Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Day 2013

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

Text: Hebrews 1:3
Theme: God, Christ, Love

Dear Worshippers of the Newborn King,

“God is love.”1 This is at once the most simple and the most complex truth that exists. It is also the most relevant truth. God is love. What does this mean? Christmas begins to give us a picture. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”2 Good Friday is the most vivid image. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”3 Easter is the celebration of its truth. “Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…and God raised us up with Christ.”4 Only in eternity will it be revealed completely to our senses. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”5

Pure love is completely non-reflexive, that is, it never focuses on itself, but always upon another. It is never self-directed. Even God’s love within the Trinity is not self-directed. The Father loves the Son and the Son the Father through the Spirit.
Because God’s pure love could not be self-contained, it flowed out to creation. Human beings especially, as beings created in God’s image, were the recipients of God’s love. His desire was to have that love freely returned. It lasted only for a while.
Our sin necessitated a new expression of God’s unconditional love. Jesus Christ in the flesh is that expression. Jesus Christ, love incarnate, is the centre of Christmas. He is love. In baptism we are embraced in His love. In communion we are nurtured with it.

The rest of this sermon is in its entirety a quotation of Holy Scripture on love, false and true. I invite you to listen afresh to these words of the Spirit, hearing His voice not in the form of obligatory verses peppered throughout a sermon, but as the life-giving declarations of God. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does- comes not from the Father but from the world.”6 “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.”7 “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and My people love it this way. But what will they do in the end?”8

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”9 “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.”10 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”11

“We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”12 “Dear children, let us love not with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”13 “This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”14

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear”15

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”16 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”17

“When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”18 “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might have life through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”19
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”20 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”21

+ in nomine Jesu +

The Nativity of Our Lord
December 25, 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

11 John 4:16 2 John 3:16 3 Romans 5:8 4 Ephesians 2:4-6
5 1 John 3:2 6 1 John 2:15-16 7 Numbers 14:18 8 Jeremiah 5:31
9 2 Timothy 3:1-4 10 2 Timothy 2:22 11 Matthew 22:37-40 12 1 John 4:19-20
13 1 John 3:18 14 1 John 5:3-4 15 1 John 4:16-18 16 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
17 1 Corinthians 13:13
18 Titus 3:4-7 19 1 John 4:9-10 20 Romans 8:35 21 Romans 8:37-39

Christmas Eve 2013

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

Text: Luke 2:14
Theme: “Peace On Earth”

Dear Travelers to the Manger,

That first Christmas the news was announced by melodious, angelic voices, “A great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and ….peace.”1 Celestial beings heralded an event beyond earthly understanding. God had broached the dimensions of time and space. Christmas is about all things heavenly confronting all things earthly. In the person of Jesus, light meets darkness, good meets evil, grace meets sin, truth meets falsehood, life meets death.

There are many emphases of Christ’s presence that could be the focus of a Christmas discussion. This Christmas Eve, one particular word of the angels will not escape our notice: peace. “Peace to men on whom His favor rests.”2 How are we to understand this peace? Because of sin, there will always be conflict. Christmas is firstly and primarily about the resolution to the greatest conflict. Through Christ, every human being can have peace with God. It is this peace alone which is indispensable for our salvation.

The struggle that took place to win that peace is what fills our Christmas with the deepest and most mysterious love and drives our hope for the future. Underneath the Christmas tree in the Copper family home in Winona Lake, Indiana sits a token that symbolizes, in a very small way, the struggle to share that peace. Under their tree sits a prominently displayed piece of red cardboard. It says “Merry Christmas” and has clippings of the three wisemen on it. The cardboard card has been placed under the tree every year for 45 years. The Cooper’s only son had made the card for his father in school when he was a young boy. On his way home some bullies threatened to tear it up. Though not used to fighting, he fought them off to save this gift for his dad. His parents never knew until a neighbor told them what happened. And so in deep appreciation that only parents can know, that old card has been set in front of all others presents under their tree for nearly half a century.

