Friday, December 24, 2010

Sermon: Christmas Eve – Midnight Mass - 2010

24 December 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:1-20 (Isa 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

A prominent Jewish celebrity once quipped: “Jews know two things, suffering, and where to get great Chinese food.”

He is right about suffering, anyway.  For God’s people have suffered greatly ever since the fall in the garden of Eden.  All mankind has suffered because of sin, that of our ancestors, and that of our own.  Sin has brought suffering and death upon our world.  Sin has put us at enmity with the very God who created us.  And sin stands in the way of ever restoring peace and life and wholeness.

The Old Testament people of God have suffered even more.  For in addition to their own sinful flesh, the children of Israel have had to contend with the attacks of the devil.  For God made Satan an offer he could not refuse: the promise of a Savior of mankind who would destroy the devil, the “Seed of the woman” who is God in the flesh Himself come to put things right.

And as a result of that threat that is also a promise, Satan has attacked and harassed the children of Israel.  For the Seed was carried within the bodies of this chosen people from the very first giving of the continuation of that promise to our father Abraham. 

As the holy prophet preached to suffering Israel: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

Satan has fought from the very beginning to keep us all in darkness and to prevent even the flicker of the light of hope from being kindled.

But darkness is not to win the day, dear friends, and suffering and persecution are defeated by joy and vindication.  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” 

The darkness of the Judean night on that most extraordinary day in history was rent in two by the glory shining in the heavens, the angelic hosts singing with us in our liturgy: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

For God is pleased with us, dear friends, not in our sins, but in our confession, in our repentance, in our forgiveness – for this is a gift of God – the Savior, born to us and to the people of Israel; “Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.”  He is pleased with us, His children, because He is pleased with Jesus, His Son.

In spite of the devil’s attempts to destroy the Son, the Seed, by destroying the people in whom the Seed dwelt, in spite of the suffering of the children of Israel, in spite of the sins we have all committed and the punishment we all deserve, God has not abandoned us, the devil has not defeated us, death does not get the last word, and hell itself is defeated and turned away.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  The covenant with the children of Israel has been extended and offered to all people.  The Lord, the Seed, the Christ child, is born to us, and He is our Savior, our Champion, our Redeemer, “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession.”  He is the one who overcomes darkness and defeats the devil – and God has done this through His chosen people Israel for the sake of His chosen people, the Church.

Unlike Mary and Joseph and the shepherds witnessing this “thing that has happened,” we have two millennia of hindsight.  We know exactly what happened to this Christ child.  We confess the truth of history and of the Church that He “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered and was buried.  And the third day, He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.”  We see Jesus suffering for and with Israel, and we see Jesus suffering for and with us, for our vindication and for our salvation.

He suffers for us by taking our sins to the cross, and He suffers with us taking flesh in our fallen world.  He suffers that which we have earned and deserve, and we glory in that which He is and gives.  And even knowing all of this,  we nevertheless join the Blessed Virgin Mary in treasuring up all these things and pondering them in our hearts.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear fellow saved and redeemed and beloved of the Lord, let us not only treasure and ponder, but let us also rejoice and live in the hope that is ours by means of the gift of the Christ child.

And let us not marvel when Satan continues to attack us.

For even as Mary bore the Seed within her and was persecuted by Satan, and even as the children of Israel were attacked and harassed by the devil over the course of thousands of years, so too does the church face diabolical attacks.  She is attacked for the sake of Christ.  She carries Christ within her in her very core of being – not in the form of the Christ child in the womb as did Blessed Mary, but in a similar way of carrying our Lord in our hearts and in our bodies through the preaching of the Word and our participation in the sacraments.

And though the devil will indeed harass us, let that encourage you, dear friends, for it means that the Christ dwells in you as well. 

For hear anew the promise, dear brothers and sisters: “The rod of His oppressor you have broken as on the day of Midian.  For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.  For unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given.”

And that is not just a promise given, but a promise delivered: at the manger, on the cross, in the font, from the pulpit, and at the rail.  It is a promise that gives everlasting life and salvation, delivered to Jew and Gentile alike, and it is a promise that all suffering will cease.  And it is in that promise that we “are waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Amen.

Christmas blessings to each of you, “from this time forth and forevermore.  Amen.

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

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