The 16th-century reformer Martin Luther, in one of his Christmas sermons, quotes the angel announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds.
“And this shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Then Luther writes, “This is God’s wedding.”
I read it again to make sure that’s what he wrote, and it was.
Luther continues, “Where is the castle? A cow stall, a manger, with an ox and an ass, a fine bridal bed, fit to lay a dog in! But the angels are not ashamed of it. ‘Ye shall find the babe … lying in a manger.’”
I was still confused.
“A bridal bed?”
Then I recalled that often in Scripture, God refers to his relationship with his people as a marriage.
God is the ever-faithful husband and God’s people are sometimes described as his less-than-faithful spouse.
It is also true that the conception and birth of Jesus Christ are unique.
Christmas celebrates the enfleshment of God.
God comes clothed in real flesh and blood.
The creator unites with his creation.
In Jesus, divinity and humanity are married in one Christ.
Luther is right. The manger is truly a bridal bed, the union of the loving God who has sought and found in our fallen race his own bride.
It was predicted long ago.
God established marriage in the Book of Genesis to fill the earth with offspring, but there was also something more afoot.
When St. Paul writes about marriage in his letter to the Ephesians, he quotes Genesis 2 saying, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
Then Paul adds the surprise, “This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
The one-flesh union of marriage is but a picture of the greater union between divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ and, therefore, the union between a forgiving God and fallen humanity.
Sin destroys relationships and divides creation from creator, but in the flesh of Jesus Christ, heaven and earth are reunited.
In Christ, God meets humanity in a gracious, forgiving way.
This is why the angels sang of his birth as the reuniting of heaven and earth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
This marriage of all marriages will be visibly evident on the Last Day, at the return of Christ. Revelation 19 speaks of the marriage supper of the Lamb, who has taken away the sin of the world.
This marriage of heaven and earth is currently celebrated every Lord’s Day, in Christian churches around the world through the Lord’s Supper, a foretaste of the feast to come.
Faithful Christians gather to receive the flesh and blood of him who came in flesh and blood to suffer and die for the sins of all the world.
This union of God and humanity means your guilt is removed, your conscience is cleansed.
For God did not sent his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Luther writes, “The only present you need bring to his wedding is a happy heart. God smiles and all the host of heaven rejoices!”
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Columbus’ Grace Lutheran Church, and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.