Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Presents


LUKE 2:7

They wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger.

In the name of Jesus:

The Time is almost here! After weeks of Christmas lists, Christmas sales, shopping, weaving through masses of people, waiting in lines, purchasing and wrapping presents, the time is almost here! Its Christmas Eve and soon the presents will be under the tree, and the boxes with brightly colored wrapping will be ripped off of the gifts, to reveal what is inside. And if your family is like mine, the gift recipient will take the time to show the gift for all to see, thanking the giver, and at the same time making plans on how to best use the gift.

Christmas is all about the gifts. What you give and what you receive. On this special night, we pause and reflect upon God’s great gift to us, the gift of His Son, the Christ child.

Anticipation was building that first Christmas Eve. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, God had promised The Gift. And oh, how the children of Adam and Eve would need this Gift. For Adam and Eve were created had fallen from grace. Theirs was a perfect world, the world WAS their oyster, they were placed in a perfect world, a Garden in which they were to tend and keep. Their only instruction was to trust, to trust in God and obey His command. To take each moment and live in each moment in faith: loving God by gratefully receiving what they had received from Him as a gift: the gift of fellowship with the Maker and Creator of all things. Their call was to live out their lives in the Garden in simple childlike trust, for God had said not to eat of a certain fruit of a tree, Adam and Eve were to simply trust, and obey.

Yet, in their disobedience, they were banned from the Garden and their relationship with God was severed. Perfection was replaced with sin, trust replaced with doubt, worry, anxiety and fear. Life as they knew it was now ending in death as a punishment for sin. Sin always pays off with death. Always. Yes, Adam and Eve still had life here on earth, and they could still enjoy the physical gifts which God had blessed them with, but they had now fallen from God’s grace. They possessed no spiritual gifts. Their souls were now sinful; their entire beings were in bondage to sin. Relationship with God---gone, communion with God---severed, life with God----non existent. The parents of the human race had separated themselves and the entire human race from God. The world, in which God had created, to be in harmony with Him, was not. It was broken. No human being could repair it. Truly it would take a miracle, a gift from God, if you will, to reconcile God with man.

But God had a plan, His plan. Before He created the world, God knew what would happen. He knew that Adam and Eve would forsake Him and live for themselves. But out of love, God STILL created Adam and Eve because He wanted a relationship with the beings He created. God would spare no expense to make this happen. God had no plan B, rather, it was His eternal will and a part of His eternal plan that He would send One who would do battle for Adam and Eve and their descendants. Before God created the world God had determined that he would save the world through the blood of His Son, Jesus. For as John writes in his Gospel: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. God’s plan was set into motion even before the world began. And God revealed this plan to Adam and Eve after the fall, as He promised One who would crush the head of the serpent.

God had promised this miracle, this Gift, this Savior. And so, throughout the pages of the Old Testament, Jesus is proclaimed. God made the promise not only to Adam and Eve, but to each generation of prophets and people. To Abraham God said that He would bless the nations. To David God promised a King to take his place on a throne which would last forever. It was through His prophets that God promised that at the right time He would present Himself in Christ to save His people. A virgin would conceive and bear a Son; His name would be Emanuel which means God is with us. Through the prophet Isaiah a Child would be born, a Son given, His name would be Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace. Elsewhere, this One who was to come would bear the sins of the world; by His stripes sinners would be healed. God promised, the anticipation continued to grow, and God’s people waited for the unveiling of God’s gift. And God’s people heard God’s promises, and looked forward to that time, all the while the anticipation was building, and God’s people were waiting in joyful expectation. Even as children look forward to Christmas morning to see what presents are under the tree with their name on them, so too God’s people of old looked forward to that time when God would unveil the Gift of His Son.

And so, at that right time, when Quinerius was governor of Syria, Caesar decreed that the whole world would be taxed. And in that time God spoke, not through prophets, but through angels which spoke to shepherds, watching their flocks at night: To you is born in the city of David a Savior, He is Christ the Lord. The shepherds went to see this One who was promised of long ago, God’s present, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The angels sang praises to God at what God was doing that first Christmas. God sent Jesus, His only begotten Son, on Christmas. Christmas is the day when God became man in Christ. Cynics will suggest that Christmas is really a pagan holiday that no one really knows when Jesus was born, that the leaders of the Church celebrated Christmas on a pagan holiday, so as to detract from our celebration of Jesus’ birth. Satan likes to take half truths and turn them into lies.

