Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Sermon: The Grand Miracle

+ Christmas Eve – December 24th, 2011 +
Matthew 1:18-25

In the Name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

            Like most fathers, Joseph was clueless as to what was about to happen to him 9 months later. The birth of a child is supposed to bring joy. But before there was joy, there was confusion, unbelief and a scandal…Mary is pregnant. And Joseph is not the father. So Joseph – being a righteous man – quietly plots to save Mary public humiliation, not to mention the threat of stoning for adultery, by resolving to divorce her quietly. Joseph, for all the right reasons, was about to do the wrong thing.
            Joseph needed to hear that Jesus is the first and last word at Christmas. That in the womb of Mary God was doing something unexpected, undeserved and completely new under the sun: a woman is pregnant with God, by God. The one whom the world cannot contain was found in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He who bestows fatherhood upon men is born in their family tree. Miraculous. Marvelous. Mysterious.

            No wonder Joseph needed to hear what the angel had to say: “Joseph, Son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Tonight – with Joseph – we behold the wonder and the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. Divine defection: God crosses enemy lines, takes on human flesh, to put on our weakness and mortality.

            What began in utter scandal, turned out to be the best Christmas ever for Joseph, for Mary…and for all people. The cross works the same way too: what is an utter scandal to the world turns out to be the very best thing for all people – Christ Crucified.  The Son is born to pay for the sins of all his fathers…indeed, of all people. “You shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus’ name and purpose – his work and his identity – go hand in hand. Jesus. Savior. The first and last word at Christmas.

And what about you? You are not Joseph, waiting for God to be born. Christ has come; He was born. And you probably didn’t have any angels visit you last night in strange dreams. But you are like Joseph in this way…you too need to hear that Jesus is the first and last word at Christmas. 

            Who or what gets the first and last word around your home at Christmas?
News of sorrow, illness or death? Arguments with a spiteful tongue? Words of hatred toward the ones we love? Sinful desires that are never satisfied? Or perhaps there’s just silence. There are no words to speak of. God can’t get his word in edgewise because we’re too busy having Christmas our way. You, see whether it’s a good day or a bad year, we’re professional at selective listening; turning a deaf ear to God’s Word, God’s promises God’s life. We, like Joseph, need to hear that Jesus is the first and last word at Christmas.

            This Christmas, leave your grief and sorrow at the manger. Leave behind your anger, hatred, lust and sinful desires. Put your sin and all its sadness not under the tree, but on Christ who has taken all your sin…and placed it on his tree. For the greatest Christmas gift of all is not found under the tree but adorned on it…Jesus crucified for you.

            God comes to do what we cannot – and will not do. His Name is Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. For all that you aren’t; Jesus is. For all that you have failed to do, Jesus has done, everything. And the sin you have committed – the sinner you are – he redeems you too. The cross hangs heavy over the manger. It’s all in Jesus’ name – Yahweh is Savior. You shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.
            He is all that we are and yet without the one thing that doesn’t belong – Sin. He is like us in every way – bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh, born of woman yet without sin, without Adam’s curse. He is all men, all people, every child of Adam and Eve. His humanity is our humanity; His poverty is our poverty; His weakness is our weakness; His life is our life; His death is our death.

            God has done what we cannot do. God has come to us in the manger. We cannot ascend to God in our thoughts, our prayers, our dreams, or our faith. We cannot reach up to God, but in the clinched arms of infant Jesus, God has extended His holy right Arm to us. He sent His Son into our Flesh. Gone are any pious notions of our seeking God. God has sought us and found us in the Flesh of His Son, conceived in a Virgin Mother and laid to sleep in a manger. There is no other God for us than the One who hangs on a cross and nurses at the breast of His mother.” (Luther)

            This is what separates Christianity from all other religions of the world…take the miracles out of Christianity and you have nothing left. And no other religion makes the kind of claims that Jesus does. That God becomes man. That God takes matters into his own hands, literally, even though it means death. That baby in the manger has the whole world in his hands yet is held in the hands of Mary.
            “The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle…that what is beyond space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again bringing nature up with Him” (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock).

            You can take away all the tinsel, mistletoe and family parties and endless expectations and have nothing more than two or three poor, miserable sinners huddled around the Word of Christ, and there you will have everything you need at Christmas. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. God is with us – Immanuel; Jesus come to save you from your sins. And nothing in this world can take that away from you.
            This is what was missing from the Grinch’s Christmas ephiphany…

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. "How could it be so?

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"

He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!
            You want something more in Christmas? Good because that’s all that Jesus ever wants to give you. More of himself. More life. More forgiveness. More salvation from sin and death.
            Warm fuzzies are nice…but they aren’t Christmas and they certainly won’t save you. It is not that we loved God but that He loves us. And sends us Jesus, our a swaddled Savior, our diapered deliverer, our infant Immanuel come to rescue, save and deliver you out of your death into His life. At Christmas – and all year round - Jesus is the first and last word for you.
            It’s all in his name. Immanuel. God with us. God became an 8 pound, 6 ounce squirming child kicking in Mary’s lap. God became a helpless baby to help those who cannot help themselves.
            Think about that next time you see a little baby. God was a blastocyst. God was a zygote. God was an unborn child, a bump in Mary’s belly. God was born. God cried and nursed and dirtied his diapers. God became man. God bled. God died. God rose. Immanuel. God with us in sorrow. In sickness. In death. In life.

            Jesus works the same Christmas miracle for you that He did for Joseph: child like trust in the Child of the Manger. Through His word – by His life and death – Sinners, deader than a lump of coal are made alive. 
            Jesus proclaims his first and last word of forgiveness here for you, where Jesus is making Christmas all year round – God with us in the water. God with us in the Word and absolution. God with us in the bread and wine. Come to Bethlehem and see Christ the Lord swaddled in his house of bread and wine. Immanuel. God with us. God for us.

Christmas is definitely a holy night; however, it’s anything but a silent one. For Christ is born! His name is Jesus and He has saved his people from their sins, from your sins. Jesus is the first and last word over sin and death. Jesus is the first and last word at Christmas for you and for all.

A Blessed and Merry Christmas to you…

In the Name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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