Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Day Sermon

Christmas Day 2011
“Mary’s Little Lamb”
Luke 2:8-20

In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is a children’s nursery rhyme that begins Mary had a little lamb.” Well, that is, in fact, what we are celebrating today! For the virgin Mary has given birth to a lamb, the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sin of the world!

And so with that in mind, and speaking of lambs, I want to think a little this morning about the shepherds who came to visit Jesus. We usually don’t give them too much thought, even though we read their story last night and again this morning. But they have quite a remarkable story to tell. Because it does not seem to be the case that these were ordinary shepherds. For ordinary shepherds wouldnot have been out in the fields at night. Ordinary shepherds would already have gathered their flocks into the sheepfold for the night. Ordinary shepherds would have gone home, so that they could get some rest, knowing that their sheep were safe in the fold. That’s what ordinary shepherds would have done. . . . But not these shepherds. Why? Why were they still out in the fields this night?

Well the answer (most probably) is that they were tending a very special flock of sheep, the Temple flocks. And belonging to the Temple, these flocks were looked after with the greatest of care. These were the sheep that were carefully bred to maintain a stock of pure and undefiled lambs for the Temple sacrifices, offered every morning and every evening. These sheep were never crammed into crowded sheepfolds where they might get injured or marred by bumping into walls or in a fight with another sheep, for then – no longer perfect – they could no longer be used for the sacrifices! These sheep were given the privilege of spending the nights in the open fields, in the lap of luxury (for a sheep!), while the shepherds had to work overtime, and stay awake and keep alert to make sure these special sheep were well taken care of! . . . No, these were no ordinary sheep, and no ordinary shepherds.

And it is to these shepherds that the angels appear, and bid them to go to Bethlehem – NOW! In the middle of the night, in the middle of the watch, in the middle of the dangers of the dark. To leave their sheep, these special sheep, to go to Bethlehem, to see what God has done. And they are told the sign, “Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” . . . And wonder of wonders, they go!

Now, God never does anything by accident, and so it was no accident that these shepherds were the first ones to go see the baby Jesus! It wasn’t because they were the only ones available. And it wasn’t because they were the ones that just happened to be working the night shift! It was because Mary had a little lamb, the Lamb of God, the Lamb who would take the place of all the other lambs that were now still out in the fields. The shepherds could leave those lambs because they were no longer necessary. . . . And so these special shepherds who tend to special sheep, come to see the most special lamb of all. The Lamb which would accomplish all that their lambs could not – for He was born to take away the sin of the world.

And so with that these shepherds are . . . really, in a sense, about to be retired! For since their sheep are no longer necessary, their job is no longer necessary! And so what do they do? What do they do after they had been to see Jesus, the Lamb in the manger? Well, they are given a new vocation – “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. . . . And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” And so the message of the angels becomes their message. And just as this news is announced to them, they now announce it to others. And what did they say? Mary had a little lamb!”

And that is the message that we also proclaim today, and that we are celebrating today! The world sees just a young girl holding a baby in a stable because she and Joseph didn’t think to book a room far enough in advance! But the eyes of the shepherds, and our eyes of faith, see something much more profound. The mystery of God made flesh. The mystery of the Creator become a creature. The mystery of the Almighty becoming a helpless baby. The mystery of God’s love for sinners like us, that He would come to be the Lamb to die for you and me.

And that is what we will again sing about this morning in the liturgy of Holy Communion. We sing about the mystery of Mary’s little Lamb.

O Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.”

And with that we are proclaiming the message of the shepherds, for as we gather around the altar of the Lamb to eat His flesh and drink His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, the Scriptures say, “as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

O Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.”

And with that we are proclaiming the message of the angels, for as you hear in this liturgy, we join with the angels, and archangels, and all the company of Heaven.” The very same company of Heaven that burst forth in song that night to shepherds! “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’ ”

O Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us Your peace.”

And as the angels proclaimed, we do have peace. Peace with God through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God for the forgiveness of our sins. And the best news of all is that that is no nursery rhyme or simply wishful thinking on our part! But the wonderful truth that we celebrate this day! That Mary had a little lamb” – the Lamb who saved you and me!

