Sunday, December 26, 2021

Our "no" and God's YES!

Sermon for the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord, Lessons and Carols, for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2021.

We live in a world of no’s.  In fact, the last couple of years have only reinforced this no.  No to work, no to school, no to shopping, no to church, no to kindness, no to travel, no to just about everything we thought made our lives bearable and gave us joy.  We surrendered everything that once was sacred to us and thought it was worth it – worth it just to get through such a terrible time of fear, uncertainty, and death.  Still our lives ache for things to get back to the time when we did not fear a hand stretched out in welcome or a stranger too close in line at the register or politics of division and hate.  Will things go back to normal?  Will we ever forget what we have endured?

The truth is that our generation is not unique.  Every time and age has known its terrible sorrows and struggles.  We have been struggling for a long time and did not even know it until the obvious was made clear.  We hid our sorrows behind Amazon deliveries and online entertainment and social media.  We took comfort in making this life better or safer and did not dare presume to hope for something more.  Faced with all kinds of social ills, we hoped for some justice and prayed that justice would satisfy the noisy complainers and give us a reprieve from all that troubles us.

God has heard our prayers, known our fears, and felt our pain.  But His answer to all our needs has come not in a better life but a new one, not in a safer life but an eternal one.  Our God has come to us in our desperation and announced that death will not get the last word.  He has done this by a baby’s cry out into the silent night of a world so long ago and yet so much like the one in which we live today.  

The shepherds were minding their own business when angels turned their predictable lives upside down.  We have minded our own business but God has turned our lives upside down as well.  This night is the birth of joy and hope to a people who have ached for some joy and hope for so very long.  And if we will listen, we will find that what happened so long ago in Bethlehem of Judea has transformed every corner of this present world and transformed the very foundation of our lives.

There, standing across the great divide between heaven and earth, the angels called to the shepherds to come and see.  There, between the tear in heaven and the rip of the earthly veil, Jesus has come.  He has ended once for all the war between us and God, released to us the power to resolve what anger and bitterness divide with the healing grace of forgiveness, and opened to us the new door of everlasting life to a people too willing to make our peace with death.

The music of heaven is heard on earth and we have been invited to join our voices with the heavenly angels.  The promise of the future has been delivered to a people who had only a past.  And in the manger of bread and wine, water and Word, God comes to us still.  Here is the flesh powerful enough to undo the curse placed in our flesh by the rebellion of Eden.  And yet herein is the flesh tender enough not to wound but to heal, not to condemn but to forgive the sinner.

The shepherds were afraid.  Who could look upon angels and not be terrified by their power and their reality.  Like them, we see God through the lens of our fears and doubts, our pain and problems, our darkness and death.  We wonder where God was when things went bad and why He did not just deliver us then and there from all that troubled us.  We have forgotten that in the war of sin and death, we pulled the trigger first and we chose evil over good.  God remembers the wrongs we have thought and said and done but He is determined to rescue us from them.  In spite of our unworthiness, He is worthy and He has kept His promise to us.  Absolved, He remembers our sin no more.

The Gospel is not some panacea for all that troubles us.  Our Lord has not come to relieve our pain with the opiates of distraction and addiction.  This is not about getting what we want but about God bestowing upon us what we need.  And then giving us the Holy Spirit so that we might see as He does the curse of sin and how terrible death is.  We needed more than a temporary medicine or vaccine but to be healed from death once for all and to be delivered from death to life everlasting.

This is His gift.  This is what we find as we peer into the manger.  Christ is a baby but not just any baby.  He is the end to our past, the release from our present disappointment, and the promise of a brand new future.  He is the YES death cannot still in the face of all the ways we have heard “no” last year and the year before and the generations before it.  He is our yes and He is our hope to answer all that is wrong and turn the page once for all on despair and death.  But to receive His gift, we must confess the false hopes and dreams we have built upon lies, deception, and excuses.  
Sin has told us so often that the lie of our dreams is better than the truth of reality that we have forgotten how to repent.  But repentance is where hope begins anew.

My friends, we have forgotten that our warfare is over, our battle done, and our journey ended.  Lying in the manger is the only life strong enough to rescue us from our own lives and the only death strong enough to redeems us from our fears. In the midst of a world of no’s and our heart always quick to choose the path of complaint, God has spoken forever His YES in Christ.  That is His gift to us.  That is the marvel of this night and the blessing in the manger.

Sin began with a “no” to God’s Word.  It seemed such a simple thing.  Thanks, God, but no thanks.  We will do it ourselves.  The commandments seemed to us like God was saying “no” to everything we wanted to do but it is only in Christ that we realize what we want is harmful to us.  Still, we instinctively prefer the prison of our sins to the freedom of a life directed by God.  We are always about the “no” – insisting that our sins are not so bad, that we are not responsible, that we can make our peace with death, and that if God really loved us He would just do what we want Him to do when we want it done.  But God is about the YES!

God’s “yes” comes not to acquiesce to our demands or to surrender to our wants but as the power to end sin’s prison and restore us as His own, the power to meet death and the grave and make a pass through which we go to life everlasting, and the power to give new birth to our old lives in baptismal water.  God’s “yes” is His willingness to take from us the burden of our sin and pay it with the blood of His only-begotten Son.  God’s “yes” is to give to us new and glorious bodies that never are diseased, age or wear out.  God’s “yes” is to give us this priceless treasure without cost to us.  God’s “yes” to us is to shine the light of the Holy Spirit into the darkness of our hearts and minds so that faith may grow.

My friends, we have lived too long in a world filled with “no’s” and with hearts to quick to condemn and complain.  Our bodies ache for the promise of a new life and a new world, without division, complaint, and fear.  That is what God has given to us here.  His Son.  His “yes” to all the “no’s” of this mortal life.  Yes, God loves you.  Yes, He is with you.  Yes, He has kept His promises.  Yes, He has forgiven you.  Yes, He has delivered you from death to everlasting life.  Look into the face of Jesus and you see God’s “yes” now and forevermore.  Amen.

1 comment:

Timothy Carter said...

Thank You, Pastor Peters. Beautiful Christmas Eve message. Gives me hope. God's YES is all important in this shaky world.
I love the Collect that prays for the Holy Spirit to teach us "to love what God has commanded and desire what God has promised." That is where true peace lies.
Thank you for your faithful, Confessional writing.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon. Kingsport, TN.