Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Day (C) 2012

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

Text: Luke 2:7
Theme: A Breach Birth

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God is not abstract in His power or being. Christmas is evidence of this fact. Everything has a context. Nothing exists in a vacuum. The love of God can only be understood in the humanity of Jesus. A small Judean town was the backdrop for the most significant birth announcement in the history of the world. “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”1 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…”2

Jesus’ birth was a breach. It was a breach of unprecedented magnitude. Through the womb of a humble virgin the architect of the universe breached the barrier between a holy God and sinful humanity. He traversed the boundary of the created sphere not with His omniscience but in human flesh and blood. He came not on a mission of reconnaissance but to set up tenancy. He came not to visit but to dwell. He came not to inspect His creation but to reclaim it, redeem it, and restore it. He came to hang from a cross.

Human logic deems it to be inconceivable. It doesn’t seem possible. How can this one man be the Redeemer of the world? How can your eternal future be secured by the birth, death, and resurrection of one human being! Yes, there is a long succession of miracles: A virgin birth, healing the blind, lame, deaf and mute, calming the seas, walking on their surface, commanding demons; capped by His own bodily resurrection from the dead. Still, the Holy Spirit must teach us that the one Man, this infant of Bethlehem died for me and my salvation. Only faith can enter here. In baptism faith is conceived in the human heart in a manner parallel to Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb. The Holy Spirit is the father of such mysteries.

It can be debated whether our modern celebrations of Christmas are a help or a hindrance to our spiritual well-being. Easily lost is the confronting truth that Christ came because we are sinners- and that to such an extent that we merit condemnation to hell. We are called to honest reflection. What dominates our Christmas agenda? Is it mainly about family, taking time out, or indulging? Are we more likely to counting our blessings or just pause from the mundaneness of our daily regime?

The devil doesn’t take holidays. When we get up in the morning Satan tempts us to prioritize the day based on selfishness. Who or what do we fear? What challenges do we face? What tensions do we hope to avoid? Are we driven by pride? Or greed? Or guilt? Do we turn the things we’d like to have into the things we believe we need or deserve? What is the end purpose of our day? Our week? Our year? Does the birth of the Prince of Peace change that? Does the imminence of His return in glory ever prick our conscience or even cross our minds?

The nativity story should be gripping because it speaks to that which makes us essentially human. The soft touch of a newborn’s skin, the vulnerability of its tiny frame evokes the fiercest desire in the human instinct to safeguard that which is precious and fragile. A parent’s love for a newborn is surely one of the purest that exists among humans. And such is the appeal for a holy child born in a cattle stall. The circumstances of Christ’s birth are worse than ordinary, they are nearly tragic, unbecoming of a future King. Yet the ChristChild is no victim of His circumstances. Rather, the context is determined by the Divine will. So profound is the love of God that He deemed it necessary to condescend to us in such humility. Only in this way could our trust in Him be grounded in absolute confidence that He can truly relate to our condition.

He continues to dwell in and with humanity- the Creator with the created, the Immortal one with mortals. He comes, the bearer of light into darkness; the bringer of hope where there is doubt; the conveyer of peace where there is conflict. The tiny voice who cried as the animals rustled near His bed would one day call out as legions of darkness gathered near His cross. The bleat of God’s Lamb fell silent at the cross. The infant tears in a manger would swell to maturity as He wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Yet His own tomb could not hold Him.

Christmas should always serve to recalibrate our perspective. We claw our way through life scraping together the world’s goods. We piece together some semblance of reputation and image. We tear and mend, and re-tear and re-mend our relationships. We steadfastly avoid ridicule, hurt and pain. We cloak our true motives with fashionable external activities. Our selfish and sinful sides are happy to receive Christmas as a distraction or opportunity for indulgence. Through it all we are prone to missing the truth that Christ didn’t come as a spiritual tonic or a therapist: He came to commiserate in His sacred role of substitution as only He could. He came to suffer.

Seldom is the nativity account seen as a call to understand suffering. That’s typically reserved for Lent. And yet the incarnation of God’s Son should both humble us and hearten us in our trials. Consider Luther’s words, “Think of it…the King of all creation in heaven and on earth, and of all creatures in them, lies there is such wretchedness…Why do I want to be so high and mighty that I never want to suffer anything? If the King of glory suffers as He does, for my sake, who do I think I am?” 3 Christ’s entrance into our human flesh is an entrance into our suffering.

The birth of Christ had context. Your life has a context. This is so spiritually and vocationally. You have and/or are a husband, wife, child, student, employer or employee. You have a sphere of influence among family and friends. You are a baptized child of God who learns at the Teacher’s feet and dines at the Master’s Table. You do these things in real time, among real people, in concrete settings. The truth of Christmas sanctifies even the most mundane activities we engage in.

