December.25, 2019 A Perfect Christmas
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,
I want to read a few verses from Titus 3: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, // slaves to various passions and pleasures, // passing our days in malice and envy, // hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, // by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly thru Jesus Christ our Savior, /// so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.”
Some years ago, at a Christmas Eve service at Concordia Luth. Church, Kirkwood Missouri, things were perfect. The congregation had worked energetically to make sure they would be celebrating Christmas in their new sanctuary for the first time. The church was beautiful. The wall behind the altar had been fitted with shelves to hold a hundred poinsettias.
There were so many & so colorful = perfect!
A young boy had flawlessly sung the first stanza of “Once in Royal David’s City.”
The vocal & instrumental musicians were all on the same page, & all in tune. Their tone, energy, & volume were sensitive & harmonious. The historic liturgy was engaging, so that those who had not been to church for a long time, and those who had been often, were drawn together, and blended in the timeless worship of the Christ-Child thru the ages.
The brightly burning candles cast a pleasant, dancing light on the walls, & on the faces of the worshipers. The preacher was focused, catching the attention of both the easily bored & the eagerly attentive.
In the congregation, /small children snuggled close to their parents, feeling secure and loved; /the teens & young adults were encouraged that their future looked pretty good; /engaged couples had wonderful thoughts of their wedding & their future; /married couples, who had worked thru the struggles of their relationship, were feeling confident & secure; /older parents, some widowed, were accompanied by their adult children, and feeling grateful & blessed; //AND everyone felt good about the gifts they had received, and even better about the gifts they had given. It seemed a perfect Christmas.
Then, as the liturgy for Holy Communion began, those shelves for the poinsettias ~wobbled. Suddenly, with a deafening crash, all the flowers plunged to the tiled floor. Clay pots broke forcefully; dirt & tangled plants were flung everywhere; the children were scared & wanted to hide from the ugliness of it all. Oh, how they all wanted their Christmas worship to be perfect & pleasing in the sight of God. Now it was all a shocking & upsetting mess!
For some, the perfect Christmas had been crushed. But for others, as they pondered it, the truth of Christmas was well-illustrated in 3 things: in the hearing of the Word, & the sharing of the Body & Blood of Christ, in full view of the dirty, soiled floor & broken pots. All that filthy mess made it clear that our world is broken, and our lives are broken-away from God.
To God we look like a shocking & filthy mess; He could’ve turned away from the wicked ugliness of it all. Then into our brokenness, Christ was sent; & He came willingly to clean it up. Neither Concordia Lutheran Church, nor any congregation, can make Christmas perfect;
it was only with our brokenness in view that God’s Christmas Gift is revealed as perfect.
As the Messiah, Jesus knew He was not coming into a perfect world. It’s a broken mess; & not by accident, but by each of our fault. That breaking is messy, rebellious, immoral, sick & deadly, with dirty & twisted people everywhere. Still, He didn’t stay away. As the Spirit said thru Paul: By the goodness & loving-kindness of God, He appeared. He came to us -as one of us- fragile & breakable. He came in mercy & purpose, so as to be breakable on our cross. By taking our sin from us, and carrying it to the cross, He was broken away from The Father, as He suffered the punishment of hell in our place.
This happened, as we heard, ‘so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ This is the hope of His grace for all people, because of that Christmas morning years ago. While the cross was the focus, God could not leave Jesus in the grave. By His own power, Jesus rose from the dead, and re-ascended to His place of victory & authority on His heavenly throne. Holy Scripture calls it ‘the right hand of God’; it means He rules over all things, in truth & grace, for the glory of His Kingdom.
Because Jesus was broken on the cross for our sins, and healed & made whole again in a resurrection reunion with the Father, He remains with us thru His Church = right here.
Thru His faithful, believing people. He is continuing His ministry among us by His working Spirit, thru His Word, & thru His chosen church-tools of preaching, teaching, & the Sacraments of Baptism & the Lord’s Supper. Jesus remains among us to heal our brokenness by calling us away from our sins & disobedience, by forgiving those sins, and living in us, guiding our words & actions in obedience & faithfulness ~ to live as His holy people.
Our verses from Titus assure us that thru holy baptism, He has given us ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.’ We are re-born as His holy children; we are re-made by learning & obeying His teachings. We are His healed people, still living in a broken world, but giving a good testimony of His saving work for all who hear & come to Him.
By His work, the doors of heaven stand open before us, & we will walk thru them when He calls us. That Gospel message makes His Christmas perfect.
And this is why Jesus was born of Mary, and visibly lived among us for a time. He came to assure us that He makes Christmas perfect, not us. Owning up to our sins thru repentance, and hearing again of His cross & empty tomb = that’s what Christmas means. Our brokenness is healed by His forgiveness, and our lives have a heavenly hope, and a future. That’s perfect.
*Are YOU having a perfect Christmas? Things in our life can fall ‘out of place.’
That is: some parts of your life can be broken & shattered & messy. /Someone has let you down; /some people have disappointed you, or angered you = maybe it’s you~yourself. /Maybe all your traditions didn’t get done this year; /maybe the season just doesn’t seem right without certain family members, /or without a certain kind of weather.
Well, that’s what’s wrong with our world: It’s broken.
Yet HERE you are, in the Living Presence of your Savior & Lord, who ~ Himself is Christmas. You’re still having a Christmas that’s perfect, because the main thing cannot be broken or improved upon: Christ Jesus our Savior has made His appearing. He forgives our brokenness, and -as a gift- holds out His Word to live by, and a heavenly life to walk toward.
Once again, in the year-of-our-Lord 2019, it IS a perfect Christmas.