Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sermon: Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols

24 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Isa 7:10-14, Mic 5:2-4, Isa 9:2-7, Matt 1:18-25, Matt 2:1-12, John 1:1-14

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“For to us a child is born” the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah seven centuries before the first Christmas, “to us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Blessed Isaiah also gave us the sign of the virgin giving birth to this child, also called by the name “Immanuel” – God with us. The prophet Micah preached that this Ruler, this Shepherd, the One who will make all of us “dwell secure” will come out of the little town of Bethlehem.

The Lord committed these prophecies to paper, where they were read and reread in the Temple and in the Jewish synagogues for hundreds of years. The people waited, and waited. They prayed, they hoped, they suffered, and yet they waited. Some people scoffed that the Messiah would never come. Others turned these prophecies into politics, determined that the Messiah was going to kick out the bad party, put in the new party, and run an efficient government bureaucracy without corruption and excessive taxes.

And not everyone wanted the Messiah to come. King Herod, who was a Roman puppet king, lied about his interest in the Messiah, for as St. Matthew reveals to us, Herod was “troubled.” He tricked the magi into telling him where the Christ was to be born, and then proceeded to terrorize Bethlehem in an act of mass infanticide.

But whether you love Jesus or hate Him, whether you think about Him at all, His coming changed the universe. Even the way the entire world, Christian and non-Christian, measures time is based on the assumption that things are different now – dividing the years into BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – in the year of the Lord).

For St. John reveals the true nature of this Messiah, this Christ-child born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, worshiped as God by foreigners from the East, and targeted by the corrupt rulers of Israel. John tells us He is not just an Israelite hero, not just a prophet, not just another preacher, nor a politician of any stripe. He is the very Word of God:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through Him.”

St. John is making the extraordinary claim that this Christ child existed before His birth! That in fact, He is God and He was with God at the creation. And furthermore, when God, using His Word, said “Let there be light, and there was light,” it was this Child, yet to be born in flesh, through whom all things were made.

And what’s more, on this first Christmas in Bethlehem, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending, He.
Evermore and evermore.

And this pre-existent state of Jesus is spoken of by our Lord Himself, who caused a scandal by saying: “Before Abraham was, I am.” He attests to His eternal pre-existence as God.

And it is this, His claim to divinity, that makes Jesus controversial. For a happy teacher of peace and love would anger no-one. But a man who claims to be God in the flesh, who calls people to repent from their sins and change their lifestyles, who refuses to conform to the wishes of the people who want a Messiah who is a politician, a terrorist, an intellectual who minds his own business, a man who will tell us that whatever we are doing is just fine – that is a man who will end up on a Roman cross if He allows it.

And, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, He does allow it! He accepts His lowly incarnation, His humble life in the flesh, His teachings to be rejected by most, and His own death on the cross. He does this out of the same love as from which He was begotten of the Father.

For listen to what St. John says: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Do you know Him? How do you receive Him?

Is Jesus just a pretty drawing on a Christmas card at a safe distance on the shelf? Is He just a picture on the wall of a long-forgotten religious figure? Does Jesus take a back seat to the New Orleans Saints, to the new big screen TV, to our jobs, our social lives, and providing creature comforts to ourselves? Do we begin and end our days with prayer? Do we teach our children the catechism? Do we read the Bible as a family? Do we faithfully attend the services of God’s house where God’s Word is read, where the very body and blood of Jesus – the same body and blood born of Mary, crucified, and rose from the dead – are given to you in a miracle known as Holy Communion?

Does God and His Word even matter to us?

This, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is what Christmas is all about. It is God’s Word confronting us and comforting us. Jesus came into our world. Unlike the centuries of Israelites, we know how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. We know about the Virgin Mary, the magi, Herod, the Word made flesh, the Light of the world, the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life. We have the Bible, we have the Church, and we have preachers. If we don’t know Jesus, it is no-one’s fault but our own.

And that, dear friends, is the very reason Jesus has come! We are all sinners. We all have a messed up sense of priorities. We are all spoiled and self-centered. We are all guilty of idolatry. We all sin against God and against our neighbors continuously. And “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”

Every Christmas the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is read, acted in plays, and shown in movies. And though the story doesn’t directly deal with Jesus, it is symbolic of what Christmas means, how Jesus affects us and our world. Scrooge was transformed from greed and being self-centered – and not to mention miserable in all of his material wealth. By being confronted with his sin and being called to repent, Scrooge had a change in heart, became compassionate, and resolved to keep Christmas every day. In short, Jesus became his priority. And what a blessed and happy life he had after this repentance.

That is the Christian life. Jesus came into our world not so we could celebrate His incarnation only on December 25th, but rather so that our lives can be transformed from January 1st to December 31st, year in and year out – even as every year is the “year of the Lord.”

Who says we have to limit Christmas cheer to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Why should this be the one day we cut people a little slack, the one day we greet total strangers and bless them, the one day we are willing to give presents, and maybe even give a few dollars to a charity or to the poor? Why can’t every day be Christmas – as it was for the transformed Ebenezer Scrooge?

Well, dear friends, the answer is that it can be, should be, and will be in eternity. It is only our own selfishness and sin, our own refusal to let God be God, our own stubborn reliance on ourselves and focus on our entertainments that get in the way. Jesus came into the world for you. He preached and taught about the kingdom for you. He died on the cross for you to take away your sins. He rose again for you. And he comes to this place in His Word and in the miracle of His sacrament – all for you. He delivers forgiveness of sins to you. He gives eternal life to you!

If you like giving and receiving Christmas presents, think about how every Sunday, week in and week out, is another Christmas, another coming of Jesus in the flesh, where He can be adored, worshiped, touched, heard, and even become part of us. He calls us to a better life, a life of love, of contentment, and of meaning.

This is all yours, dear friends. It is a gift, a pure gracious gift, an unearned Christmas gift from the Christ child, Immanuel, God with us. “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given.” May this gift of the Christ child transform and comfort you, day in and day out, even unto eternity. Evermore and evermore. Amen.

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

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