Perhaps we’re so busy at this time of year trying to survive we don’t know what it means to thrive. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”4 Life in Christ is free, full, abundant, and bountiful. He is no miser. He is no Christmas Scrooge. So lavish and extravagant is the love the ChristChild embodies that the apostle exclaims, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!”5

The birth of Jesus Christ was a breach of Satan’s rule, sin’s power, hell’s terror and death’s supremacy. Today we celebrate; not alone, not only with families, but with all the faithful, living and departed, and the whole host of angelic beings. “Glory to God in the highest”6 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
25 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 2:11
2 Luke 2:14
3 House Postils
4 John 10:10
5 1 John 3:1
6 Luke 2:14

Christmas Eve (C) 2012

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

Text: Luke 2:13
Theme: A Great Company

Dear Worshippers at the Manger,

Christmas is an event that marks an expansion of God’s love. The waiting for God is over. The form and substance of divine love is revealed in the person and work of Jesus- Emmanuel, Lamb of God, Good Shepherd, Saviour, King of kings and Lord of lords. Born in the quiet Judean town of Bethlehem, crucified in the bustling city of Jerusalem His coming is nevertheless Good News for the entire world. The human nature of Jesus made evident at the manger is the same nature the risen Christ rules with in eternity. Christmas demonstrates the Son of God’s true solidarity with humanity.

There is point, plan, and purpose in the Father’s sending of His Son. He is sent to sinners. He came not as a reward for our godliness but as a ransom price of our wickedness. He came not for novelty or spectacle but from compulsion and compassion. He could not bear to see us perishing in our self-absorption. He came in humility and sacrifice precisely for souls characterized by those four descriptives of the apostle in Romans chapter 1: senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless1. We are those souls. He came as light into our darkness.

One of the things that makes the Christmas story so engaging is the characters; peasant parents, simple shepherds, entrancing angels. Many people would secretly love to have personal encounters with angels. Sometimes the fascination is almost palpable. But the Christmas narrative is grounded in historical realism with communal implications. The cattle trough veils a reality that far exceeds our personal spheres of interest. Do you think any angel that approaches you could bear a more important message than Gabriel did that night? Can you ask for better news than that of a Saviour born to bear sins? Let us never reduce the witness of Scripture below the personal experience we desire. Our confidence rests not in the fluctuating appraisals of our feelings but in God’s truth that stands written. Our moods are governed by time and context; God’s Word endures for eternity.

God’s entrance into the world through Bethlehem is a universal event. The Holy Spirit extends the invitation to Jew and Gentile alike. All preferences defined by status and right are transcended by the gospel. Baptism is instituted for all. The Scripture says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared”2 to every man, woman, and child, the aged and the unborn, the privileged and the vulnerable. Like the “great company of the heavenly host”3 on that first Christmas Eve God seeks to bring many lambs into His fold. Our mindset at Christmas should be reflected accordingly. At Christmas do we seek to enlarge our company of friends? Or do we pull the circle tighter to include only family and those closest to us?

The mandate of Christmas often comes across in formula-like style: Dote like Mary, worship like wisemen, sing like angels, go and tell like shepherds. It’s persuasive in its simplicity. If only we’re mindful of replicating all these actions then God is glorified and there is peace on earth- or at least for our consciences. If only each year we can come to a closer representation then our Christian obedience will be validated and the Good News will be spread far and wide! Beware, dear friends, of making the fleeting sentimentality of Christmas the measure of your Christian life. It might be a little like gauging your marriage by that first passionate kiss or assessing your health by the one visit to the doctor you had some time back.

The import of Christmas is not that we remember but that we are remembered. Christ came for the long haul. He leapt into the fray. He is present in our suffering as well in our joy. He attends us while agitated and when at peace. When we are alone He either marshals a great company of companions or He alone remains our trusted confidant as befits the circumstance. He cheers us when all earthly means fail. He maintains hope long after we’ve given up. He prefigures life when death draws near. The ChristChild, a small, fragile infant is the embodiment of God’s expansive and invincible love. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Nativity of Our Lord- Christmas Eve
24 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 See Romans 1:31
2 Titus 2:11
3 Luke 2:13

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fourth Sunday Of Advent (C) 2012

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

Text: Luke 1:41
Theme: A New Temple

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The mercy of God is constant and His ways cannot be manipulated by humans. Always wanting to tinker, the sinful human ego will still make no progress trying to influence the methods of the Almighty. Christian maturity involves learning to appreciate that God’s ways are not only best; they are truly liberating. Advent points us to the final emancipation from sin, Satan, death, and hell. Christmas reminds us of the humble beginnings that will one day give way to dramatic conclusions.

