Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Eve 2014

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

Text: Luke 2:11
Theme: A Saviour…Christ, the Lord.”

Dear Travelers to the Manger,

Christmas comes with packaging. It can be no other way. Yes, wrapping and props, decorations and adornments. Many of these serve only esthetic appeal. The meaning is drawn together by the more informative elements; words, symbols, images. Vocabularies, lyrics, and poetry express the tidings and promises which convey the sentiment of the season. Such a grand event as the incarnation of God’s Son, His coming in human flesh, could never be captured by singular expressions or occasional images, regardless how fitting. How limited are our capabilities for exemplifying the immortality and sheer grace and majesty of God!

Nevertheless, the task is essential. Symbols, like words, convey meaning. Their intent is to express something real. If no reality stands behind our words, our images, our pictures, our symbols; then we are shown either to be intentionally deceptive or we are ourselves deceived. Christmas celebrations invested with only the meanings we supply are only parodies of the real thing. Moreover, we risk liability for misrepresenting His truth. Better to have divine truth than human imitations with all the trappings. St. Paul once said, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead.”1

There is always opportunity for our words and symbols to be refined, to be cleansed, to be given higher definition (to use modern parlance); for they are reflections of us and we are still under construction. But the truth of what is revealed to us in the manger cannot be improved upon. It needs no vetting and is not liable to decay. He is perfect Life, perfect Love, perfect Truth; complete and all-embracing. He is Immanuel, God with us. The Scripture says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”2 “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…being of one substance with the Father.”3

We have words but He is THE WORD. We use symbols but He is the substance. We have hopes but He is the fulfillment. We enter the scene at some point in time but He is the Beginning and the End. He takes what we’re indebted to pay- a full accounting for our sins. The manger could not hold the weight; it required a cross. In return we receive what is properly only His; forgiveness, peace, immortal life.

Every Christmas words and images that have become etched in our minds and imprinted on our hearts are revisited. Never are we too old or too experienced to have the meaning renewed and the truth expounded more fully. The Spirit who conceived the body of Jesus also gives life to our mortal bodies through that same Word, who is life.
Christmas come with packaging. God’s Son was wrapped in swaddling clothes. He is our Redeemer, “Christ the Lord.”4

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christmas Eve
24 December 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Corinthians 15:14-15
2 Hebrews 1:3
3 The Nicene Creed
4 Luke 2:11

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Advent (B) 2014

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

Text: Luke 1:31
Theme: The Plan Unfolds

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God often accentuates extremes. Today Gabriel- an angel of rank- was given an honour worthy of his status. He was sent from the counsel of God across the threshold of time and space to the locality of a young Jewish woman chosen for an unparalleled distinction. Her privilege was greater still. She would bear the Messiah. Yet she had no particular qualifications for such an honour. The striking contrast between Gabriel and Mary should not escape us. God honours the lowest of His creation through means of the highest.

God is never restricted in His resources but He often chooses to use those means that are immediately at His disposal- even weak and frail ones. The Scripture says, “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world, and the despised things- and the things that are not.”1 And through them His grace and power is made known.

Few details of the historical account are more indisputable than the humble estate of Mary. She was a descendent of David but only of common status. Joseph, a blue-collar worker, was an honorable man but offered no avenues for advancement in society. Into this humble family was born the long-awaited Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords. The Scriptures says, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”2 Yet the royal son of David lives not in a regal palace but in an uninviting shelter fit for common beasts. In this way the holy Son of God took up residence with fallen humanity.

