Thursday, December 24, 2009

To all who received Him, He gave the right to become the children of God.

Sermon Preached on the Nativity of our Lord, Christmas Day, December 25, 2009

We live in a time when rights are demanded. We are very protective of the things we believe are owed to us. Freedom of speech, worship, religion, press, property, and so on... these rights which we insist be given to us and never denied. Who among us cannot name our Miranda rights? Sometimes we forget that what we call rights were earned by those who paid for them in blood. Like the nation that forgets these rights and freedoms came at great cost and must be defended by every generation, we who call ourselves the children of God forget that this right had to be earned for us by our Lord Jesus Christ. It was not always our right – not until He was incarnate, until He suffered, and until He died that we might have the right to be called the children of God.

On this holy day of our Savior’s birth, we heard the Christmas story according to St. John. Unlike Luke’s attention to detail, John gives us the meaning of it all in eloquent words and grand images. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth... He came to His own and His own knew Him not but to all who receive Him, who believe in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God. That is what the manger is about – our Lord who did not belong to our sinful and fallen creation came in our flesh and blood that we who did not belong to His glory might be declared His own. It is an amazing right that Jesus has bestowed upon us.

With the right to be called the Children of God comes the gift of belonging. St. Peter reminds us that once we were strangers, no people at all, but now we are God’s people. St. Paul reminds us that once we were enemies of God but now He has extended to us the hand of friendship and family.

God's own child I gladly say it, says the hymn. I am God’s own child by baptism and faith – words that none of us could say unless the Word through whom all creation came to be, came to be our Savior, incarnate in human flesh of the Virgin Mary. I am God’s child is the right that only the legitimate and obedient Son of God could earn and then bestow upon those who had no right to be called the children of God. If we are children of God, then we are also members of His own family, the Church.

The Church is not some volunteer organization to whom we belong because we share common beliefs. The Church is the family of God. Entrance into the family is God’s alone to give and this is what we come to acknowledge today. We have been given the right to belong to the Lord, to be part of the family which is His Church. With that belonging comes rights and privileges, and chief among them is a place at the table of the Lord.

When I was a kid, family gatherings had their hierarchy and only the most senior members of the family sat at the dining room table; the rest of us on TV trays or the floor because the kitchen table, too was reserved. In order for someone to move up to the table, someone had to die. By the time I got my place at the table, the people I wanted to sit with were all gone. Here we are invited to the Table of the Lord, given a place at that table only because Jesus had to die. Through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, even those who have gone before us with the sign of faith are at this Table, for only one half of the circle is visible here on earth, the rest is with God in heaven, where we will be soon.

With the right to become the children of God, comes the gift of a future. Once we had only a past, but now as children of God we have a future. You know what it means when we talk about people having a past. It is a nice way of saying bad things about people. Well, we are those people. We came to God with only a past of sin and guilt and death. But now that we have been adopted into God's family, now that we belong to Him, we have a future. We are given the life that death cannot overcome. We are given a glimpse of the future that awaits us in Jesus Christ, a tomorrow no longer defined by fear.

We are heirs of Christ and therefore all the good that God has, becomes our own possession, as Scripture says, held in trust for us now but ours for sure, nonetheless. You know you belong when the estate calls you in to the reading of the will. Well, we are those heirs to whom Christ has bequeathed all that He accomplished for our salvation. We are heirs of all that Christ won by His obedient death and life-giving resurrection. Earth is no longer simply sin and death but now it is also the arena of God’s forgiveness and gracious gift of life. Heaven is no distant reality but the balance of that which we already know as foretaste today.

There is one right you cannot afford to forget or take casually – that is the right to be called a child of God, a son or daughter to the Most High. This is the gift to us that comes from the manger, from the Word made flesh. From His fullness we have received grace upon grace, to any and all who will receive Him, who believe in His name, He has given the right to become the children of God – born not of flesh and blood nor the desire of man but the love and desire of God... We the prodigals who had no right are given the right to belong, to be at His table, to be released of our sinful past, to grasp hold of our eternal future, and to know the richness and the fullness of the grace that no longer calls us outcasts but the family of God. When Christ came down from heaven to wear our human flesh and blood and be part of our world of sin and death, He was making it possible for us to become citizens of heaven, members of His family the Church, for today, for all of time, and for eternity. We belong to Him. Amen.

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