For a span of nine months, at the dawn of a new age, the most holy place was not in the Jerusalem temple, not in the synagogue, not in the palace of the high priest, not in any sacred shrine; it was in the womb of a humble virgin named Mary. This is the unassuming beginning of the revelation of God-in-the-flesh. What higher honour could be bestowed on any human being than to be the mother of the Son of God? In His infinite wisdom the Almighty chose a humble woman from a small Judean town to bring the Messiah into the world.

Startled by the visit of the angel Gabriel Mary was understandably full of fear and perplexity. How overwhelming it must have been. To what degree did she understand what it meant? Mary now becomes a symbol of the church and her faith a model for all who would enter therein. Every human soul enters the church only through repentance and faith. The Scripture says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”1

The conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary sanctifies every life in every womb in every age. Life is sacred because God the Father has created it to be so and God the Son has come to redeem it. Despite the cry for rights and freedoms in modern democracy or the discoveries of modern medicine God still has jurisdiction over human life. It is arrogant and dangerous to usurp His authority. It invites His wrath. It is therefore the solemn privilege of the Christian church to make prayerful intersession on behalf of every mother or couple contemplating an abortion. It is the duty of the faithful to tenderly support all who are traumatized by regret. Far from being a taboo subject during this sacred time it is very appropriately an implication of His incarnation. Christmas is about hope for those who are most vulnerable. Who are more vulnerable than the unborn, the aged or the incapacitated? God Himself will come to their aid. He leaves no one destitute.

Dear friends, as the words of the prophets come to fulfillment and the old covenant is absorbed by the new we see a shift in the presence and activity of God. In the time of the patriarchs the revelations of God were ad hoc- when and where He pleased. When Jacob was at Bethel he had a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven. He said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”2 At the burning bush God said to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”3

But then God took up residence. The people crossed into the promised land. God said, “You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit…to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for His Name- there you are to bring everything I command you.”4 God could be found in the tabernacle, then in the temple in the holy of holies. When Isaiah saw the angels circling the throne of God the Scripture says, “At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook.”5 Isaiah’s vision had crossed the threshold into the holy of holies.

But the threshold of the temple is now no longer traversed by the high priest bearing blood. The infant of Bethlehem and prophet of Nazareth says to His Father, “‘Here I am, I have come to do Your will’…and by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”6 His humiliation effects our exaltation. What does it mean for us?

It means all the humanly-invented means of acquiring God’s favour are laid to rest. The approaches we devise to cross the threshold into the divine are obsolete. Our piety, our knowledge, our generosity, even our pleading or tears cannot penetrate the divine presence. Our best negotiations have no effect. But gone too is the burden. Gone is the fear. Gone are the hopelessness, doubt and despair. Gone is the terror of the sinner cowering before the righteous judgment of God. God is not aloof or inaccessible. He has come to us. Christ is Emmanuel, God with us! “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you.”7

Jesus now says, “I am the gate for the sheep.”8 He is the only access into God’s eternal kingdom. The Redeemer says, “I tell you the truth, 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.”9 The portal to heaven is now precisely as narrow as Jesus’ body. And for the contrite sinner that means it extends far beyond our vision of the horizon.

When God speaks His word of grace the hinges creak as the door to heaven opens wide. When Christ forgives we are drawn right past the threshold into the eternal love of the Trinity. When the Holy Spirit comforts we are calmed not by the voice of One who thunders from a distance but by the close presence of Him who cradles us with compassion.

Moses was told to take off His sandals. We need only to undress our egos. The wisemen bore precious treasures. We need only leave our transgressions. The shepherds were honoured above emperors. The baptized are honoured above the high and mighty of the world.
When you are called to the remembrance of your baptism you are transported again under the protection of His Name. When you kneel here at the railing you are kneeling at the gate of heaven. When you receive His body and blood in, with, and under that bread and wine Christ promises to dwell with you- the Holy One with the sinner. The shepherds left not with presents but with faith. And faith cannot keep silent.

Today we join with Mary in rejoicing that she was the provisional temple of the Son of God. Crucified, risen, ascended, and enthroned, when He comes again it will be neither to the manger, nor the temple, nor to establish one. He will come to resurrect the faithful to a scene and celebration that far excels anything we will experience this Christmas, or ever. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Advent
23 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 3:36
2 Genesis 28:17
3 Exodus 3:5
4 Deuteronomy 12:8-11
5 Isaiah 6:4
6 Hebrews 10:9-10
7 Luke 2:10-11
8 John 10:7
9 John 5:24