An infant child- and one born in poverty at that- seemed to offer a very fragile hope for a sin-sick world. Where was His matriculation into the royal courts? Who would tutor Him to rule the masses? The plausibility of this plan is beyond common sense and plain reason. What good could come out of Nazareth? Yet the wisdom of God would prove otherwise. God rules not through armies that coerce bodies but through the Spirit who changes hearts. In answer to Pilate’s query about whether He was a king Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world.”3

Dear friends, if this life, this world, this short span of trial, testing, and indulgence were an end in itself for what purpose would the Holy Spirit call us into God’s house each Lord’s Day? The conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary is an analogy for the spiritual conception of believers within the womb of the church. There is no birth without conception. There is no delivery without the commencement of life. In a similar way, a person is not born into God’s kingdom until the Holy Spirit conceives faith in the heart. And the believer cannot be delivered safely to heaven unless that life is nurtured and safeguarded to the end.

The poverty of Mary and Joseph’s circumstance is a key part of what endears people to the nativity scene. Sympathy and sentiment spill out from the heart. The modesty of the whole thing grips us. As well it should. Yet the translation to what it says about our status before the Almighty is not easily made. Modesty is not a treasured virtue of our psyche. I speak here not of modesty in regards our everyday demeanor, but in reference to spiritual humility. The secure sinner, the unrepentant sinner, the ignorant sinner never sees himself or herself as spiritually poor. Sin denied is sin retained. Therefore the call to repentance is always fitting. Never do we outgrow our need to be convicted of our motives, plans, and pursuits that stray from God’s will. Never do we outgrow our need to be forgiven.

Christians seek to emulate Christ’s humility through faithfulness in ordinary tasks. Yet immediately there is a clash. The problem is being common isn’t in vogue. Ordinary vocations pursued with integrity aren’t valued as they should be. And it’s not an isolated problem. It’s a cultural mindset that has already become deeply ingrained. Societies have always liked their heroes, of course. Champions and villains alike gain fame or infamy because they surpass the common achievements of the average person. The ancient Olympics was the stage for athletic heroes that were venerated with widespread acclaim. Today’s fixation with all things celebrity is more than a fascination also. It is an obsession for many and a window into the psyche of both our culture and our human nature.

But God is too humble to compete on such terms. The Lord says, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.”4 The Scripture says, “[Christ] had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”5 He doesn’t wish to be a celebrity. Celebrities rarely have rapport with those who admire them. They don’t usually have relationships with average, normal people, let alone those who are outcasts or on the fringe. But Christ came for ones such as these. He came to associate with sinners. He came for us. He isn’t looking for hyped media coverage. His message speaks for itself. When He performed miracles He was thronged by the crowds. But when He was nailed to the cross He was deserted by His closest followers. The greatest miracle remained hidden from their sight. He sacrificed Himself for their salvation. Even the reality of the resurrection didn’t fully sink in until the Holy Spirit opened their hearts and minds.

This Saviour, the one prophesied by the Spirit from ancient times, the one promised to Abraham, pledged to David, sworn to the people of Israel, announced with angelic voice to Mary; this Messiah is your Redeemer. He traversed the hills and valleys of Palestine and became the very gate to heaven and the barricade to hell. He endured crucifixion to secure for you a joy that far surpasses the manger’s nostalgia. He escaped the grip of death to secure for you life that does not end. He overcame Satan’s assaults to secure for you freedom from the devil’s power.

Christ is the high and holy God, the immortal One who comes to honour the lowly. He enters poverty that we might obtain wealth. In baptism we are immersed in spiritual riches; bathed in an eternal inheritance. He comes not to visit and pity us but to lead us to eternity.
At the Lord’s Table the Child of Bethlehem and Sufferer on Calvary meets you face to face; yet hidden in the simple means of bread and wine. You take onto your lips the promised One, the present One and the coming One. He is one and the same. The power of His crucifixion never wanes. The vibrancy of His life never diminishes. The One sheltered in Mary’s womb now holds the universe in His grasp. More pointedly, He cradles you in His embrace. The greeting of Gabriel to Mary is meant for our ears too. “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”6 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Advent
21 December 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Corinthians 1:27-28
2 Colossians 2:9
3 John 18:36
4 Isaiah 57:15
5 Isaiah 53:2
6 Luke 1:28