In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christmas Eve Candlelight Sermon

Christmas Eve December 24, 2011
“A Love Story”
Luke 2:1-11

Merry Christmas!

Atheists are no longer ignoring Christmas - now they are attacking it. Not just in that they don’t want folks to say “Merry Christmas” anymore - that movement’s been going on for a while, and has pretty much run its course, I think. No, this year they tried a new tactic: they have begun to call the Nativity scene hate speech, and therefore the displaying of it should be a hate crime. For, say the atheists, it is hateful that Christians are saying with their Nativity scene that unless you believe in and accept this baby as your Savior, then you are condemned to hell.

Well, the atheists got the meaning of the nativity scene exactly right. That is exactly what Christmas is all about. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. The message of Christmas is not just that a baby is born, but that God is born a man, come to save us from sin, death, the devil, and yes, from hell itself. And without Him, we have no hope. Without Him, we are the people walking in the deep darkness of the sin and death in our world. Without Him, the sins which separate us from our holy Father will do so forever.

And so that is the reason for our joy this night, that the grace of God has appeared. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. The Son of God is incarnate as the baby Jesus to defeat our enemies, and to reconcile us to His Father. To strip Satan of His power and provide the forgiveness of our sins. To overcome death and the grave, and give us the gift of eternal life. His weapon: His blood. His guard: shepherds and fishermen. His fortress: a manger, some straw, and swaddling clothes. And against these, Satan stands no chance. With these, we are saved.

But while the atheists are exactly right about the meaning of the Nativity, the are exactly wrong about the motive for it - for it is not hate speech, but a demonstration of the deepest love. For as John proclaimed to us: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation - or the atonement, the sacrifice - for our sins. And so tonight we see that when God said He loves you, He meant it. He meant it not just in words, but in deed. From throne, to manger, to cross, to throne again, that we might be with Him and live with Him forever.

And so tonight there is no hate speech, but a love story. Not between a man and a woman, or a virgin and her child - but between God and men. And not just some men, but all men. For this was the message of the angel, this good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. That God made our human nature His own. In God the Son, the two became one flesh, that we might be His own. Not to be a God we can live with, but one we can’t live without.

And that’s really the crux of the issue right there. If Jesus is just a God we can live with (or not), then He’s okay. He’s just an option, and optional. You can take Him, leave Him, choose another, or none of the above. And people are comfortable with that kind of Jesus - including atheists.

But if Jesus is the God we cannot live without, then we are making a very important statement: that we need Him. That we need what only He can provide. We need His forgiveness for our sin. We need His life for our death. . . . The thing is: we don’t want to be needy, we don’t want to be sinners, we don’t want to be told there’s anything wrong with us or what we do - but that doesn’t change the reality. And so what is hateful is not to point out our neediness and sin - but to ignore it. To pretend as if everything is okay and allow people to die with no hope or a false hope. But love speaks - both of our neediness and sin, and of the true hope and remedy we have in this newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and named Jesus.

That’s why Christmas is so loud! Christmas is what the prophets like Isaiah and Micah proclaimed for thousands of years. It is when the multitude of angels broke out in a great symphony of song to proclaim this birth to the shepherds. And today in words and hymns and carols, the church announces this good news in churches, in cards, on street corners, metro stations, and even in shopping malls. Because this is not hate speech, but the love story around which the history of the world has been built. That God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son. To be born for us, to die on the cross for us, to rise from the dead for us. To give us hope and joy.

And so tonight we are joyous with a joy the devil knows not, for the devil knows no joy. He knows only hate, and cannot stand it when any of us have any peace or love or joy. And so this night when our peace, love, and joy was born for us, Satan is miserable. Especially because we do not deserve such a gift - that makes it even worse! But this love of God cannot be stopped. This love of God not just for the world, but for you. And so it was not in spite of, but because of, our unworthiness, that God sent His Son this night. That the grace of God which appeared to all men - to peasants, shepherds, and kings - might also appear to you and me and all people, that all see in this child named Jesus their Savior, their life, and their hope. That we see in this child not just the God we cannot live without, but the God who didn’t want to live without us. And so who came, in love, this night.

So sing out in joy this night, and confess in joy all the year through! For beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Merry Christmas!

