Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Day 2015

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

Text: Luke 2:11
Theme: Born For You

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The “you” in Luke two verse eleven is plural. That means the Saviour has come for the whole human race. But in His book of love, the Holy Scriptures, God intends this news for every individual sinner; great and small. Luther says it in this way, “See to it that you do not find pleasure in the Gospel only as a history, for that is only transient; neither regard it only as an example, for it is of no value without faith; but see to it that you make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you. This will be the case if you believe…”1 The miracle of Christmas is yours even if all others were ignorant of, or dismissive of this marvelous truth.

Dear friends, today we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace into the world. But even on Christmas Day peace and concord are not the order of the day for some. Tensions mount, tempers boil over, some withdraw, others confront. The frantic pace of the season catches up with many. The pressure to spend and the temptations to overindulge are relentless.
Can we admit we are overscheduled? No one ever has enough time. We all have the same number of hours each day and yet we still feel slighted. We try to keep up with the Jones’s. Jealousy and coveting are rife. The influence of sin is undeniable in our lives. The holiness of the season can quickly lose its luster. It’s Christmas but we’re sinners still the same.

Often our expectations of the Prince of Peace are misguided. We cannot have peace by our own human definition. We may pursue tranquility and we may achieve a measure of it. We may successfully structure our lives to avoid the hassles and heartaches that are common to broken relationships, poor health, and financial uncertainty. God may bless us with a measure of success here too. But we dare not confuse these for the peace of which Christ speaks. He speaks of a conscience set at ease by the certainty that the Almighty God no longer looks at us with condemnation but with compassion. He speaks of a heart fully confident that neither Satan, nor hell, nor all earthly adversaries arrayed against us can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

Don’t ever, ever think that because your life seems mired in darkness and difficulty; that because you feel inadequate or unworthy that the peace of the ChristChild does not exist for you. Ask yourself this, “Am I not baptized?” Be certain that God does not lie. “Has the Holy Spirit not had the gospel preached to me?” Rest assured that He does not do it in jest. “Am I not part of the people to whom the good tidings of great joy are proclaimed?” Was His body not broken for you? Was His blood not shed for you? His peace was forged at the cross. It was crafted in the defeat of every satanic power.

His peace is in the midst of the brokenness of our lives. His peace is in the midst of our anxiety and doubt. His peace is in the midst of the frantic pace of the world and the tempestuous activity of Satan. His peace is in the midst of our failures and shattered dreams. His peace is in the midst of our fear of the limitations of our mortality. His peace is in the midst of the tension caused by our sin. In other words, dear friends, we do not yet live in glory, we live under the cross. When you feel this struggle you can be certain your faith is active.

But if you’re cruising along acting as if you have the world by the tail and you have nothing to repent of or pray for, then be warned! You do not possess divine power and authority. You are not the judge of your own sins. You have no power to ingratiate yourself to Him. You have not yet crossed the threshold. You have not yet arrived in the company of those who have been glorified.

Believe that the ChristChild came for you. You are one of His redeemed children. Believe that He paid the price for your transgressions. You are freed from eternal condemnation. Believe that He has conquered death. You are spared from its consequences. Believe that He is preparing for you a place in His everlasting kingdom. You are already numbered among the saints. 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.”2

It’s a world that’s in desperate need of the salt, light, and leaven that believers bring. Christmas is not a time to despair of the privileges of our Christian vocations but to embrace them. It’s not a time to be judgmental and self-righteous, but gentle, courageous, and discerning. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men- robbers, evildoers, adulterers- or even like this tax collector.’”3 Christ became the greatest sinner. Let us thank God for the paradoxical truth that Christ was not like other men but was precisely like all of them!

There is no holier vocation than to reflect the compassion of Him who is love incarnate. That is our motivation for stooping down into the stables of peoples’ lives. Luther says, “Love…knows no command, it does everything by virtue of its own impulse, it hastens and delays not, it is enough that its attention is only called to a thing, it needs no taskmaster, neither will it tolerate one.”4

Dear friends, love needs no taskmaster because it flows freely from faith. When our neighbours are in need we come to their aid. When our children are floundering we give them direction. When our spouses are hurting we give them support. We do it because we see Christ in them. We sympathize but we do not patronize. We empathize but we are not condescending. The apostle says it this way, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.”5

Christ has made righteous the prince as well as the pauper, the priest as well as the peasant. Our Righteousness is born in a manger. There is no other source. Joy to the world! Gladness to sinners! Good tidings to the human race! The Saviour has been born. He has borne our sins. He has reconciled us to the Father. He has restored paradise.
The One who once lived in a manger wills that we live with Him there. Mortals will join angels “and He will be their peace.”6 Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
25 December 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Martin Luther
2 John 16:33
3 Luke 18:10-11
4 Martin Luther
5 Romans 12:15-16
6 Micah 5:5

