Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sermon for 12/24/12

Sermon “True Love” Grace, mercy and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christmas time - a time of love, a time of joy, a time of peace. Our hearts and minds turn to times with our family and friends, sitting by the fire, roasting chestnuts, egg nog, a turkey, mistletoe. Even the visions of a fat man breaking into our house through the chimney doesn’t seem to bother us. But what’s it all about? A lot of people have been talking about the baby Jesus. And in our household, where several nativity sets have been partially assembled, the last member is about ready to show up. That’s Jesus. Yes, we have a drawer with a number of baby Jesuses in it. Everyone else is assembled. And many of us, probably most of us, have at least a little bit of a soft spot for babies. Why, I even thought about seeing if I could borrow a baby to help me out in this sermon. But that can become clumsy. Yet what is the point of Jesus? We talk and talk about keeping Christ in Christmas, and that’s a very important thing. Granted, an occasion to give presents and assemble with family for a feast is a good thing all by itself. But we can do that for any number of reasons. There’s something different, something special about this date, something about this time of year. It’s special not because of the presents we bought or made for others, not because of the menu items, and not even because of our family members. There are many people in our world, and some among us, who are missing some of that, some even missing all of that. Is it still Christmas without presents? Is it still Christmas if we have nothing special to eat, or nothing at all to eat, like many Christians in the world today? Is it still Christmas if we are missing someone we love, or even if we are missing all our family? Is it still Christmas when we are sitting in the ICU wondering what the next few hours will bring? This is a difficult time for many of us. It’s a hard time. We’ve lost loved ones. Some of us are trying especially hard to enjoy this season because we don’t think we’ll have certain people with us by next year. Some of us are trying hard because we don’t think we’ll be here next year. And around the world the conditions are the same. In many countries Christians are facing persecution, famine, disease, and death. We find we are mortal. We come to the end of ourselves. So far I haven’t been very encouraging, have I? Merry Christmas! We’re surrounded by the end. This is all true. But when we turn our attention to the Scripture we find that the world hasn’t changed all that much. In Isaiah and Matthew the world is groaning in pain, as people with broken hearts, broken dreams, broken lives cry out to God for help. And in Matthew 1 we saw that help was on the way. But what kind of help is this baby? What kind of help is Jesus? There’s a children’s book that our family knows and loves which has a character who is “nothing but a baby.” What use is she? She’s nothing but a baby. And sometimes when we look at our broken hearts, our broken dreams, our broken lives, and we think about Christmas we think about Jesus, and we see him as “nothing but a baby.” It’s time that we wake up. It’s time that we see Jesus as ever so much more than a baby. It’s time that we see him as John saw him in 1 John chapter 4. Remember again verses 9 and 10. (NIV) “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live 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.” The birth of Jesus is critical in God’s work of salvation. Jesus had to be born, and the only way someone is ever born is as a baby. It works that way. Was Jesus cute? He most certainly was. When Mary and Joseph looked at that little baby he was the sweetest one they had ever seen. When the shepherds came around later they saw that all was well. Fine little lad, shows great promise. Jesus grew and grew. But why did he come? Why was he born? He was in the world so that we could have life. He came to live a perfect life so as to give that life to us. He came to bring the love of God to us. God loved us. But so we would know it and could receive it he sent his Son. That’s our hope. That’s our life. That’s what we cling to. We can lose all the presents, we can go hungry, we can be the last person left alive on earth, but still Jesus is the one who came for us. This is God’s love. Is Christmas about our love? Not at all. It’s about God’s love for us. He sent his Son. But how do we view Jesus? Do we look to him as an example, the one who teaches us how to be good people, the one who gave us a moral example, the one who fills us with good thoughts, warm thoughts, who helps us be good fathers and mothers, good husbands and wives, good children, responsible employees, good citizens? If we hope in Jesus for that alone we are missing the point of Christmas. We are missing the point of Jesus. Yes, we see in Jesus an example of perfect faithful obedience to God, rooted in love and trust. But what did we just read in 1 John 4:10? Jesus is an atoning sacrifice for our sins. If we think of Jesus as an example who then tells us to go and be perfect we have no hope. We are full of greed, selfish desire, pride, arrogance. We sin against God daily. And it only takes one failure to be imperfect in God’s eyes. It only takes the slightest bit of sin, even sin that isn’t realized in our actions. We are sinful by nature, which is why we sin. We have failed before we start. If Jesus is just an example, just a model, and we are then to go and live like he did we are without hope. But in God’s love Jesus is much more than an example. He is much more than a life coach. He is much more than a motivator. He is a savior. He is what John calls an “atoning sacrifice.” That’s a kind of special word in the Bible. He does two things in his work as a sacrifice for our sin. First, he covers up the sin. He hides the cause for God’s anger against sin. When God the Father looks at us he no longer sees our sin. He sees the perfect life of Jesus, God the Son. We are completely covered. We are entirely protected and safe. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We have been delivered from the power of sin and transferred to the kingdom of God’s perfect light and righteousness. We have nothing to fear. Jesus has covered our sin. But that isn’t all. What if we become uncovered? Jesus has also turned away the anger of God against sin. Jesus has become sin for us so that we may be the righteousness of God. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He suffered all the righteous wrath of God the Father. Not only did he hide our sin, but he also turned God’s anger at sin away from us, toward himself. He suffered in our place. That’s what Christmas is about. Do we need Christ in Christmas? Yes we do. We need him in Christmas just like we need him every day, in every way. He alone is able to rescue us from sin and death. He alone is able to give us life and salvation. And he does it because he loves us. It is not because we loved him, but because he loved us, that he has called to us. And he calls us the very same way today, as he has been calling us for nearly two thousand years. Confess your sins! Repent of your sin, repent and believe, so that you will see the forgiveness, life and salvation that Jesus has purchased on your behalf. Trust that he is the redeemer of the world, and particularly your redeemer. Trust that this Jesus has given himself as an atoning sacrifice, and that he has done it for you. Live in the light of Christmas, the time that Jesus came for you. As you do, whether you have presents or not, whether you have a feast or not, whether you have family or not, all of this falls into perspective. Jesus has given himself for you. You have a feast indeed because he is the bread of life. You have the greatest gift in the world, for Jesus has given his life for you. You have family, for you have been adopted into the kingdom of God. You have countless brothers and sisters through all the ages, and you are counted as an heir of all the wonders of God, right alongside Jesus your brother. Rejoice! Jesus has come! Christmas is here! Merry Christmas and Hallelujah. Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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