Daily Bible Readings for December 18-25

Saturday     December 17         5:30 pm                                     Worship Service
Sunday       December 18          9:00 am Children and Youth Christmas Practice
                                            9:00 am                                            Bible Class
                                            10:00 am                                     Worship Service
                                      2:00-5:00 pm                        Open House at Parsonage
Wednesday December 21         5:00 pm                                         Confirmation
                                             7:00 pm                      Advent Lessons and Carols
                                             7:30 pm                                                       AA
Thursday    December 22 1:00 – 3:00 pm                                Girard Food Pantry                 
Saturday     December 24        5:30 pm                   Children’s Christmas Service
                                            11:00 pm           Christmas Eve Candlelight Service
Sunday       December 25          8:00 am                            Christmas Day Service

December 24th is Chris Ray’s 90th Birthday. 
Please send her a Birthday and Christmas Card to celebrate this very special day.

Daily Lectionary For December 18-25, 2011
December 18      The Nativity of Our Lord—Luke 2:1-7, Isaiah 40:1-11
December 19             The Birth of Christ Is Announced to Shepherds—
                                                                       Luke 2:8-14, Malachi 3:1-7
December 20                 The Shepherds Visit Bethlehem—Luke 2:15-20
                                                                                            Malachi 4:1-6
December 21                         The Genealogy of Jesus—Matthew 1:1-17
                                                                                         Isaiah 28:14-19
December 22                         The Birth of Jesus Is Foretold to Joseph—
                                                                Matthew 1:18-25, Isaiah 7:1-17
December 23           The Word Became Flesh—John 1:1-1, Micah 5:1-5
December 24              Isaiah 7:10–14, 1 John 4:7–16, Matthew 1:18–25
December 25           Exodus 40:17–21; 34–38, Titus 3:4–7, John 1:1–14

Exodus 40:17–21; 34–38, Titus 3:4–7, John 1:1–14
The Living and Life-Giving Word of God Dwells among Us in the Flesh
In the beginning God created all things through His Word, His Son.  But man fell into sin, and with man all creation was cursed. Therefore, God spoke His Word again, this time into the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary. The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle of our human nature (Ex. 40:1721,3438). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:114).  The Son of God took on our flesh and blood and died on the cross in order that we might receive the right to become the children of God through faith. Baptized into Christ’s body, we are made partakers of a new Genesis, “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:47). In Christ, the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man has truly appeared.

Advent 4 December 18, 2011 Sermon

Advent 4         December 17-18, 2011
 “Who Are You?” John 1:19-28

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

John the Baptist just doesn’t fit the mold. We heard last week of his unusual diet: locusts and wild honey, and his unusual clothes: a camel’s hair shirt with a leather belt. His preaching is also a bit unusual: he is out in the wilderness instead of in the city (where the people are) or the temple (where they go to get religion), and he doesn’t preach what people want to hear - that they’re okay, and, keep up the good work! No, he cries: You’re not okay! You’re not good! Repent! Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2). There was nothing usual about John.

And that continues in today’s Gospel. For in response to those who came to him to find out who he was and what he was doing and why he was doing what he was doing, John defines himself and his work not by who he is, but by another - by Jesus. Everything John is is in relation to Jesus. Without Jesus, John is nothing. Without Jesus, John’s work is in vain. For John, Jesus must increase and he must decrease (John 3:30).

Now, John did have a lineage. He was the son of Zechariah the priest and so he was a descendant of Aaron in the priestly line of Israel - that was no small thing. But instead of telling the folks who came to question him who he was, he tells them who he is not - he is not the Christ nor Elijah nor the promised prophet greater than Moses. John is the great NOT, so that he can point to the one who IS; to the one who is everything.

And that, I think, is what makes John so unusual - even more than his diet and his clothes. For I think it is part and parcel of the sin that has curved us in on ourselves that we define ourselves by what we do, or who we want to be. For example, when we meet someone, one of our first questions is: What do you do? That defines a person. And there are so many things we want to do, to make something out of ourselves. We want to be successful, we want to be beautiful, we want to be smart, or popular, of powerful, or educated, or about a million other things people tell us we should be, and we therefore try to be.

