Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sermon for 25 December 2010, The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day

The Rev. Paul J Cain

Luke 2:15-20

Concerning This Child
Christmas Day, 25 December 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
A wealthy European family decided to have their newborn baby baptized at home in their enormous mansion. Dozens of guests were invited to the elaborate affair, and they all arrived dressed to the nines. After depositing their elegant wraps on a bed in an upstairs room, the guests were entertained royally.
Soon the time came for the main purpose of their gathering: the infant's baptismal ceremony. But where was the baby? No one seemed to know. The child's governess ran upstairs and returned with a desperate look on her face. Everyone searched frantically for the baby. Then someone recalled having seen him asleep on one of the beds. The baby was on a bed all right—buried beneath a pile of coats, jackets, and furs. The object of that day's celebration had been forgotten, neglected, and nearly smothered.
The baby whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas is easily hidden beneath the piles of traditions and cultural observances of the season. We need to enter every Advent season asking, "Where's the baby?" Citation: Evangelist Luis Palau, Greg Asimakoupoulos; Naperville, Illinois
This morning we revisit Luke chapter two, Concerning This Child, Jesus.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
What had the shepherds heard? What had the Lord told them through His angels? The angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
That is what we sang in the Gloria this morning. “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.” And there’s more. Ancient Christians fleshed out what it means that Christ the Lord is born this day in the city of David as Savior and a baby.
“Lord God, heavenly king, almighty God and Father: We worship You, we give You thanks, we praise You for Your Glory.” After the angelic hymn, the first stanza praises God the Father. Then, a stanza focuses upon our Lord and anticipates the Agnus Dei: “Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God: You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us. You are seated at the right hand of the Father; receive our prayer.” Finally, a trinitarian stanza concludes the Gloria: “For You alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord, You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.” The traditional hymn of praise, the Gloria, certainly gives specifics Concerning This Child.

What did the shepherds do? They heard the angels speak concerning this child and they went with haste. Everything was was like it had been told them. The shepherds told Mary and Joseph what they had heard, the Good News About Jesus. And they praised God for all that they had heard and seen.
You have heard and seen the Christmas stories, likely from infancy. You, too, can tell the Good News concerning this child. It’s hard to believe, but there are many people around the world who have never heard of Christ, never heard of Christmas. Some of those people may be closer than you think. Some Americans today are second and third generation non-Christians. Not only do they not know Jesus, but some have never even set foot in a Church! Yes. This happens even in America. And in Sheridan County, Wyoming, too. The world and every person in it has a desperate need, whether they know it or not, to hear about Jesus. You know much more of the story than the shepherds. Think about the opportunities you have to share. I’m not talking about knocking on doors. When people around you know that you’re a Christian, they often approach you first.

And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Lighted Christmas trees are a wonder, too. Some say the first trees were lit in Germany to mimic the view of stars shining among the evergreens. They remind us of the evergreen life that Christ gives and that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. Those first trees were fire hazards in the making, since they were candle-lit.
But the lit trees forshadow the tree of the cross. Calvary. Good Friday. Good Friday is good for the same reason that Christmas is merry—Jesus. Jesus was born on Christmas to die on Good Friday and rise on Easter. He was born, died and rose to give you the new birth of forgiveness, to rescue you from the curse of death, and to deliver to you eternal life. Those too are wondrous things. “Oh, that birth forever blessed, When the virgin, full of grace, By the Holy Ghost conceiving, Bore the Savior of of our race, And the babe, the world’s redeemer, First revealed His sacred face Evermore and evermore.”
Today is Christmass. Note the extra “s” on the bulletin. It’s a clue to understanding the origin of the word. Several hundred years ago, many congregations had daily services of Word and Sacrament. You’ve heard the term—Mass. As Americans, we’re used to thinking of it as a Roman Catholic term. And it is, but it isn’t used only by Roman Catholics. It’s much older than the Roman church and truly belongs to all Christians who hold to solely to Biblical Christian teachings. For when we look around the world and back in history, Lutherans have commonly used the term too, though most usually outside of North America. German Lutherans today often celebrate a Hochmesse, or High Mass, alongside the term, Gottesdienst, or Divine Service.
Historically, each day of the year had its own propers—introit, collect, gradual, and readings. There was Mass on the day for St. Michael and All Angels. St. Martin’s Mass on November 10. November 30th brought with it St. Andrew’s Mass. The Sunday closest was the first Sunday in Advent. Soon after came the feast day remembering St. Nicholas of Myra, a Christian pastor and bishop, known for his service to children. December had another special day, too, one that the common people had been expecting for quite a while. Back in March, the 25th to be exact, they remembered the Scripture for the day telling how the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to a son, God’s Son, Jesus. Nine months later would be His Day. It would be the day of the Christ Mass. That’s how we got the word Christmas.

We do more than celebrate a birthday today. We celebrate the gift that Jesus is and that Jesus brings. As with most birthdays, there are presents. Jesus gives His gifts to you: Baptism, Absolution, Word, Supper. And these gifts are here for you every Sunday. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.