Sunday, December 26, 2010

First Sunday After Christmas A 2010

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

Text: Matthew 2:15
Theme: To Egypt and Back

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The jubilation of the first Christmas quickly fades. The angels ascend to heaven. The shepherds return to their flocks. Daily life goes on. Soon the Magi have come and gone also. A new reality sets in. How rapidly the plan of salvation appears to be on a knife’s edge! The infant Saviour is almost immediately under threat. The worldly powers seek His life. It’s a very precarious situation into which the Messiah has come.

Surely God allows such uncertainty to test our faith. You see, He desires that we seek Him not in His power, but in His humility. His glory will always remain veiled to us in this life. What role would there be for the Holy Spirit should God always reveal Himself in splendor and power; exercising observable control over His enemies and visibly thwarting every opposition to His will? What need would there be for the Word of grace if God simply acted by force at all times?

Our text tells us that Joseph is directed to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. It seems to be an unlikely turn of events. How can this infant born to humble parents be perceived as such a threat? But Herod won’t take any chances. The visit of the Magi concerns him greatly. Protecting His rule and dynasty is his first priority. He doesn’t intend to let a so-called Jewish Messiah stand in his way.

The infant Saviour now has refugee status. Sometimes God provides refuge in the least likely places. But God’s people had found safety in Egypt in the past. Joseph brought Jacob’s entire family there after his brothers had sold him into slavery. It was there that Israel grew into a great nation. Egypt then became the symbol of bondage and oppression. God’s deliverance of His people through Moses stands as the primary redemption paradigm of the Old Testament. It was a preview of the final deliverance from the powers of death and hell. Now the long-awaited descendant of Jacob returns. “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’”1

Dear friends, all these events remind us that the circumstances of Jesus’ birth were not as carefree and lighthearted as is often depicted in nativity celebrations. Those first years were filled with difficulty, struggle, and even danger. Though the sweetness and innocence associated with the manger may provide a nice reprieve from our stressful lives it’s the hard reality of struggle that better equips us for the Christian life. One of the Church Fathers says it this way, “You, yourself need not be troubled if you are suffering countless dangers. Do not expect to be celebrated or crowned promptly for your troubles. Instead you may keep in mind the long-suffering example of the mother of the Child, bearing all things nobly, knowing that such a fugitive life is consistent with the ordering of spiritual things.”2

Consider carefully what is said here. Spiritual things are ordered in such a way that believers often experience trial in this life. Faith receives the promise of God’s truth and then immediately engages all that oppose it. Remember that all the temptations with which you may struggle- greed, laziness, apathy, selfishness, sexual immorality, vanity, falsehood- are not independent vices. They are all expressions of the self’s desire to be in control, to be self-governing, to wrest any authority from God. Dealing with sin is not simply a matter dealing with our particular weaknesses. It involves an all-out war against the powerful forces that have corrupted the heart and mind. Sin is not like a superficial wound, but an aggressive and terminal cancer. When we understand this we can see what a marvelous thing it is that God Himself, Jesus our Immanuel, destroys sin’s power in His body. Christmas was required for this to be possible. Christ overcomes sin’s wickedness at the highest level- the spiritual level- by disarming Satan and paying the penalty for humanity’s guilt.

The believer is then free. Justified by grace, through faith, the believer is no longer held in bondage to Satan’s will or sin’s power. But this freedom is often misunderstood because it is evidenced not in a carefree or untroubled life, but in struggle. From the moment of baptism the believer is led in this struggle by the Holy Spirit. The world cannot understand it and even the Christian can become perplexed and distressed by it. Since we believe, why doesn’t God just remove all of our troubles and temptations? He didn’t do this for Mary and Joseph so we can hardly expect that He will do it for us. Why, because then we would stop believing that it really all depends on the grace of Christ, and start thinking it’s all a matter of our own faith.

So what’s the reality of life under the cross? It’s exactly the life of the Holy Family from the beginning. It’s both an individual, personal struggle; and a corporate one involving our life in the body of Christ, the church. The Holy Spirit struggles against our sinful nature and our sinful nature struggles against the Spirit. And precisely in so far as the Spirit gains the upper hand in the life of a believer; precisely in that measure does the world oppose the Spirit’s work. “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.”3 The devil cannot leave well enough alone.

The world will always be filled with the temperament of Herod. People will always harm others to protect their own interests. Herod’s decree to have the infant boys of Bethlehem killed stands as the epitome of ruthless violence against the innocent. The same evil continues today multiplied many times in the practice of abortion. Claiming it as a legal right doesn’t change the fact that a human life is being terminated. Does the worth of a human life change depending on how another values it? Certainly human life is de-valued when people abuse the power they have over others. But God’s own estimation of His creation cannot be altered by our veneration or destruction of it.

