Saturday, December 25, 2010

Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Eve 2010

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 2:7
Theme: An Unassuming Entrance

Dear Gatherers at our Lord’s nativity,

The nativity is a rather unremarkable domestic scene. Granted the circumstances were more strained than normal. Still, the Almighty chose a very unassuming entrance into the world. “She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”1But God doesn’t concern Himself with human perception. He takes no thought for how people may appraise His actions. Imagine if God held focus group meetings to determine how people might perceive His proposals; or if He hired consultants to gauge public acceptance of His work? Will people come on board with His plans? Will they approve of His ways? Yes, how easy it is to want to limit God to our framework. It makes Him much more manageable.

But to pretend to ‘manage’ God is a fallacy. It’s like children only playing games. Playing cops and robbers is all harmless and relaxed until real danger appears. Then the amusement of little ones comes to a stop. Next to God we’re never more than children regardless of how mature our egos become. We soon get off track if we try to domesticate God. That’s one of the dangers of the nostalgia of the nativity.

You see, God is truly an unwieldy character. He stirs our thoughts and nudges our hearts. Bland clich├ęs about His love and misrepresentations of His tolerance cannot cover up His sobering presence. Yes, there He lays, a small, vulnerable infant, born into the world like all others. Yet He is someone to be reckoned with. More to the point: He does the reckoning. Our lives adjust accordingly.

The individual and collective memory of even the Christmas narrative is fading in Western society. Yes, many still know the contours, the basic content; but in the details we often stumble. Angels, shepherds and good news; a mother and child and a manger. But what does it mean and what real impact does it have? We must be honest in assessing whether nativity plays are a sign of the vigorous present and future faith of Christians, or a waning relic of the faithfulness of past generations. That is, is Christmas Eve participation a mark of the church’s current and future vitality or a symbol of sentimentalism for by-gone days? We need not reflect long to recognize the answer.

Some would say it’s an unnecessary analysis that dampens the spirit of the season. Yet it’s an honest one that the Holy Spirit uses to call us to repentance, humility, and faithfulness. How shallow do celebrations of Christ’s birth become if we have long since ceased believing there are truly any sinners left to save? What need for a Redeemer if there is nothing to be rescued from? Do we come to the Christ Child as sinners seeking forgiveness, or merely as admirers who would otherwise remain aloof? Our peace only comes in knowing that this Messiah reconciles us to the heavenly Father.

The angelic beings proclaim a message pregnant with peace. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace...”2 It was a peace achieved through struggle. A peace achieved through sacrifice. A peace achieved through death. It is a peace gifted to those who have not earned it. It is the peace of blood shed and atonement completed. It was blood shed as a result of voluntary determination and obedience- the first drop more crucial than the last. During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said that he could get any number of men who were "willing to shed their last drop of blood." The problem, said Lincoln, was that he found it difficult to get anyone willing to shed that first drop!

For Christ, a humble and fragile birth would eventually end in a humiliating and devastating death. But at the resurrection the vulnerability of the manger is done away with.
We’re fond of saying-especially preachers- that peace and hope are found at the manger and certainly at the cross. It’s a manner of speaking. The destitute come to the manger for endowment. The addicted come for freedom. The guilty come for absolution. The wayward come for guidance. The despairing come for hope. The downtrodden come for acceptance. The sinner comes for forgiveness. Everyone comes out of different variations of the same reason. But as a pious manner of speaking it only goes so far. We’re talking here of historical events.

Your access to God isn’t limited to the historical remembrance of Bethlehem, regardless of how vivid or beloved. Neither is your responsibility in His kingdom met by this annual observance. Jesus always has admirers-and it’s easy to adore the Christ child in the manger when it is fashionable- but He summons followers. Admirers schedule for the occasional feast but followers seek per diem sustenance. Faith lives or dies by its daily bread. Christ meets His baptized children each day. He quiets them with His word. He feeds them with His sacrament. He cradles them with His love.

The humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth show that God is not concerned with appealing to public opinion. This is true in all that He does. The Holy Spirit gathers to Christ a people for Himself. God doesn’t wait for our approval. He forges ahead with His work. He still intercedes with the Father so that our prayers and needs have access to His ears. This beloved Son, who had no place prepared for His birth, prepares for His people a place for their eternal dwelling. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord.”3 Hallelujah! Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +

Nativity of Our Lord- Christmas Eve
24 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 2:7 2 Luke 2:14 3 Luke 2:11

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent- A 2010

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Theme: God and Man

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God speaks and things happen. When appropriate He uses human agency to accomplish His work. At other times He completely circumvents the general laws by which He governs the universe. We call such things miracles. The coming of Jesus involves the vivid intersection of these truths. Divinity and humanity come together in the person of Jesus. That is what happened at Christmas. As God and Man He redeems humanity from sin, death, and Satan’s power. That is the final implication of Christmas.

Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Matthew states the divine miracle quite matter-of-factly. Of course we soon find out that the truth of that claim was not widely believed or accepted. It would be no different today. Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world comes to live among us born of a virgin? There’s little room for fence-sitting here. One can quietly overlook the difficulty; especially for the sake of not upsetting the apple cart during the time of Christmas celebrations. We might give a polite, self-assured wink at the sentiment; but the mind knows it’s up against something here. Faith receives what the intellect cannot fathom.

Our gospel says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel’- which means ‘God with us.’”1 Some miracles happen so frequently they are not recognized as such. The conception and birth of a child-though explained by the natural processes of life- show the magnificence of God’s glory. What “natural process” could ever explain the unique personality and characteristics of every human being? What scientific biological theory could ever account for the reality of the human soul? What precise technological advance will ever delineate the intangible and unrestrained human spirit? Here we come up against the mystery of what it means that humans were created in the image of God. The essence of what this is, is beyond the ability of humans to duplicate or manipulate.

The Church Father Athanasius describes the incarnation of God’s Son with these words, “He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt.”2 God makes Himself unmistakably known in the person of Jesus.

But now the questions arise, “Why? “And to what end?” Dear friends, it doesn’t matter if we were separated from the birth of Christ by 2 minutes, 2 days, or 2,000 years, the dilemma is the same: what relevance does it have for me? What relevance, of course, aside from the participation in a public holiday and traditional family and religious celebrations. The real consequence of Advent is not found in the innocent social impact or risk-free optional activities. God has broken into our world. He has made an assault on our long-established and deeply entrenched modes of operation and ways of thinking. He has come to destroy so that He can re-create. He comes not as a curious visitor, but as an unparalleled King. He comes to overturn the established order.

Athanasius continues in this manner, “Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men.”3 In other words, only with a true human body could Christ break the power of sin for our benefit. Yes, He could have stayed at a distance and with a word destroyed the whole fallen creation- He is under no obligation to us- but we would all have been lost. Instead, His death and resurrection bring new life to those needing rescue from sin.

Here is where we are encompassed into the story. We are sinners. All are sinners. O yes, I know the thoughts you’ve had. I have them too. You think that you’re not like that other person; that real sinner. You believe the fallacy that accidents and tragedy only happen to someone else. Your erroneously think that only other people’s sins get them into trouble. You’re not like those people. You go to church. But you are! You are that person too! You are entangled in the web of fallen humanity and you cannot un-entangle yourself. You can remain neither intentionally nor fortuitously beyond the pale of this corrupted existence. Sin permeates everything to the core. Yes, you can and should strive under the power of the Holy Spirit to live according to God’s will. That is your promise of repentance each week. Sin no longer dominates the life of the believer. But wreak hardship and havoc, and accrue guilt it does, every hour of every day.

That means that as a baptized child of God you still stand ever in need of His forgiveness. As a saint living in a state of grace, you nevertheless constantly require Christ’s absolution. Depleted of your energy by the world you need the nourishment of His body and blood again and again. Again, it doesn’t matter if we are separated from the birth of Christ by 2 minutes, 2 years, or 2,000 years, the questions are essentially the same. But so are the consequences. Time is finally irrelevant to the work of Jesus Christ. It’s not so much that He suspends it; He continually violates its limitations. Christ is Immanuel- God with us! Not back then, over there, or sometime, perhaps? God with us here and now. He is not diminished by the passing years or made feeble by the expanse of space.

God is with us. He is among His people. The church holds forth with this message at Advent, Christmas, and always. It never changes. It never becomes irrelevant. It is never impotent. For it is the message about Immanuel described by the apostle today as, “the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”4 To Him be all glory in this blessed season! Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Advent
19 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 1:22-23
2 Athanasius, On the Incarnation
3 Same
4 Romans 1:2-4