You see, the early Christian Church chose December 25 not because it was a pagan holiday; in fact the early church took great strides in attempting to veer away from paganism because of persecution. The date was chosen because in rabbincal thinking, Jesus was conceived and died on the same date. Historians of that time figured that Jesus died on March 25; hence it would make sense that He would be born nine months later on December 25. This is why we celebrate Christmas on this eve. As we celebrate Christmas in the darkness of winter, God’s Word brings to mind that Jesus is truly the Light of the world, the Light of God sent into the darkness of our sinful world to show us the love of God for all. And this is the true meaning of Christmas! For God sent His only Son, as His gift to sinners born and conceived in sin. God’s greatest gift, His greatest present was His presence in His Son Jesus Christ. God was in human flesh reconciling the world to Himself. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us for a time, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth….The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. [10] He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. [11] He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. [12] But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. [14] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1).

The Light of the world became human flesh to enlighten our sinful lives to the grace of God. From the fullness of Christ each of us has received the grace of God, His love, His gifts, His truth, His life. God’s long awaited Gift to you is His Son, Jesus. And He comes, not wrapped in colorful paper, with a bow around it, but He comes in humility. Wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, laid in a feeding box made from a tree, to be later raised up on a tree called the cross, so that He would be the life and salvation of all. Jesus, God’s Son, was nailed to the tree to be cursed by God, so that you might know and possess God’s love, His forgiveness, His life, in Christ.

And these gifts are given to you this Christmas, and every Sunday when you attend worship. We can very really say that Christ is present with us in worship, for where two or three are gathered together in His name, Jesus promises to be there, right in our very midst. And Jesus offers Himself tangibly in His Word and Sacraments. In a world that struggles to know if God exists, if God is present, if God speaks today and if God cares, God tells us that He does, and He is present with us in His Word and Sacraments.

The Holy Scriptures is God’s very voice and very word to us today. Some people believe that the Bible just contains the Word of God, and so, they then pick and choose in the Bible what they want to believe, to fit their own lifestyle. But God Himself says in His Word that His Word is truth. The Holy Scriptures are the inspired Word of God and God breathed, God’s very voice to us, revealing to sinners where they have fallen short of God’s will, and God’s grace in Jesus Christ. For while the Law was given to Moses, God sent His Son into the world to reveal the love, grace, and truth of God, that God wills that all be saved in Christ.

In Baptism God speaks His voice, calling you by name so that you would have a new identity. The old things that you have done, including all of your sins and transgressions, have been washed away in Baptism. The Old sinful self has been drowned and died, so that a new person, by the power of God’s spirit, will rise in you. You are a new creature in Christ! God is present in Baptism and gives you new life. God speaks to you in your Baptism and says: YOU ARE MINE, MY FOREVER CHILD, and that absolutely nothing will ever separate you from His Love for you in Christ.

And in the Holy Supper which we call Holy Communion, Jesus is present again, in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus gives His gifts to you in forms of bread and wine, to give you Himself, for the assurance of your salvation. The Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ gift to you, His comfort food for your soul that you might know for certain that He still loves you and will always love you and be with you, even until the end of the age.

God’s gifts, His presents to you this Christmas is found in His Son Jesus. Today God’s Good News is that to you is born the Savior, He is Christ the Lord. You will find Him lying in a manger. And God’s gift to you each Sunday is His Son, Jesus. And you will find Him speaking to you in His Word, and giving you Himself in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Soon we will open presents. But the greatest present, the greatest Gift if Jesus. God’s Gift is that He gives us Jesus in Word and Sacrament. And this is the best present we can receive.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holy Works

In my devotions today I read a portion of Luther's explanation of the Fourth Commandment.  It deals with holy works, and I thought that it was food for thought for you who read this blog.

"143] Now, what a child owes to father and mother, the same owe all who are embraced in the household.
Therefore man-servants and maid-servants should be careful not only to be obedient to their masters and
mistresses, but also to honor them as their own fathers and mothers, and to do everything which they know is
expected of them, not from compulsion and with reluctance, but with pleasure and joy for the cause just
mentioned, namely, that it is God's command and is pleasing to Him above all other works. 144] Therefore they ought rather to pay wages in addition and be glad that they may obtain masters and mistresses to have such joyful consciences and to know how they may do truly golden works; a matter which has hitherto been
neglected and despised, when, instead, everybody ran, in the devil's name, into convents or to pilgrimages and indulgences, with loss [of time and money] and with an evil conscience.145] If this truth, then, could be impressed upon the poor people, a servant-girl would leap and praise and thank God; and with her tidy work for which she receives support and wages she would acquire such a treasure such as all that are esteemed the greatest saints have not obtained. Is it not an excellent boast to know and say that, if you perform your daily domestic task, this is better than all the sanctity and ascetic life of monks? 146] And you have the promise, in addition, that you shall prosper in all good and fare well. How can you lead a more blessed or holier life as far as your works are concerned? 147] For in the sight of God faith is what really renders a person holy, and alone serves Him, but the works are for the service of man." (Tappert, pg 385).

Indeed, how can we lead a more blessed life than to love Christ and seek to serve Him in all we do?