Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Who owns Christmas?

Sermon for the Divine Service on the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord, preached on December 24, 2022.

At Christmas we Christians get a little nervous – sort of like a kid trying to hold onto a candy bar that everyone wants a bite of.  The world has embraced Christmas and made it its own.  Already in August the stores were filling up shelves with trinkets and knickknacks, cards and garland, Santas and sleighs.  We Christians think that we own Christmas but the world does not care about our claims.  The world has claimed Christmas and stolen it right out from under the noses of pastors and churches and Christian people.  That has set up a battle for us to take back what we think belongs to us.  We are hypocrites in that war for ownership.  There are plenty of Christians standing in line to buy ornaments and gifts long before Thanksgiving and Advent.  

Instead of fighting against those who want their share of Christmas, it would be better for us to help them know what Christmas really is rather than what they might imagine it to be.  Clearly the place to start is with the Christmas story that Luke has told us.  It is more than a story but a gift and a blessing.  Luke 2 belongs to everyone – not because we want it but because the angels have said it is so.  Christ is born for the great joy of all the people.

So let us not hoard what God has meant for all the people nor steal the joy away from the birth that is the incarnation of holy joy itself.  Let us live out this good news of great joy.  That is what St. Paul wrote to young pastor Titus.  The grace of God has appeared to bring salvation for all people.  But with that joy comes the call to renounce the worldly passions that give into desire and to live holy, upright, and godly lives in this age.  What the apostle is talking about here is self-control.  Now there is a term out of place on Christmas Eve.  Self-control?  In a holiday in which we spend too much, eat too much, waste too much, and drink too much!  Yeah, right – self-control.

But the Apostles is not really talking about moments of over indulgence, is he?  No, he is talking about lives that bear no hint of the Savior who is born for us this night.  He is talking about lives that are lived in captivity to a goodness we think we can manage on our own or who believe you can wish away sin and its wrongs without a Savior to do the work.  He is talking about the self-control of love that truly does love God but also loves our neighbor.
Ours is an age that could learn well of this self-control.  We think that it is foolish to limit yourself from any whim or feeling or want or desire.  We live in a self-indulgent world that does not simply want more things but does not value life or virtue or integrity or truth.  We do what seems right in our own eyes and we generally figure God will just have to put up with us if He doesn’t like it.

The self-control St. Paul addresses is the confidence that your life is not about today or even about yourself but about the God who has redeemed you by becoming flesh like you.  It is about the assurance that the good life is not how much you can pack into your day or your lifetime but the everlasting life that begins when the temporary of this life ends.  It is about goodness which is measured not in personal achievement but in trust – trusting that God who has redeemed you knows what is best for you and that the best you can do is to hear and heed the voice of His Word.

The devil is about the opposite of self-control.  He is about self-indulgence.  His is the voice that told Caesar Augustus to take a census lest he might be missing a few tax dollars.  His is the voice of those who insisted that as long as they were comfortably settled in their beds it was somebody else’s problem to find room for the Mother of God and Joseph the Guardian of the Savior as Jesus is born.  His is threat to Mary in childbirth and to Jesus who is born of Mary – the same thing that threatens every mother in labor and every child born of her wombs.  His is the voice that says children are a possession to be discarded as easily as they are valued.

The devil is all about self-indulgence.  His is the whisper to shepherd’s to worry more about their own comfort than the safety of their flock.  His is the voice of fear that has taught us to be afraid of God and of His angels and of anything we cannot control.  His is the voice that finds the Son of Mary a threat so great that years after His birth Herod still must try to kill Him.  The devil has no place for self-control or holy or godly or righteous lives – only about me and the whim of what I want and when I want it.  That is why we must direct the world away from the sentiment of the story Luke tells us to the truth of its facts.

Jesus is born.  That is what the angels sang to the shepherds and the shepherds came to see and the thing that made this night shine with the brightness of light never seen before. It was never about the story but the Savior whose birth it tells.
If the world is missing something, it is not because it did not get the details right but because it missed the central point of it all.  Christ is born.  The Savior of all.  The source of joy to a world where joy is truly in short supply.

Tonight we who know who was born and why He was born have a sacred duty to key in the world around us to the not so secret secret of God’s Son, born in flesh, to be our Savior.  Let the world  have the story but let it have the right story and discover the truth of it all.  Christ is born.  The Savior long promised.  The answer to sin.  The power of life.  The promise of grace.  The gift of mercy.

If there is a Christmas sacrament, it is the Holy Eucharist.  Christ is laid in the manger of bread but not for us to admire.  He is given to us in bread and wine so that we might eat and drink, for the forgiveness of sins, for the pledge and promise of everlasting life, for the food that actually feeds us this life, and for the life of good works that glorifies Him.  We who know the story, know that it is told not simply on Christmas Eve amid candles and carols but every time the Holy Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood are given to us.  Here is the food of heaven that opens eyes and hearts and teaches us to renounce all that the world counts as important for the sake of the one thing needful.  Here is the strength to live those holy, upright, and godly lives we are called to live, born again in baptism to live, and that mark us as God’s in a world the devil claims as his.

Come to the stable, look upon Christ in the manger of His Sacrament.  Eat and be satisfied; drink and your thirst be quenched.  Do this in remembrance of Him so that you may know the purpose of your life and the goal of your redemption – lives of holiness and godliness, telling a world in darkness of Christ the Light and serving your neighbor in Christ’s name.  God’s intent is not to take away your sin but leave you as you are – helpless before sin and lost in the maze of a world of evil, error, and eroticism.  No, God came to earth to redeem us, to make us His people, to move us from a lifeless end to an endless life, filled with hope, love, and joy.

We all suffer the grave temptation to surrender our self-control to anger when we meet the darkness of the world, when our lives fall apart, when families are in conflict, and when our hopes and dreams are shattered upon the rocks of disappointment.  We are good at distractions to substitute for that which is new, new life, new hope, new obedience, and new love.  

Christ did not come to us because of the wonder of living in this world.  We do not come to Christ because things are going so well.  It is in the pain of loss, the dysfunction of family, the danger of violence, the shame of sin, and the shadow of death we come.  And Christ is there, rescuing us from a world without hope to a hope that cannot disappoint.  Christ is here, forgiving, restoring, and renewing us by His grace and favor.  Christ is here training us for the new life in which we control our passions and order our days according to His commands.  And Christ will be with us when we depart, as the shepherds once did so long ago, returning home with God’s praise on our lips, His glory over our lives, and His story we cannot wait to tell.

A blessed Christmas, my friends.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

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