There may be many gifts under our tree this Christmas, but all that matters is what we treasure in our hearts. Because of a great and cosmic struggle, a struggle involving the greatest sacrifice, we have secured for us an eternal peace. The prophet Isaiah gave lofty titles to the coming Messiah, “He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”3 Of the fulfillment of this prophecy, the New Testament says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”4

Who could have guessed that we would have peace because Christ left the world with even greater humiliation than that with which He entered? The wood of His manger was made into the beams of His cross. His death was consistent with His birth. The King of Kings was not born in the temple palace. His subjects were not royal officials. No fuss was made over His needs. There was a celestial choir of angels to announce His birth, but only to lowly shepherds in the field. In just this way, God begins His great reversal of the world’s decay. In this humble way, as a helpless and vulnerable child He enters the kingdom of mature spiritual darkness. He comes as the Prince of Peace to a world of turmoil and division.

His is a divine power to change hearts and minds, to mend lives, to impart peace.
If there has been unfaithfulness in your marriage it can be restored with healing. If there has been falsehood in your words, it can be forgiven with repentance. If there has been bitterness in your heart, it can be drained of its potency. If there has been anger in your actions, it can be pacified with love. If there has been despair in your thoughts, it can be replaced with hope. If there has been doubt in your mind, it can be overcome by faith. It there has been selfishness in your life, it can be replaced with sacrifice for the Savior. There is nothing done that the Christchild’s forgiveness cannot undo. There is nothing lacking that His grace cannot supply.

Dear friends, our lives are never completely restored until the life to come. But we are in the process and we can have peace. Even as recovering sinners, we are called to add flesh to the words of Christmas joy and peace. At the manger Christ was born into our physical world to bring spiritual peace. At the baptismal font, we are reborn into His spiritual kingdom to embody that peace. We are given new life to address physical and spiritual needs. We are His agents to rescue souls and secure hearts. We do this as He did. Not with force. Not driven by self-interest or in hopes of recognition. Not to ease our guilt over some quota we think has been levied on us. Not with pomp and circumstance, but with humble bearing of our cross.

Dear friends, Christmas is not an excuse to indulge in excess, but an occasion to be immersed in essentials. The essentials are not expensive gifts, extravagant parties, and showy decorations. The essentials are purity of heart, integrity of will, and humbleness of mind displayed in gathering around the celebration of Christ’s birth. The true gifts of Christmas are not what we buy or construct or accomplish, but what we receive from His grace. The Christchild says, “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.”5

May your Christmas this day and the whole season through be filled with the abiding peace and joy that comes only from the Son of God born into human flesh. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christmas Eve
24 December 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 2:13-14
2 Luke 2:14
3 Isaiah 9:6
4 Colossians 1:19-20
5 John 16:33

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday Of Advent (A) 2013

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

Text: Matthew 1:23
Theme: New Birth For Life

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Everyone has ancestors. Christmas involves the reconnection of human ancestry to divine patronage. We all have- whether we are informed of the full details or not- a paternal and maternal lineage. If we pause to reflect on that our minds might be flooded with memories. Our mother was brought to birth by her mother and so forth before her. Our father was fathered by his father and so on before him. Christ is the lone exception. His Father has no father. Yes, we have the ancestry of Joseph, but God the Father is uncreated. He exists eternally, transcending time and space.

The birth of Jesus Christ involves the re-association of God with the human race. Christ stands in a unique position and the peerlessness of His existence can hardly be overstated. The fact of His full divinity and full humanity is the incomparable truth we celebrate in the humility of a feeding trough for animals. The Child born during Caesar-induced transit is the unchanging Lord of creation. At the mercy of world powers He brings a reign of divine compassion. Remote from the amenities of luxury, and removed from the privileges of position, His retinue is comprised beasts of the stable. Shepherds are His subjects. A manger is His throne.

This then, is the Redeemer of the world! Hear again what the angelic messenger said. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”1 Is this just a pious but fanciful wish? What do we need saving from? What are these sins? Are they general lapses in judgment or common failures of conduct God wishes to tidy up? Are the sins the Messiah came to address moral indiscretions or transparent transgressions? Are they outward expressions of fear, greed, anger, selfishness, cruelty, and disobedience? These realities are surely foreign to none of us and we cannot be excused.

