Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sermon: Christmas Eve (at Midnight Mass)

24 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 1:18-25 (Isa 7:10-14, 1 John 4:7-16)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

People break laws for basically two reasons. First, because they want something that the law prevents them from having. So, in rebellion against the rules, they break the rules. They assert their own selfish desires against the authority that says they must obey the law. This kind of lawbreaking is sin. And it always gets us into trouble and creates unintended consequences that come back to haunt us or hurt others.

But there is a second kind of lawbreaking, the kind that is done out of love, out of mercy, out of a concern with human life. The classic example from the movies is the husband heroically running red lights to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. In fact, he may even get a police escort to break the speed limit and disregard traffic signs. Of course, in today’s world, you might get tasered instead. But nonetheless, there are good and noble reasons to break the law.

You may need to hurt another person to protect someone else. You may need to give an emergency tracheotomy to a choking person, even though you’re not a licensed medical doctor. Such lawbreaking is not sinful, is not selfish, and in fact is done out of love for someone else.

In addition to traffic regulations and criminal codes, there are other kinds of laws: laws of nature. There is the law of gravity that keeps us from flying off the planet. There is the law of identity that says a thing is what a thing is. There are biological laws by which a child receives DNA from his father and mother and becomes a separate living being.

Again, we can try to circumvent the laws of nature for either selfish purposes, or out of love. For the most part, we humans are stuck with the laws of nature – but God isn’t. As the author of the laws of nature, God certainly has the power to break those laws – or at least temporarily suspend them.

If God were selfish, hateful, violent, and twisted, it would indeed be terrifying if he were to suddenly suspend the law of gravity, the law of identity, and the law of reproduction. But if God were to take extraordinary measures out of love, it would be a different story.

We call such suspensions of natural law “miracles”. These serve as signs, things designed to get our attention and to help us. God doesn’t do miracles to toy with us, or because He’s bored, or even to impress us. He breaks natural laws in order to save us, motivated by love for His creation.

In our Old Testament lesson, a promise is made that God will break one of the most basic laws of nature. Seven hundred years after Isaiah made the startling statement that a virgin would give birth, it happened. We commemorate that act of God’s lawbreaking here today, as we celebrate Christmas, the incarnation of God by being born of a virgin woman without a human father. The laws of physics were put on hold that day, not for divine revenge or retribution, not as a parlor trick, not to introduce chaos into an otherwise orderly world, but rather because God took an extraordinary measure out of love.

The Lord Himself has given us a sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” – which means “God with us.” Not only does God make a virgin have a baby, but that baby is the very presence of the eternal God placed into space and time. Out of love, God has rewritten the laws of the universe. Like the heroic father running red lights to get to the hospital, God Himself overrides the normal rules that govern existence for the purpose of bringing a baby safely into the world.

For just as Isaiah prophesied, a virgin did conceive and bear a Son. This child Immanuel was named Jesus – which means “God saves.” This “God with us” is also “God saves us.” He is not simply here in space and time, He is here with a purpose: salvation. “For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” And “He will save the people from their sins.”

For as our Lord’s beloved apostle John confesses: “in this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Indeed, God is a lawbreaker. He breaks the laws He Himself created. He performs miracles as a testimony not only of His power, but of His mercy. The coming of God among us is not a display of “shock and awe” but rather a display of mercy and forgiveness. For the real “shock and awe” of Christmas is that God became a baby, a meek and mild infant cradled by His mother and under the protection of a stepfather. He would grow up not only to teach us the way of the Kingdom of God, but would also die as the very Way, the Truth, and the Life, through whom our sins are paid for by an act of propitiation, by a sacrifice. And even after this greatest of all miracles, the most extraordinary breaking of the laws of nature imaginable – the death of God on a cross – the miracles, the signs of His love, are far from over. For the God who died also rose. Thus death was defeated by death. The second law of thermodynamics that ultimately means that everything in creation, including us, must die and decay – has been repealed. The law of mortality has been replaced by the law of mercy. The decree of death and darkness has been overturned by the proclamation of peace and the law of light.

For by the Light of the world, our darkness is dispelled. And by that Light “we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.” For “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in Him and He in God. And we have known and believed the love God has for us. God is love, and He who abides in love abides in God, and God in Him.”

God loves us, God is with us, God saves us, and God abides in us – even if it means God has to break every law to make it happen.

God continues to break the rules out of love for His people. For even though the laws of physics prevent water from becoming wine, yet out of mercy for an embarrassed wedding host, Jesus breaks that law and performs the miracle, turning water into wine. And just as the laws of the universe do not permit bread to be multiplied so that a couple of loaves can feed five thousand, yet out of mercy for the hungry, Jesus breaks that law as well and performs the miraculous sign that provides bread to those in need, Jesus continues to break the laws for us today.

For we all “know” that bread cannot become the flesh of Jesus, the man who is at the same time God, the same literal body born to Mary on that first Christmas. We also “know” that wine cannot become the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the very same literal blood shed on the cross as a propitiation for our sins, blood shed on Good Friday, and blood that would again flow on Easter Sunday. And yet, our Lord suspends these laws of the cosmos for His beloved. Just as God said: “Let there be light” and there was light, and just as God said: “The virgin will conceive” and the virgin conceived, so too God says: “This is my body… This is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God breaks the laws of the universe every Sunday and Wednesday in this place and in Christian churches around the world every day. For every time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, the miracle of Christmas is repeated – “God with us” in the body born to Mary. Every time we partake of Holy Communion, the miracle of Easter is repeated – the Risen One coming to us in the very blood shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.

And thanks be to God that we can partake in this miracle! For just as the laws of the universe are suspended by Him who is love, the law that condemns us is set aside by Him who “loved us and gave Himself for us.”

Every Sunday is Easter. Every Sunday is Christmas. And like the shepherds that first Christmas, let us come to this holy place at every opportunity to “see this thing that has come to pass,” to not only witness, but also to partake anew in the loving lawbreaking of our mighty Lord and merciful Savior – Immanuel, the Babe of Bethlehem.

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in Him.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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