humanity manifests itself in our lovelessness toward others—in our impatience, disrespect, anger, pride, lusts, greed, grudges, and gossip—and also in our unbelief toward God and our attempts to usurp His kingdom, power, and glory by being our own gods.
God had intended for the human race to live contentedly as God’s creatures, to receive everything from Him according to His will, to love and trust in Him as our good and gracious Creator, and to be dependent on Him for all that we need. But all that changed when the thief, the devil, robbed Adam and Eve of their flawless humanity. Now, by nature, we are at war with God. We do not want to be human in the way God had intended, to live as creatures governed by a Creator. We would rather be independent. We want to be like God, in charge, calling our own shots, doing our own things. The truth is that all of us fell with Adam and Eve. We have been robbed of a flawless humanity; we have been mugged and left to die for a eternity in hell.
But in the Garden of Eden, God promised to send a Saviour, a Child, who would silence the lying tongue of this thief and crush his head and rescue us from his power. God would do all this—defeat the devil and deliver us sinners—by turning the tables on the devil, using Satan’s own tactics against him. Imagine, God acting like a thief, a con man, putting into a play a sting operation, using the same tactics employed by the devil in order to restore fallen sinners to a flawless humanity for all eternity!
Here is how God’s sting operation went down: It was through a virgin, Eve, that the devil worked his thievery. And so it is also through a virgin, Mary, that Christ the Lord enters into the world to undo and destroy the devil’s work. It was in a quiet, subtle, and shrewd manner that the serpent attained his plunder. And so it is in a quiet, subtle, and shrewd manner that the Son of God comes to restore what was take from you, masking Himself within weak flesh and blood, becoming a real baby boy, being laid in a feeding trough.
The Scripture says that our Lord comes as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 16:15). This is a reference to Jesus’ return on the Last Day. Like a robber in the darkness, Jesus will come suddenly and unexpectedly to judge the living and the dead. But that image of Jesus coming as a thief in the night can also be applied to Jesus’ first coming at Christmas. He comes like a thief in the night, that is, quietly, hidden in the shadows, with almost no one noticing His arrival. The Son of God, who upholds all creation enters into His creation in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary. He travels curled up in her belly to the Holy City of David, where He is born, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger. Do you see? Jesus arrives on the scene undercover, secretly—like a holy burglar—to win back for you what the devil stole away.
Do you understand? The Christmas account is the account of a holy thief retrieving what we had lost in the Garden of Eden. This holy thievery begins when the eternal Son of God becomes Man, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. By taking on a human body and soul, Jesus the Christ has redeemed and cleansed our bodies and souls—our very humanity—with His divine holiness. God’s Son’s taking on human flesh and dwelling among us—His incarnation—permeates and hallows the human race. Looking at the manger, we see Jesus as the new Adam, come to undo the damage caused by the first Adam’s fall into sin. Jesus has come to lift you out of your flawed humanity and to re-create you by His coming in the flesh. As St. Paul writes: as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1Corinthians 15:22). God the Son took your humanity into Himself so that your humanity might be restored and made new. God has greatly exalted you by becoming not an angel or any other creature but a true man, your blood brother. Jesus partakes fully of your humanity so that in Him you might become truly human again, without flaws.
That is why on the night our Saviour was born in Bethlehem, the heavenly host breaks forth in rejoicing. For the beginning of your salvation has been accomplished. Already now, God has begun to break the devil’s hold on you. The birth, the delivery, of baby Jesus is the way God has chosen to deliver you from the shadow of death and from your flawed humanity. In Christ, the flawless humanity which had been lost in the garden through the devil’s thievery is restored and is now given back to you in Holy Baptism. You who fell from God into the hands of darkness have been brought back to your Creator. This is the peace on earth of which the angels sang. God and man come together in Jesus, who is Himself both God and Man. Those who believe and are baptized in the Body of Christ are thereby reunited with God. And so the angels sing Glory to God in the highest! For it is God’s glory to come to your aid, to descend from heaven to help you and to rescue you.
Think of it this way: by uniting your humanity with His divinity, God has made your cause His own. He is your powerful ally who alone has the power to defeat the enemy. Yes, God’s Son becomes Man to undo all that that the devil did to us. But again, our Lord engages the battle undercover. Just as the Son of God was born in a lowly state, so also His divine power to save us will be hidden beneath meekness, humility, and suffering. The tender brow of this little one is being prepared to be pierced with thorns. His fragile hands and feet will feel the hammer’s blow as spikes are driven through them, attaching Him to the cross. This baby’s tiny beating heart will grow to be pierced with a spear, and from it will flow the blood that cleanses us of all sin.
Jesus was crucified between two robbers, as if He were Himself a thief. And, in fact, He was. He came to rob the devil of his victory over the human race, and He accomplished that victory by robbing you of your sin. He stole away from you every uncleanness, every failure to love, along with every hurtful and evil thing that has been said or done to you. He robbed you of it all, took it as His own, and demolished it in His death. It was through the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that Satan conquered the human race. And so, it was also by a tree, the holy cross, that Christ conquered Satan and reconciled humans to God again. It was by death that Satan sought to steal away man’s glory. And so it is by the death of Christ and His resurrection that the glory of humanity is restored.
Listen carefully, then, and hear clearly what the angels declare, and believe it: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. He comes as a thief in the night to take away your sins and to heal your injured flesh and spirit with His own pure flesh and Holy Spirit. He is born to give you second birth to a new and everlasting life with God. He comes to undo all the evil that came into the world through Adam’s fall. In, fact, “the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus means that one day everything sad will come untrue ” (J. R. R. Tolkien).
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Still today you will find the Christ, wrapped in His Word, and wrapped every Lord’s Day in bread and wine, lying on the altar. Let us, then, with His mother, Mary, treasure and ponder these holy mysteries in our hearts. And let us with the shepherds glorify and praise God for all the things we have heard and seen, just as it has been told to us. Amen.