Christmas Eve 2015

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

Text: Luke 2:11
Theme: Grace Embodied

Dear Travelers to the Manger,

The Holy Spirit teaches us- through the Scriptures- to discern between unfortunate circumstances and divine intentions. Christ was fit for a palace but was housed as a peasant. These were not unfortunate circumstances but divine intentions. God descended in humility. He did not come to make a performance; a presentation to amuse the masses. He was not an actor taking temporarily to the stage of human existence. He came to live among sinners as one of them; as one of us.

It’s the holy season of Christmas. Love and purity and beauty come to the fore. But we’re sinners still the same. How would we have fared on that first Christmas Eve? When Mary was in labour pains who came to help her? When Christ lay unidentified in the manger who came to serve Him? Who came to assist His parents with the birth? When He was revealed to be the Son of God how many came immediately to bend the knee? A few shepherds? A band of mysterious Magi? Where were the priests? Where were the high officials?

How do we fare today as we seek to be witnesses to God’s truth? Your neighbour may live in a material castle, but a spiritual manger. Who needs more attention from you? The one who lives in affluence of possessions and reputation but in hollowness of soul; or the one who lives in modesty of reputation but holds dear the treasures of God?
The event of Bethlehem teaches us the true value of things.

Dear friends, it appears to some that the whole plan of salvation was terribly inefficient. Could the Almighty God not have stood far off in the heavens and with a single decree restored the fallen creation? The story goes that Henry Ford once hired an efficiency expert to evaluate his company. After a few weeks, the expert made his report. It was highly favorable except for one thing. "It's that man down the hall," said the expert. "Every time I go by his office he's just sitting there with his feet on his deck. He's wasting your money." "That man," replied Mr. Ford, "once had an idea that saved us millions of dollars. At the time, I believe his feet were planted right where they are now."

At Christmas God had more than idea. He had an outburst of His passion. He had an eruption of His zeal. He enacted the dynamic of His love. He embodied the purity of His grace. That resulted in His feet being firmly planted on the ground and then His arms being securely fastened to a cross. He walked among His own. He lived for us. He died for us.

In this child we have all things. He reveals the Father. He summons the Spirit. He rebukes Satan. He disarms hell. He throws open heaven. Truth is a gift. Hope is a gift. Love is a gift. Peace is a gift. Gifts cannot be earned. They can only be received. If it is due as a wage, a repayment, or an obligation it is no longer a gift.

The ChristChild brings all these gifts. And we do not possess them in abstraction. He baptizes His chosen ones in the font of forgiveness. He dines with His cherished ones at His holy table. Presently we do possess His gifts in faith. One day; directly. Now; in shadows. Then; in brilliance. Now; in hope. Then; in fulfillment. Now; in weakness. Then; in glory. Now; in briefness. Then; in permanence. Our experience will be transformed but our current possession is no less certain.

In the manager is the embodiment of grace. Behind the manger stand the shadow of the cross and the bright rays of Easter dawn. Unfortunately circumstances cast a negative light on shepherds. Do not be afraid to be identified with them. Their protégé stooped to the lowliest task of all before He was exalted to the highest place. The Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep.

A child delivered in a feeding trough for animals is a story fitting for the police news section of the local paper- a most unfortunate circumstance to human eyes. In reality, it’s His divine intention. The captivation of Christmas is not the presents under the tree, but His presence with you and me. The vitality of Christmas is not in the pace of the race, but the stability of His embrace. The value in Christmas is not what we’ve spent, but what He’s given. In His most holy name, Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christmas Eve
24 December 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Advent (B) 2015

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

Text: Luke 1:46
Theme: Source of True Joy

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Micah and Mary: Both were privy to the revelation of the greatest mystery ever revealed. Both were obscure, un-heralded, and largely unknown relative to their peers. Both seemed unlikely participants in the grand scheme of God’s divine plan. But God knows how to accomplish big things through seemingly small beginnings. Micah uttered the prophecy that Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Mary’s womb was His first cradle. Micah possessed God’s joy through the promise. Mary held Joy Himself in her arms. We share in His joy meant for all people.

Today Luke brings us the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth. Here we have a remarkable event. At the greeting of Mary John the Baptist leapt in the womb of Elizabeth, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Already in utero the Son of God was bringing joy to the human heart. Already was the transforming power of His presence being made known. Already was His life bringing light to a world of darkness. Already was a new dawn breaking. Already were the prophets’ words coming to fulfillment. And already was the cross looming in the distance. Only everything was still very low key.

