Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Day (B) 2011

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

Text: John 1:14
Theme: God Receives Humanity

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Not everything has a history. When God brings newness He doesn’t necessary recast, rework, restore or recover existing things. The news of a child to be born in Bethlehem has a long history but on that first Christmas God in human form did not. At Christmas we celebrate an unprecedented event- an event without a history. And it is concealed in one of the most common of occurrences. We celebrate God crossing into the category of His creation, the Immortal One assuming a mortal frame. It happens in the familiar manner of human birth. God breaks new ground using the same means He instituted for His creation.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us…full of grace and truth.”1 This is the truth we celebrate today. In what manner did He come to dwell among us and what does it mean? We are shielded from His majesty but allowed to behold His humility. He sleeps. He cries. He eats. He grows. Yet He possesses the divinity of the Father. He would sometimes hide Himself from the Jews, but He commanded demons. He rebuked Pharisees but embraced children. He slept on a fishing vessel but subdued the raging waves. He possesses all the qualities of the human nature and all the Deity of the Godhead.

This union was necessary to rescue those who were condemned to suffer the final consequences of their fallen humanity. All that is dark, and sinister, false and selfish in your life accumulates on the human side of the equation. That is, until Jesus in His body gives access to the payment for sins, we are doomed to perish under the weight of divine wrath. God provides no other way. Our repentance and remorse is to be directed nowhere else because there is no other means. Neither should we think God has something to prove- that He needs to provide something greater than a manger, a cross and empty tomb- something more dramatic and unmistakably heavenly before we turn to Him.

We need to mature out of the idea that if God regularly exercised His might in public displays of power there would be more regular and consistent believers. That view of conversion has a long and failed track record. Think of Noah’s flood, the Exodus and all of the miracles of Christ. People can be motivated by fear, even awe, but apart from the Holy Spirit revealing to the sinners Christ’s compassion that doesn’t translate into faith. Outward obedience can be maintained by constant threat, even promise of reward. But then the very definition of faith would also be altered. Trust would no longer be a gift of the Holy Spirit with the promise of Christ as its object. It would be an act of the will that has been over-powered by sensory evidence. Jesus said to Thomas after His resurrection that seeing is believing. But blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

The Saviour was born among us meekly, unpretentious and underprivileged. This was offensive even to well-meaning Jews who looked for a royal son of David to re-institute the glory of Solomon. But within His human frame God was dwelling among humanity. This was all to our advantage as one of the Church fathers has said, “By no means did He diminish His own nature by His condescension, but He raised us, who had always sat in disgrace and darkness, to unspeakable glory.”2 He is the reconciler of relationships, the anchor in stormy seas, and the only comfort in death.

We cannot turn back time. The truth of Christmas doesn’t live among us as a memory. The angels are not stage props that are stored away for another year. The Child of Bethlehem is not kept as an infant in perpetuity. Faith is not sustained by an annual remembrance of the nativity no matter how tightly the sentiment is held. Faith is nurtured as the words of Christ regularly reach our ears and His body and blood regularly reach our lips. When your heart sighs in repentance and is lifted by the sound of forgiveness you are breathing the air of your baptism. When you dine at His altar you ingest the food of immortality. In these seemingly common and mundane actions you interface with the uncommon King, the Saviour, the Resurrected One.

The truth that Christ is both God and man is a paradox that lies right at the heart of Christianity. It is the very mystery of Christmas. He hungered in the desert but He fed the masses. He descended into the pits of hell but He is the Dayspring from on high. He battled Satan one-on-one but He has countless legions of angels at His command. He is the Master of all powers and principalities but He stooped to wash His disciples’ feet. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”3 Yet He is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”4 His greatest glory was to wear a crown of thorns and bear the scars of those nails even in His resurrected body. He sweat drops of blood at the Mount of Olives but He will wipe away every tear from our eyes in the heavenly Zion.

