Monday, December 28, 2020

The star shines for real. . .

The sermon for Christmas Eve, 11 am, Divine Service, preached on December 25, 2020.

This year the media has been all abuzz with the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn and the wondering if this event was the Christmas star that guided the Magi.  I don’t know.  I have read too much to be sure of anything.  But in our imagination the dream lives that just maybe we all looked out earlier this week and saw the Christmas star.

Christmas is filled with so much imagination.  We imagine the details of the story of our Lord’s birth with oxen mooing and donkeys braying and sheep bleating.  We imagine a young couple, turned away by the full motels, left to find refuge in a farmer’s back yard.  We imagine the shepherds out in the fields being roused by the voice of angels.  We imagine an angelic choir singing in Latin to a stable of bemused animals and the Holy Family at peace with it all.  We imagine the stars shining down from the night sky and far off Oriental sages making their way to it all on camels from afar.  We imagine a perfect baby, in swaddling clothes, not a peep from His mouth.  

But apparently that is not enough.  We also imagine a North Pole and eight reindeer and a sled full of packages and a fat man with a white beard in a red suit heading out into the night.  Or a snowman who awakens to live as long as the snow lasts and sing of old Frosty.  

Or maybe we just imagine a perfect family Christmas, with plenty of time to be together, without any of the rush or stress, with everyone being on their best behavior, with presents to satisfy every want, and a table full of food and enjoyed to smiles and laughter all around.

Maybe we imagine too much.  Maybe our imagination is stuck on the things that are not or will never be and so we lose sight of the one thing that was, is, and is to come.  The Savior is born.  He is made flesh by the announcement of the archangel Gabriel, carried in the womb of the Blessed Virgin for nine months, and now is delivered, the Son of God in human flesh and blood.

Or, maybe we imagine too little.  Maybe our imagination is caught up in trivial things and temporary moments that are meant to come and go.  For the thing that lasts, that endures, is right here – God has come.  He has fulfilled the ancient promises.  He has kept His Word and that Word has been made flesh.  If we are contented by Christmas stars or picture perfect family gatherings or cartoon images, we have surely missed what is real, what is the most real thing of all.

God has come to you and for you.  He has come to shepherds and wise men, to bankers and dishwashers, to kids in school and grandparents snoozing in the chair, to women carrying babies and grieving mothers who have lost their babies, to men hard at work and men hardly working, to those in their youth, those in their prime of life, and those whose glory is fading fast.  The Savior is born to you and for you.

You are unworthy and undeserving.  You are caught up in all the wrong things.  You are distracted by trinkets with no value while the treasure of great price is right before you.  You are swallowed up with the fear and terrible news of a nine month pandemic that is still going strong.  You don’t know who to believe and who to ignore.  You feel alone even when the screens are filled with the images of family and friends quarantined away.  You want to be happy but find it hard to be happy about anything.  But the Savior is still born, born to you and for you.

God does not live in your imagination.  He lives in flesh and blood, born of a mother crying out in the silent night, laid in a manger, and worshiped by strangers.  He lives in the Word that still speaks with the living voice of God and still does what it has said.  He lives in the water of baptism that still churns with new life for all the dead who enter there.  He lives in the absolution that ends the guilt and shame of sin for all the penitent.  He lives in the bread and wine of this Holy Supper where we taste the body and blood of the Lord Jesus and the sweetness of His mercy that endures forever.

God does not live in papered over tensions but in sins forgiven and in a people who lament their sin and delight in God’s forgiveness.  God does not live in fake moments of human artistry but in the midst of all our faults, failings, frustrations, and fears.  God has not delivered up His Son to be our Savior so that we could still find a Kodak moment in the midst of a year we would rather forget.  No, He has come to you and for you.

Love moved Him to leave behind the halls of glory for the humility of a stable, a cross, and a tomb.  Love drew Him to your house and mine, to this church and every place where the Gospel is spoken and hearts believe.  
Love rescued us from our enemies and from our own selves.  Perfect scenes will not last and the manger is already long ago a memory.  But the fruits of His coming remain.  He is life and in all who believe there is life and hope and peace.  This story that we recall today is but the first chapter of all the events that took place so that God would save you, so that His love might work in you, and so that His love might rescue you for disappointment, darkness, and death.

We have not gathered at the manger but here in the city where we live and work and worship.  We have not come for somebody else’s imagined happiness but to find contentment and peace in the God who loved us more than life itself.  We have not come to find a post card or photograph worth keeping but have our lives reborn, our hopes refreshed, and our future recast.  We have not come for dreams to come to true but for sins to be forgiven, for the dead to be raised to everlasting life, and for the tomorrow we fear to become the tomorrow we hope for and anticipate, right here in this communion.

The shepherds returned to their flocks.  The angels sang only once that night.  The oxen and donkeys went back to the ways.  Herod long ago tried to spoil Christmas for the mothers of Bethlehem.  And the Magi returned to their homes by another route.  But God is here where He has promised to be.  The Savior lives in the voice of His Word, in the absolution of our sins, in the water that gives new birth to what was dead in trespasses and sin, in the preached Gospel to ears itching for hope, and in the bread and wine that taste of Calvary and heaven at one and the same time.

Christmas does not live in your imagination.  It never did.  It lives here.  From this lectern and pulpit, in this font, on this altar.  And because it lives here, it will live in YOU as you depart this place to go back home again.  Jesus has come.  Jesus has come to you.  Jesus has come for you.  Oh, come, let us worship Him.  Amen.

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