The response of Mary beginning at verse 46 of Luke 1 has long been known as the Magnificat. Magnificat is Latin for “my soul rejoices” and is also known as the Song of Mary. It closely parallels the Song of Hannah in the Book of I Samuel. Though Mary is chosen to be the bearer of the Son of God the main focus of her hymn of praise is the “Mighty One (who) has done great things.”1 His “great things” are not what humans naturally first desire. The coming of the Babe of Bethlehem would bring a collision of epic proportions. The power structures of the human race would be overturned. Satan had met his match. The power of sin would finally yield to One greater. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”2

Dear friends, the dismantling of Satan’s rule of sin and falsehood doesn’t happen just in the big, but remote picture. It happens around, about, and within you; God’s creation. Sinners cannot long stand in opposition to the holy God. The arrogant can only remain temporarily before the Almighty. Sinful self-pride will face the day of judgment and will have no defence. Even the strongest will be “brought down.” It means little if you know that Christ came to Redeem the world but you don’t know that He came to redeem you. Information doesn’t save us. Christ does. His death. His resurrection. His sacrifice. The advent call to repentance directs us to Him alone.

In conceiving the Son of God in the womb of Mary the Holy Spirit incarnates the Redeemer in the midst of His church. Only a prenatal infant He already contains the whole creation within His deity. A manger would be His first earthly throne. A cross, His last. The Holy Spirit now conceives believers in the womb of the church. Christ dwells in the midst of His church of which every believer is a part.

The human heart was made for one Master. And He comes to reclaim His throne. It’s His governance that’s continually contested. Luther once said that Christians have has more than enough to occupy themselves for their entire lives just engaging in their baptisms. By this He didn’t just mean fond memories of God’s blessings in baptism as a past historical event. Every act of repentance is a return to the promise of baptism. The greatest challenge of Christianity is taking God at word. The great challenge is the believing. The attitudes and actions follow accordingly.

Faith, then, is the key. Remember what the catechism says about preparing to receive Holy Communion. “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”3 Faith completes the preparation. Through faith all the blessings of God are received. Baptismal water cleanses the soul. Divine food nourishes the craving spirit. The comfort of His word continually brings peace to our chaotic lives.

As we approach our celebrations of Christ’s birth the hope of many in our society is dim. For some the commercialization of this sacred holiday leaves a hollow and empty feeling. For others the happiness of Christmas is associated only with material indulgence and is therefore fleeting. For still others, Christmas brings the stress of confronting strained family dynamics and financial woes. It’s easy to see how cynicism can breed. It all becomes too hard. Brave faces are painted on, but inside the heart is full of doubt and anger or pride and apathy.

Many turn to self-loathing and self-medicating. Coping strategies are never healthy for long-term well-being. Destructive habits soon gain a deeply entrenched foothold. Often they are covered with a façade of prosperity and contentment. The maturing Christian should always be praying to come to the conviction of St. Paul who said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.”4 He’s not encouraging apathy or squelching ambition. He’s teaching us to recognize the greater purposes of God (often hidden), whatever the circumstances. How many are truly content at Christmas?

Into this milieu the church carries a message of truth. Only in the seedbed of truth can Christian love germinate. “In season and out of season”5the Word of God is proclaimed. Through it the Holy Spirit sanctifies His people for service. We echo good tidings of great joy. We reflect the light of Christ. We mirror His love. We may need to help pick up the pieces when relationships shatter. We may need to provide a listening heart when all other pleas fall on deaf ears. We may need to sacrifice personal ambitions in order to walk patiently with those struggling under life’s burdens. We may need to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. In all things we exercise gentleness, humility, and compassion. But we do it in bold confidence even in the face of opposition.

It’s appropriate that this time of year we focus on Jesus coming into the world; receiving human flesh and blood; true God and true man. But that’s not the end of the story. He fulfilled God’s foreordained plan by His bloody sacrifice on the tree. He paid the ultimate price, covering the debt of our sin. Yet, the grave could not hold Him. Christ has risen from the dead. The witness to His resurrection could not be suppressed. The Scripture says He “gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”6

Micah and Mary experienced joy in the Lord. Christ is the source of that true joy; ours, no less than theirs. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday of Advent
20 December, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 1:49
2 Luke 1:52
3 Luther’s Small Catechism
4 Philippians 4:11-12
5 2 Timothy 4:2
6 Acts 1:3