But there is something more. Christ came for a deeper crisis. He knows you. He knows what makes you tick. The Father did not send His Son to demand artificial expressions of loyalty from wayward children. God needs nothing that we can offer Him. He came to make payment; to be the sacrifice; to appease the wrath. He came to suffer and die. Christ came to soften hearts of stone. He came to thaw frozen spirits. He came to draw the poison from the wound. He came to breathe life into perishing souls.

In the coming of Christ, God-in-the-flesh, Emmanuel, life itself has new birth. The womb of Mary nurtures the resuscitator of life. Yes, that means life’s own vitality, its power and virility, had become hopelessly subjugated to the death and decay of sin. Life under the domination of the fall does not press forwards vibrantly, creatively, and progressively. Rather it groans, it bends, it slows; it withers under the weight of bondage and the poison of iniquity. Without His intervention life would decompose and cease to exist. Yes, souls would live on but only in service to Satan.

Christ doesn’t merely make a guest appearance in a stable; He makes a home in human flesh. He grants us identity and purpose. The last thing Satan wants you to know is that your very existence only has ultimate meaning in relation to God’s eternal election of you in Christ. Paul said it most succinctly, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”2 And again he said, “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”3 You are God’s baptized child, resurrected spiritually even now so that you can live sacrificially until the day of your physical resurrection.

Now as individuals personally and as the church corporately we can aspire to embody His incarnational love. Yet we should never expect the world to receive this without reservation. Consider what Luther says in this regard, “Righteousness, holiness, power, life, salvation, everything the church has in Christ, are incomprehensible to reason and hidden to the world. If you judge the church by reason and outward appearance, you will err, for then you will see people who are sinful, weak, fearful, sorrowful, suffering, persecuted, and hunted down. But if you look at this, that they are baptized, believe on Christ, bear out their faith with godly fruits, carry their cross with patience and in hope, that is a true picture…”4

Are you riddled with anxiety? Are you plagued by doubt? Are you fraught with fear? Christ is your Emmanuel; God-in-the-flesh; your strength in frailty, your certainty in doubt, your peace in turmoil, and your refuge in times of fear. He walked in the shoes of humanity. He suffered the greatest indignity. He faced the harshest infirmity. He was a foil for self-made saints and a companion of sinners. He was a comrade of the downtrodden and an antagonist of the self-righteous. Most of all He was the sacrificial Lamb for the transgressions of the world.

The incarnation cannot be drained of its mystery. The Godhead- His entire power and majesty- fully dwelling in human form can never be fully grasped by us empirically, intellectually or emotionally. Yet you receive its fruits- its forgiveness and power- every time you receive His blood to your lips and body to your mouth in the Lord’s Supper. The lowly manger houses the exalted King and common bread contains divine food. Humble Mary cradles the immortal God and ordinary wine holds sacred blood. Faith welcomes an enigma reason can only despise.

Dear friends, it might be too late to curtail your Christmas commotion. Expectations are high and plans are set in motion that can’t be easily reversed. The credit card has been crunched. Busyness and bustle has you bushed. The tension and trauma can’t be tamed. Someone might be left out or neglected. You might fear it could be your fault. Perhaps you feel it might be you. Still, the window of opportunity does not suddenly close.

Remember- and when the Scriptures call us to remember they are not simply trying to jog particular sectors of grey matter that remind us of trivial data; they are beckoning us to rehearse, review, and rejoice- Christmas is not a fleeting flourish of indulgence. It is participation in the life of Him, once a child, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Water, the Bread, the Gate, the Vine, the Light, the Shepherd, and finally, the Resurrection and the Life. From earthy Bethlehem to heavenly Jerusalem He has prepared for His people an eternal kingdom. That kingdom will have the same angels and the same Son of God in human shape. But it won’t have stress. It won’t have fear. It won’t have irreconcilable relationships. It won’t have pain. It won’t have death. His kingdom will not end because the Child born in Bethlehem has permanently re-established the relationship with God’s people. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Advent
22 December 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Matthew 1:21
2 Philippians 1:21
3 Galatians 2:20
4 Martin Luther, 1532 sermon