Monday, December 25, 2006

Sermon: Christmas Midnight

24 December 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 2:1-20 (Historic Gospel)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”

The squabbles over Christmas are more intense this year than ever. Christians have resorted to displaying signs and bumper stickers that say “Keep Christ in Christmas.” And indeed, our secular culture needs the reminder. A recent survey shows that more than half of the children in England don’t know that Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ. Yes, indeed, Jesus is the reason for the season.

But there’s more to Christmas than a commemoration of something long past. The other half of the word “Christmas” is “Mass.” The word “Mass” means the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion. Christmas is “Christ’s Mass.

In the Mass, God comes to us in a physical form. Instead of being only a divine Spirit that cannot be seen, heard, or touched, that can’t be painted or sculpted, that has no name, that is independent of space and time – God Himself, Christ Himself, breaks into space and time, becomes material, speaks to us, and becomes physically part of us through a miraculous meal.

Contrary to what the pointy-heads tell us in Time and Newsweek, and over and against the bloviations of the self-important talking heads on TV, Jesus is not a myth. St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus reads like other classical historians of the Greco-Roman world. The birth of Jesus did not happen “long, long ago in galaxy far away.” Luke’s account does not begin with “once upon a time,” but rather: “Jesus was born during the reign of Augustus Caesar, under the gubernatorial administration of one Quirinius of Syria, during the year of the imperial Census.” It is concrete and precise, rooted in time and place, written with journalistic authority that you just don’t see in mythology and fables.

Jesus is historical, concrete, and beyond dispute. His miracles and teachings were widely reported in both biblical and non-biblical sources. We have four separate and definitive contemporary biographies of Jesus – much more than we have of even Julius Caesar. Jesus of Nazareth was indeed crucified, died, and was buried, all under the watchful guard of detachments of professional Roman soldiers. And on the Sunday after His execution, Jesus’ guards were comatose and His tomb was empty. No-one disputes these facts, not even Jesus’ enemies. He appeared to hundreds of people after His death.

Non-Christians have been scrambling for explanations for two thousand years – most of them as silly as a Monty Python episode. Of course, if it were only a fairy tale, so-called scholars wouldn’t be so intent on debunking it, would they?

Jesus is no Zeus or Apollo, no Superman or Merlin the Wizard. Jesus is not the stuff of legends or even of spirituality. For Jesus is not merely spirit, but is completely human. His very real physical life turned the world upside down, and His very real physical death changed the cosmos and has set in motion the final abolition of all evil. Jesus died for you, as a sacrifice for your sins, to clear your account and give you the Christmas present of righteousness before God. These are all historical facts.

But in order to accomplish this feat, God Almighty had to break into our world of space and time. He had to be born of a woman. Before there could be Good Friday and Easter, before there could be the conquest of the devil, there had to be a Christmas. And because there was Good Friday and Easter, the forces of evil now seek to destroy Christmas. They work with the Church-hating world to remove Christ from Christmas, and they work within the Church to remove the Mass from Christmas.

When God took on flesh, he took on a specific location. Of course, God is everywhere, but “for us,” for our sake, he assumes a form that we can experience. This is why the angels of God, after giving them the news: “There is born to you this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” added: “You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” The angels did not only give the Shepherds the information, words about the Word, the data about the Gospel – they told the shepherds: “Go where God can be found.” The angels are not denying that God is omnipresent, but in order to see and touch God, in order for God to carry out His promise to be with us and save us – God comes to us physically. They tell the shepherds to seek him out where is - in the flesh, in a specific place.

This specific place for us today, dear Christians, is the Holy Mass. This is the holy sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood. For the Lord Jesus lay in a manger – an eating trough for animals – in the town of Bethlehem – Hebrew for House of Bread. Jesus is the Bread of Life, delivered to us poor miserable sinners, who like sheep have gone astray, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are fed the very Bread of Life and the Wine of the Righteousness of God, the true body and blood of the Lord.

The miracle of Christmas is not only once a year. For every Sunday is a “Christ’s Mass.” We Lutherans confess: “We do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it. In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved.” Those of you who wish Christmas could come more than once a year, it does. It happens every Sunday. The miracle of God Almighty taking a humble form in our presence, limited within space and time, in a way that He can be seen and touched – happens so often that people take it for granted. And yet, in this weekly Christmas, you don’t have to fight traffic, deplete your bank account, and push your way through crowds.

In fact, in the weekly Christ’s Mass, you receive the greatest gift of all. Of course, you don’t pay for the gifts that you receive. You don’t earn gifts you receive. For the gift of eternal life that is given out here in this House of Bread called “Salem,” (which means “peace”), is given out for free. And when you eat this Christmas Supper week in and week out, you are partaking of the peace that comes from communion with your Father who loves you and wants to give you everything that is His – even His only begotten Son for eternal life.

So, my brothers and sisters, a blessed and Merry Christmas to you – now, and every week of the year! May the gift of the Christ Child continue to come to you as you join us for Christ’s Mass every Sunday and Wednesday. May you not only keep Christ in Christmas, but keep Christ in your lives week in and week out, body and soul, now and forever.

“Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” Amen!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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