Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas in the Trenches

+ Friday of Advent 3 – December 16th, 2011 +
Servants of the Word Confessions Study Group
Text: Revelation 4:1-11

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

Revelation 4 might seem like a strange text for a Friday this late in the season of Advent. Against the chaos of the Christmas culture wars we might long for a little flashing lighting and pealing thunder around Santa’s throne at Macy’s. But the war on Christmas is best waged – not in the courthouses or the culture wars, but in the Church. God’s barracks in this world.

To quote Lewis, “Enemy occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going.” (Mere Christianity, Book 2, Chapter 2, p.46)

            Revelation 4 makes perfect sense. Holy is the Lord God Almighty – who was, who is and who is to come. He came. He conquered. He will come again in victory. Like old MacArthur, only better: “I shall return.”

            And as we await…it’s easy this time of the year to get complacent; let your guard down; fall asleep at the watch. Turn your back on the enemy for just a moments’ rest. The military can teach us a lot about Advent & Christmas.
            Semper Fi. That works for pastors as well as Marines. But most of all, our Lord – the Always Faithful One. “Worthy are you, our Lord, to receive glory and honor and power”…and remarkably, he gives that all away to men who are inglorious, dishonorable and impotent. Sinners.

            You serve people who are tempted – as we are – to search for the glory of Revelation in the artificial light of this world. To strive for honor and power in the thrones we have set up for ourselves. You see it in your pews, in your meetings, among your people… in yourself. Pastors are susceptible too during these holy days – it’s hard to observe the holy days when you’re the one preaching, teaching, one service after another. And your people feel it too. Stress. Broken families. And the list of emotional scars grows as long as a child’s Christmas wish list.
            But they’re all the symptoms of the same curse. What God had created in Genesis 1 is shattered by Genesis 3. And so the flashing light and pealing thunder of Sinai still works its deadly fear. Yes, pastors bear a unique burden: your own burdens and the burdens of the people you serve – a disciple is not above his Master. And yet a disciple is never without his Master. You do not bear them alone. In the fullness of time Christ was born of a woman, born under the the Law to redeem you and your people from the Law. Christ is the burden bearer for you and all his people in his death on the cross and it begins at his birth. That’s why at Christmas we hear again the good news of great joy…that the greatest gift of Christmas is not found under the tree, but hanging upon it for you. In advent – at Christmas…Christ comes to rescue us from ourselves. 

            Narnia once had a 100 years of winter without any Christmas. That was until Aslan was on the move. The cursed winter was melting away. Narnia was free again. The spring was coming. The Witch’s reign was coming to an end.

            That’s our Advent hope. Christ the King is on the move. He has invaded. He comes to us – not in the glory of heaven but in the lowliness of the manger. Christmas in the trenches. The curse is melting away. The spring is here. Now the prince of this world is cast out – not by gladiator might – but by a helpless little baby. Disguised in human flesh; hidden in the womb of Mary until the appointed time.

            Jesus is born in a Genesis 3 kind of world so that we and all creation might be restored to him in a world like Revelation 4. The world as it was meant to be. Revelation reveals the Advent we all wait for – the endless summer; the last chapter of the greatest story ever told  in which each chapter is greater than the last. It’s all in Revelation.
            For the honor and glory of Revelation is found in Christ at Christmas. During Christmas it’s not so much that earth grasps heaven as it is heaven bending down to grasp earth. It’s not so much God made small as it man made big. One small leap for God, one giant leap for mankind. Who for us men and for our salvation…the eternal Word is made flesh. The Creator becomes a creature. The Potter becomes the clay. The Author becomes part of his own story. Revelation 4 shows us the fulfillment of what Christ came to do.
            Christ who ends the curse by becoming the curse for us. He destroys sin by taking on our sin. He crushes the devil by letting the devil bruise his heel. The last enemy to be destroyed has been defeated by Christ for you on the cross. You show him your scars and he’ll show you his.
            That’s the message we declare for his people tomorrow and the next day and the next day, until we join the elders and living creatures, not at Christ’s stable-side, but before his throne in glory and joy.

            Christ on the throne – that is Advent and Christmas all rolled into one: Christ rules in weakness and humility from the throne of his crib and the cross; He rules in joyous majesty and power from his throne in heaven having conquered all things and as we await the final gathering around that throne, He rules from his throne here in bread and wine. Here you bow down before the Lord who comes before you in greater ways than the shepherds. And this will be a sign for you: you will find the infinite wrapped in the finite, and lying in bread and wine. From his manger to his altar to his glorious throne, this Lamb of God rules for you.

This little Babe so few days old
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at His presence quake,
Though He Himself for cold doth shake;
For in this weak unarmed wise
The gates of hell He will surprise.

With tears He fights and wins the field,
His tiny breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.

His camp is builded in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
The crib His trench, haystalks His stakes,
Of shepherds He His army makes;
And thus, as sure His foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps the charge now sound.

My soul with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to His tents, the place of might.
Within His crib is surest ward;
This little Babe will be thy Guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
And flit not from this heav’nly boy.

A Merry Advent and Blessed Christmas to you who are in the trenches.

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

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