Dear friends, we easily take for granted how blessed we are to have the advantage of history. For us the uncertainty and vulnerability associated with the ChristChild’s early years have been removed. The infant Saviour who was vulnerable to earthly powers has now conquered all powers of spiritual evil. The manger stood in the shadow of the cross pointing to His future crucifixion. But the dark shadow of the cross was dispersed by the brilliant light of Easter morning. He who was born of the Virgin purifies His people. He who was hounded by Herod has bound His mentor, Satan. He who bore the unjust wrath of rulers, rules His own with grace and forgiveness. Our Immanuel, who had to abandon His home at a tender age, dwells among us as our mighty fortress. May His presence govern your lives this Christmastide and always. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

First Sunday After Christmas
26 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 2:15
2 Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew
3 John 1:10

The Nativity of our Lord Christmas Day 2010

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

Text: John 1:14
Theme: “Dwelling Among Us”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

No wonder the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest!”1 God is as good as His word. In popular expression it means that someone can be trusted. It means we can count on them to carry out what they’ve said. With God we can be even more certain. The Good News of prophecy has become the final word of personhood. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”2 Jesus Christ, an infant in a manger embodies the fullness of the Godhead.

The beginning of John’s gospel is laden with the imagery of salvation. All the superlative themes are addressed: Light and darkness, sin and grace, life and death. John intends nothing less than to address the deepest of mysteries; to explain to the world the resolution to the quandary of the universe. The answers lie in the Word-made-flesh. Though symbolic in their meaning and comprehensive in their reach, these terms through which existence is characterized speak to concrete realities. The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, pure divine spirit, assuming human flesh in the manhood of Jesus of Nazareth; this is not an epic myth. God administers His rule through the crucified and risen Christ. This is the bedrock of our faith. John is a witness to these things.

God chooses to restore His creation in this manner. It’s not our place to query why. Why in this manner? We can never penetrate the mind of God beyond what He reveals to us in Scripture. Apart from the Scripture we can know nothing of God’s saving grace at all. This is because of the darkness of sin. Jon describes the situation this way, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”3 Dear friends, Christmas means that our lives are no longer dominated by the futility of temporal things. We are no longer trapped in the emptiness of our fleeting mortality. It’s a message the world desperately needs to hear.

People are searching for something to live for. They despair of any reason to exist. They find nothing worthwhile to put their hand to. Yes, they carry on from day to day but without purpose. How many seriously grapple with the question of what motivates them each day? How many are trapped in the drudgery of just making ends meet? So they chase riches and pleasures. They become absorbed in the hedonism and consumerism this world has to offer. Often times this ends in addiction, depression, and despair. Yes, the unbeliever can be quite proud and satisfied with himself. He can be full of self-confidence. He can value the ethical aspects of Christianity and even participate in its public celebrations. But the unbeliever knows not who he is, because he knows not or believes not what will become of him.
But don’t think for a moment that such indulgence cannot be pursued under the guise of respectability. Christians are not immune. Yes, it’s often the so-called ‘responsible’ people who are the most self-indulged. Our hearts are naturally drawn to these temptations. We dare not ever paint a picture of those with ungodly appetites that excludes ourselves. Christmas is never about polishing our own halos. If we use it as an opportunity to reassure ourselves that we’re doing the right things to stay in God’s favour in spite of our unrepentance, then we’re not truly here to worship Him, but to pacify our consciences. Christ comes for sinners. Period!
He wipes the slate clean. He gives us a new identity. The Scripture says, “To those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”4 Jesus says, “Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”5

If this truth cannot motivate you, inspire you, and energize you, even as it crushes you, humbles you, and chastens you, then your trust is not in the Offspring of Abraham and your hope is not in the Son of David. Then the Saviour born in Bethlehem is not really for you a Redeemer. He may be an object of intrigue or admiration. He may be feared as a Sovereign and Judge. He may even be acknowledged in time of crisis. But if He is not finally your sole hope and trust; then He is not your God. This Jesus, who entered through the Virgin’s womb, sojourned in a manger, hung from a cross; this living, breathing, flesh and blood man-He is the God who halts death and rescues from every foe. The Holy Spirit points you to this Bearer of Immortality with greater illumination than the brilliance by which the star led the Magi to the Child. Christian joy begins and ends here. It looks for nothing further.

Now that is not to say that you must conjure up an artificial joy and pretend to be filled with the Spirit’s inspiration. The joy of a Christian is often a quiet peace of mind and a spirit of contentment. These blessings come to rule the life of a Christian, which in all outward respects seems very ordinary. But it is in fact the picture of a pilgrim traversing a hostile land. This yoke of morality is heavy. This burden of sin’s corruption is draining. Daily spiritual sustenance is required to face it. God provides it through His word and sacraments and within Christ’s body, the church. Christ has made His dwelling among us. Here He dwells in bread and wine giving us His flesh and blood. He packs this sacrament with the promise of forgiveness and strength for the soul.

Dear friends, Christmas celebrations are still largely tolerated and even participated in by the wider society. But beyond this, attitudes are changing. When the world challenges us with the question of why we serve the God we do, when it ridicules such a ‘waste of time’, where do we turn? We remember that we are baptized! When our health collapses, our plans fail, and our livelihoods teeter on the brink-even over Christmas- we need not wonder whether our faith is strong enough. We remember Him who went from weakness to strength- for us. We remember that we are baptized into His name. When death itself is at the door we have confidence that it cannot win the final victory because Christ has mastered it. He is as good as His Word. The Child of Bethlehem is the King of the heavenly Jerusalem. He has made His dwelling among us and He shall reign forever and ever! Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +

Nativity of our Lord
Christmas Day
25 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 2:4
2 John 1:14
3 John 1:5
4 John 1:12
5 John 4:24