Saturday, December 27, 2014

God our Emmanuel. . .

Sermon for Christmas Morning, the Nativity of our Lord, preached on December 25, 2014

    Creation is not all bad.  It is a terrible lie to say that nothing good remains.  Food smells and tastes great even though it spoils and decays.  Our lives are filled with sorrows but they are not without joys.  In fact, the bruised fruit of the earth and our own bruised lives only heightens our sense both of what we lost to sin and our desire to see it all restored.  This is part of what Scripture means when it describes creation groaning in expectation for the future Christ came to prepare.
    Here on earth we are prone to wish away things we don’t want to face.  The noise in the car, the ache or pain we feel, the leaking roof – we deal with them by ignoring them until they can no longer be ignored.  But not God.  He does not focus on the joys and wish away the damage.  He faces us for us.
    His justice cries out to be satisfied. . . so He sends us His own Son as the Savior who satisfies the justice of God who demands that wrongs be punished.  His wrath still burns against sin. . . so He sends us His own Son as the sacrificial offering to bear the full cost of our sin and the full fury of His anger over it.  His will still seeks righteousness. . . so He sends us His own Son as the Righteous One who gives us His holiness to wear as our baptismal clothing.
    We might wish to ignore the decay and be satisfied with the sweetness left in bruised fruit or bruised lives but God cannot. He faces all of this for us by sending His Son to bear the full burden for us and deliver to us salvation.  This is what it means to say the Word was made flesh. . .
    God is with us in our suffering.  He cannot watch our pain without being wounded.  He cannot but feel the hurt we feel.  So He was moved to act.  The Word that brought forth creation is now incarnate to rescue His lost creation.  That is the Gospel of Christmas.  God cannot watch us while we wear the pain of sin and death and He cannot ignore the reality of sin and death so He sends His own Son into our flesh to rescue us from it all.
    Christ is Emmanuel – the Word made flesh to be with His lost creation, to seek us out in our shame, and to call us and carry us home to the Father.  Christ is Emmanuel – the Word made flesh to save us by bearing the full weight of our sinful and lost condition – even to death upon the cross.  Christ is Emmanuel – the Word made flesh to carry us home to our heavenly Father and to the future He has prepared for us.
    We come at Christ not for a wonderful story or even for inspiration.  We come to meet Him who wears our sin for us, who dies the death we should have died, and who leads us home to our heavenly Father again.  He does it by coming as one of us.
    Such a God cannot turn His back on all that He made.  He showed us a glory far more profound that heaven’s mystery, that is the love that was made flesh for us and our salvation.  Such a God has now invested too much in us to leave us to our own devices.  The cost of salvation may be free to us but it cost our Lord everything in His incarnation, life, and death.  Such a God has poured too much into our rescue to write us off.
    Such a God does not stoop to giving us sweetness that still decays or let us settle for a bruised life that ends only in death.  Such a God must fight to take back by force what sin stole from Him and the devil has now claimed as his – even if it means becoming flesh to save us.  This is the Emmanuel we come to meet in the manger, in the cross, in the baptismal water, in the powerful voice of His Word, and in the bread and wine which is His flesh and blood for us and for the whole world.
    Christmas peace is not imagined or imaginary, not an escape or dream, but the Word made flesh to rescue what was lost to God and to us.  Blessed Christmas, my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Amen.


Anonymous said...

Does the justice of God demand forgiveness after the wrongs are punished? That would not be just, would it? Did He not say through the prophet, Jeremiah 31:34, "For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more"? So there is either forgiveness or punishment, but there cannot be both, even if the person punished and the person forgiven are two different people. Or, when our brother sins against us should we punish him before we forgive him seven times seven times?
We often wonder why there are so many Biblical interpretations, leading to innumerable sects. But we see the clear text of Scripture and it is as if it is not there at all.
Did our Lord suffer the punishment for our sin or did He make a sacrifice for them? I know - the official position of the LCMS, which believes itself to be the true visible Church of Christ on earth, is that it is both. If He was punished, what was the need for sacrifice, and vice versa?
Is the sin of the world such a small thing that the punishment for all of it is to hang on a cross for six hours? Have there not been thousands who died on crosses, and many more who died of more horrific tortures, and they did not atone for a single one of their sins? But the “just God” decided to “punish” His sinless Son for six hours and that was it? Is it a requirement for Christians to be bereft of their senses?
Scripture teaches clearly and unequivocally, Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, …”. But we go through all kinds of quasi-logical smoke and mirrors to come to the conclusion that when it came to the one time that the sin of the whole world was taken away, six hours on a cross was enough.
What good does it do us to believe in a verbally inspired, perfect Scripture, when we ignore its clear words?
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Janis Williams said...

Ah, but there can be both. All analogies fail, but if you open the door of a prison cell, and the prisoner refuses to leave, but eats bread, drinks water, fights rats, and sleeps on the floor, is that not both?

i am pretty new to Lutheran theology, but I believe this falls under the 'paradox paradigm': Christ died (in 6 hours, yes, but He gave up His Spirit - it wasn't torn from him.) for all, but if one of those freed from prison refuses to leave and dies there, it is his fault, not our Lord's.

I exited Calvinism because it had to contort itself to make paradoxical passages of Scipture "work." Philosophy and logic/reason should not govern Theology; God's thought is not ours...

Anonymous said...

Janis, thank you for your response. The problem with analogies and paradigms is that they are an attempt to bridge the gap between our human understanding and the Word of God. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they do not. Here is what God says about this subject through the prophet Isaiah, 41:26, “26 Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, "He is right"? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words. 27 I was the first to say to Zion, "Behold, here they are!" and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news. 28 But when I look, there is no one; among these there is no counselor who, when I ask, gives an answer. 29 Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind.” What this says about God’s way of salvation is that nobody could have thought of it, and the fact is that our Lord, when He started on His path of saving us, was rejected, because what people expected was something entirely different. So we should listen to the Word of God and not add anything to it. Here is how the writer of Hebrews explains the entire work of salvation in very simple words, 8:10, “When he said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, "Behold, I have come to do your will." He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds," 17 then he adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Earlier, in the same book we read, Hebrews 2:9, “ But we see Him Who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” Absurd as it may sound, the only Son of God, the Son He loved, suffered death “by the grace of God.” This is the same grace about which St. Paul speaks, Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,…” No, we cannot understand that God so loved the world. We can only believe it because the Holy Spirit makes it possible for the children of God to believe His Word.
Peace and Joy!