This paradox informs every aspect of Christian living. The common, ordinary and even tedious routines of life are honoured by the sacred countenance of God when they are done in service to His name. Our vocations as husbands, wives, parents, children, employers and employees, students and retirees are sanctified by His Spirit. We are consecrated, set apart, to serve others in a self-defeating world. Our struggling, decaying, ageing humanity lives- and lives joyously- in the knowledge that it has been clothed with the righteousness of Christ and will be restored to His immortality. In short, what we are is being superseded by what we are becoming in Him. Bethlehem is the beginning of the journey but the heavenly Jerusalem is the place of permanent residence. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”5 Not everything has a previous history but in Christ it has a permanent future.
Glory to God in the Highest! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
25 December 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 1:14
2 Chrysostom
3 Isaiah 53:3-4
4 Isaiah 9:6
5 John 1:4

Christmas Eve (B) 2011

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

Text: Luke 2:15
Theme: The Son is Made Known

Dear worshippers of the Infant King,

Jesus Christ was born into the context of struggle. We’re not thinking here of the fact “there was no room for them in the inn.”1 Though undoubtedly this was symbolic of the much greater picture. John tells us He came to His own but His own did not receive Him.2 There really was no room for this Christ in the world- at least not when people started to understand who He was. The long-established “powers that be” were not willing to give way. A child seems innocent enough. Even some secular-minded people may find nativity scenes to be harmless but Herod did not share that sentiment. The greater struggle continues.

The finite always tries to subdue the infinite. Temporary pleasures always seek to supersede promises that have timeless significance. The indulgence of our senses-what we can see, touch, feel, taste, experience (the things that tend to saturate modern holiday celebrations)- these always threaten to blind us to greater, more spiritual truths. Why do we exist? What lies beyond? How will these things come to pass? If we openly or ignorantly claim to be or act as if we are material beings only, then we deny the reality of the soul and we deny the Creator. This is a perennial temptation of sinners.

What really happened on that first Christmas? Are our efforts to embrace it too hollow? When customs become more important than the meaning they are meant to convey they become dangerous. What are our Christmas customs? God would have us to take the narrative of the gospel at face value without making it trivial. Few people would be so bold as to suggest the mind of God can be understood. Is the combined intellect and accumulated wisdom of humanity any more than rudimentary knowledge in God’s sight? Is our understanding of reality not just the tip of the iceberg? Do we not believe there are both wonders and dangers far beyond our ability to fathom or cope with?

In the event of the incarnation God comes to meet humanity at our level. Jesus comes in humility. He comes to meet head on those issues that are beyond our ability to resolve. If we’re not talking about God in human flesh, then we’re not talking about Christmas and we’re not talking about a Saviour. The Babe of Bethlehem was the Sacrifice of Calvary. Was that what we had in mind? A death and resurrection: The true gift of God’s presence among us? A baptismal inheritance?

Life knocks us around. Yet sometimes we think we can manage in the end. We might even think we are in control. We might wish He came to give a stamp of approval to all our pursuits, to validate our desires and to ease our consciences with a message of tolerance- and some make the celebration of His birth into this- but this is to celebrate a humanistic Christmas where Satan leads the Christ Child story captive for His own purposes. The devil too knows how to spread joy and merriment. He knows how to lure the heart. He knows people are always tempted to live for the moment. Christ comes to tackle the big problems for you- guilt for sin, Satan, death- so that our “little problems” of life can be borne with purpose and hope.

We have constructed in our memories an iconic scene of that first Bethlehem Christmas. We’d like the story to be packaged up with a neat, happy ending. Some hardship, but angels, shepherds- and parents and newborn live happily ever after. The Child of humble means becomes a great King. But behind the manger looms the shadow of the cross. The Christ must be sacrificed. He must die. That we can’t even pretend to understand. We can’t solve that riddle. We can’t consign it to fate or circumstance. We can only receive it on faith, believing something profound happens there and ultimate things are at stake. His death addresses the deepest crisis of reality- the crisis of separation from God for eternity- and this is far beyond our knowing. But it is not beyond our worship. It is not beyond our daily activity.

Your life- as one who bears the name of Christ- is a reflection of the incarnation. That is, it reflects the presence of sacrifice, truth , order, forgiveness, and love in world of selfish relationships, hard-heartedness and a climate of captivating falsehoods. It reflects the presence of the One who is the Prince of Peace. The greater struggle continues. But for those who find refuge with the ChristChild the outcome is not in doubt. Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”3

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…”4

+ In nomine Jesu +

Nativity of our Lord
Christmas Eve
24December 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 2:8
2 See John 1:11
3 John 17:33
4 Luke 2:14