Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sermon for 12/25/12

Sermon “His Own” Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. We’ve heard the story before, haven’t we? A man, it’s usually a man in the stories, goes away. He’s gone for a long time. And during that time everything has changed. He comes back, maybe to his own estate, maybe to his own family, to his own friends, his own community, and he isn’t recognized. He is a stranger. It’s an odd picture, isn’t it? Picture George Bailey, returning to Bedford Falls, but returning and knowing that he owns the town, that all its people are his friends, that all the wealth, all the property, really belongs to him. He comes home, comes to his own things. Is he recognized? He is not. He doesn’t seem to fit in. He can’t break into the society. So many details, so many lives. He knows them all, but he is unknown to them. This is the situation Jesus faces. At least it’s part of the situation he faces. In our reading from the Gospel today drawn from John chapter 1 we see an odd statement. I remember double-checking, not believing myself, and triple-checking what happened in verse eleven. Here’s what the Greek says. “He came to his own things, but his own people did not receive him.”  When Jesus was born of a virgin, when he grew up and grew in grace and favor, he came to his own things. All creation belongs to Jesus. He shows himself, again and again, as the one who is the Lord over all creation. The wind and the waves obey him. Demons obey him. He is the Lord over sickness, the Lord over death itself. Jesus shows his authority over everything. He’s the one who can walk on water. He’s the one who can turn water into wine. He’s the one who speaks and people many miles away are healed. Jesus came to his own things. They all belong to him. They all give him glory. All, that is, except his own people. His own people, the Jews, the people who were children of Israel, those whom he had protected and provided for throughout the generations, those very people rejected Jesus. They did not receive him. Jesus comes into this world that he created and sustains. The very people he chose to show his special favor are the people who reject him. They are the people who abuse him. They are the people who undermine him. They are the people who seek to entrap him. They are the very people who will take him by force, give him an illegal trial, and persuade the Roman officials to have him crucified. Jesus came to his own, but his own did not receive him. This is far worse than George Bailey. You see, nothing’s happened. All through the ages God’s Word has been proclaimed in the temple, in the synagogues, and in faithful households. Jesus should be known to all. It’s as if George Bailey is known to everyone as the richest and most popular man in Bedford Falls, then one day suddenly everybody knows who George is but mistakes him for Mr. Potter. After all, they look about like each other, don’t they? The people of Israel say they are faithful to the true God. But they fail to recognize God the Son. Many of the people of Israel are faithful with the Word of God and with their offerings, making sacrifices and praying. Yet they miss it entirely when God comes to them according to prophecy. They see God the Son, the Son of David, the one who comes to deliver them, and they think he’s Satan. They think he’s evil, that he’s going to harm them, that he has come to destroy them, not to rescue them. Are we all that different? Our Lord gives us forgiveness by grace through faith. We turn around and either try to earn it by our good works or we are even so bold to say that we’re good people who don’t need forgiveness. Our Lord gives us the Word in the Bible and we let it collect dust on our shelves. He tells us how to live in his peace, filled with love, grace, and joy. We decide we need to ask Dr. Phil. He tells us that he will feed our faith through hearing of the Word and reception of the Sacraments. We decide that we don’t need those gifts as often as we have them available. We want to limp along and trust in ourselves rather than walking as those who trust our Lord, receiving his gifts eagerly. We aren’t all that different from the Israelites, are we? Jesus comes to us. Do we welcome him? Do we let him lead us by his Word? Or do we decide to do whatever seems right in our own eyes, like the people of Israel did so many times in the book of Judges? What is our alternative? Remember verse 12 with me. What does it mean to receive Jesus? What does it mean to believe Jesus? We take Jesus at his word. He has shown himself to be the Lord of heaven and earth. He acted in a trustworthy way again and again. He claimed equality with God. He acted just like God by healing, by proclaiming God’s truth, by raising people from the dead. He showed mastery over all nature. Jesus showed himself to be completely trustworthy. And then Jesus said that he was able to take your sins and my sins, all the evil in the world, all the shame, all the condemnation, all that we bear day after day, upon himself. He said he was able to take it away from us, to give us forgiveness, to give us his perfect obedience, to give us his perfect righteousness. Jesus said he was able to make us no longer guilty for our own sin, but to become sin for us. In everything else Jesus showed himself to be trustworthy. Do we trust him in this as well? He says he can do all kinds of impossible things, including rising again from the dead. And he goes ahead and keeps his word. Do we believe that he has taken our sin and that he is the one who makes us not guilty? That’s what believing him is. What happens to us when we believe Jesus? We are children of God. We are the kind of people who God has adopted and made heirs of his kingdom. We are the kind of people God nestles in his arms and keeps as his own. This is the gift of Christmas. Jesus came to his own people, to give his own perfection to all who believe. As we trust in Jesus he holds us in his arms just like a mother holds her baby in her arms - perfectly comfortable, perfectly safe, in a place of love and trust. Let us pray. Our Lord, you came to your own but we are slow to receive you. Grant that we may trust in you, looking to you for all the forgiveness and acceptance you have for your children. Let us live as those who are born of God, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, amen.

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