Now, let me be clear - it’s good and not wrong to have goals and try to achieve and use the gifts and talents God has given you. The problem is when that defines you; when that’s all there is for you. For not only does God get inevitably squeezed out of the picture, but defining yourself this way can so easily rob you of joy. The joy of living. The joy your Lord designed for you. Because very few attain these things we are told we should be, and even if they do, they get some and not others, or the standards change, or conditions change, and so there’s always more to get, more to do, more to achieve, and your life ends up being an exhausting, never-ending chase for this more, leaving little time or room for anything else.

So maybe John had it right. Don’t define yourself by who you are and what you do - look at who you are by another, by Jesus. And that not only in the world, but also who you are spiritually. For spiritually, who you are on your own is a sinner and what you do is sin. We do those things we’re not supposed to do, and we don’t do those things we are supposed to do - maybe because we’re so busy chasing after all that stuff I was just talking about! All that stuff we’re told we’re supposed to be and supposed to do and supposed to have. All that stuff that winds up consuming us - both physically and spiritually.

But being defined by Jesus shines a whole new light on things. For then you’re not just who you say you are or who others say you are - you are who Jesus says you are. You are His child. You are forgiven. You are dearly loved. You are well pleasing to Him. And you are all these things not because of anything in you, or anything you have done, but because of what Jesus has come to do for you; because you are baptized. Which is, by the way, what John was all about.

That’s the good news John lived and proclaimed, fulfilling Isaiah’s words as the forerunner of Christ. And so as we heard from Isaiah earlier today, John brings good news to the poor - to you who cannot live up to all the “supposed to be’s.” He binds up the brokenhearted - you whose hearts have been broken and stomped on. He proclaims liberty to the captives - to you held captive to the expectations and demands of others. He comforts all who mourn - you who mourn over your sins and failures. John is proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance for our God - notice how much greater is His favor than His vengeance! That’s the lifetime of favor won for you when He poured out His vengeance against sin upon Jesus that day on the cross. There all that you are supposed to be and should be is swallowed up by the one who IS - the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Who takes away your sin and sets you free. Free in His love, free in His forgiveness, free to live.

That’s why John loved His job! It wasn’t easy, and . . . well . . . the food and clothes and living conditions definitely weren’t the perks that made it all worth it! What did make it worth it was the one who was coming. The one who had come six months after him, born of the virgin Mary and laid in the manger. The one coming to be the sacrifice for the sin of the world on the cross. The one coming to fulfill the promise of God to firmly and finally place His heel upon the serpent’s head, that Satan have no more dominion over us and be defeated once and for all. That’s why John was filled with joy. That’s why John was like a little kid at Christmas when Jesus came out to him to be baptized. For though I don’t know for sure, I’ll bet he was jumping up and down and couldn’t contain himself as he cried out: There He is! The Lamb of God! The promised Savior!

That joy is why we light the rose color candle today, for our Advent preparation makes a turn today - turning now to the joy of the coming one. That John’s joy be our joy. A joy that enables us to live as St. Paul is describing in his letter to the Thessalonians. If you’re consumed with all the “supposed to be’s,” the things that Paul writes of will all fade into the background, get lost in the shuffle, and pale in importance. But if you’re consumed by “what Jesus has done for you,” or rather, if you consume all that Jesus has done for you when you come and consume Him, His Body and Blood, given to you to eat and drink here, and consume His Word as you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it, then all these things are your joy, just like for John. Rejoicing, praying, giving thanks in all circumstances, holding fast to what is good. For Jesus is working in you, sanctifying you and keeping your whole spirit and soul and body blameless until He comes again. He is faithful. He is surely doing it.

And so that is who you are. A dearly loved and forgiven child of God. Sanctified, or made holy by Him. Being kept by Him. A bride of the Bridegroom. No longer a slave to sin, but set free to live in Christ. To answer with John’s joy those who ask you who you are and what you are doing. And to see at Christmas not just the birth of someone who lived very long ago and very far away, but to see your own new birth. For the Son of God was born a son of man, that we sons of men might be born as sons of God. And you are, in Him. For you are who Jesus says you are, and in Holy Baptism, and through His Word, and in His Supper, He has called you by that name that is above every name, and given you an identity second to none: Christian.

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