Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Sermon 2011

Christmas Eve/12.24.11

·        We are going to start with everybody’s favourite kind of joke: a knock knock joke.
§  Knock Knock. Who is there?
·        Mary. Mary who?
o   Mary Christmas!

·        “Merry Christmas!”
o   This has become an interesting phrase hasn’t it?
§  It has even become a controversial phrase.
·        Should we expect to hear someone wish us a merry Christmas when we are out shopping somewhere? Should we be offended if the cashier at Walmart wishes us happy holidays or Season’s greetings instead of merry Christmas?
o   That is an interesting question isn’t it?
§  I have my own take on it – and it might surprise you – but we aren’t going to talk about that tonight.
·        I want to talk about what we should really mean when we say “Merry Christmas!”

·        We don’t use the word “merry” all that often really.
o   “Merry” means to be cheerful, lively, happy, and light-hearted according to one dictionary I checked.
§  But we don’t use the word all that often. We don’t say “Merry Easter” or “Merry Birthday!” or “Merry anniversary!” or “have a merry day!”
·        No, we reserve the word “merry” generally for Christmas – we wish you a merry Christmas!   
o   It is a kind and well meaning sentiment.
§  But what exactly do we mean by having a merry Christmas?

·        A merry Christmas is when we have all our family and friends around with laughing and love and fun.
o   A merry Christmas is when we have nice clean white snow and a fire crackling in the fireplace.
§  A merry Christmas is when the Christmas tree has a bunch of presents wrapped beautifully underneath
·        A merry Christmas is when the turkey is browned just right and the stuffing turns out moist and the cranberries are perfect and the gravy is not lumpy, and the Christmas pudding has just the right amount of rum…
o   A merry Christmas is when the kids open their presents and their eyes open up wide in astonishment and joy at their gift
§  There are a lot of things we need to have just right so we can have a merry Christmas isn’t there?

·        All those things are great things and are wonderful to have at this time of year.
o   But what if all of that doesn’t happen or fall into place this year?
§  What if all our family and friends aren’t all gathered in the same place this year?
§  What if instead of laughing and love and fun there is tension, anger and distrust?
§  What if we don’t get much snow or the snow is all dirty and melting?
§  What if you don’t have a fireplace for a warm crackling fire and instead have a lonely, empty, cold feeling room?
§  What if the presents under the tree are fewer this year?
§  What if the Christmas meal didn’t turn out or if there is an empty chair at the table to remind you of someone who is not with you this year?
§  What if the kids are all grown up and the magic of Christmas just isn’t there anymore?
§  What if the kids were not all that impressed with your gift? What if the kids are now teenagers and are generally unimpressed with most everything you do?
·        If everything is not perfect can you still have a merry Christmas?

·        I would suspect that there are very few of you here today who can say that everything is perfect tonight.
o   For some of you a lot of things might be very good – but not perfect.
§  For some of you a lot of things are far from perfect – maybe you are even feeling like things are terrible and are miserable during this season.
·        So what is so merry about Christmas anyway?

·        The truth is that Christmas is a merry celebration – but it is not a celebration of our families, not a celebration of our gifts, not a celebration of our food – No, Christmas is a merry celebration of the birth of Jesus
o   Christmas is a merry celebration of the greatest gift of all time – the gift of a Saviour
§  Christmas is a merry celebration because God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
·        Christmas is a merry celebration because in Jesus we see forgiveness, life, and salvation
o   Christmas is a merry celebration because in the baby laid in a manger we see the love of God.
§  Christmas is a merry celebration because this gift from God is for you – personally.

·        That is why for centuries Christians have gathered with family and friends for the festival we call Christmas
o   That is why for centuries Christians have gathered around a feast to celebrate the birth of Jesus
§  That is why for centuries Christians have gathered in merriment to give gifts in celebration of the greatest gift – Jesus!
o   That is why for centuries Christians have held special Services at church to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to receive His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Word and Sacrament
§  Christmas is a merry celebration because of Jesus!

·        What has happened in our day and age is we have forgotten the real reason for the merriment of Christmas and instead have only looked to the things that are to help us celebrate the birth of Jesus
o   We have made Christmas only be about our family gatherings and our feasts and our gifts
§  And if those things don’t line up just so – well, we feel, it is not such a merry Christmas after all.
·        But when you keep in mind that those things are meant only to be a part of the celebration of the birth of Jesus – the very reason we would gather together and have a feast and give gifts
o   Then no matter what the circumstances are in your life you can celebrate the birth of Jesus – because He is God’s gift to you.
§  You can be merry not because of anything that is or is not happening in your life right now – but because the truth is that God sent Jesus because of His unfathomable love for you
·        The truth is that Jesus would lived for you a perfectly sinless life and that perfect life is credited to you by grace through faith
o   The truth is that He  loved you so much that He carried your sins to the cross and there died for them and received the punishment you deserve
§  The truth is that Jesus would defeat all your enemies – sin, death, and the devil when He rose from the grave
§  When you keep all this in mind, all that the gift of Jesus means for you now and into eternity – it is a merry Christmas no matter what the circumstances.

·        It is a merry Christmas because of Jesus. And Jesus does not just come to you once a year.
o   Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us – promises to be with you always.
§  He promises to be with you all the year – He promises to be with you to uphold you and strengthen you as you face all the ups and downs and uncertainties of the new year and the years to come.
·        He promises to be with you with forgiveness and love, grace and mercy.
o   But where does He promise to be for you?
§  In His Word and Sacraments in His Church – nowhere else.
·        He promises to be with you and strengthen you when you read and hear His Word in the Bible, when you receive holy Communion, His very Body and Blood where He promises to strengthen you in your faith, and He promised to be with you always in your baptism.
o   And Jesus always keeps His promises.

·        So it might be true that not everything is perfect as you would like in your celebration of Christmas this year
o   But don’t confuse the lack of perfection in your life with the celebration itself and the reason for merriment this Season
§  Remember the angel’s announcement to the shepherds in the field that holy night, and hear it again announced to you this holy night:
·        For unto you this day is born a Saviour – Jesus Christ the Lord.
o   Therefore – have a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What do you mean?

I have come to realize, and have heard others say similar things as well, that nobody understands what another person is saying anymore.

We often hear certain Christian groups referred to as fundamentalist. The church body to which I belong has been called fundamentalist by some. What does that really mean? What is really being expressed by those who refer to groups of people as fundamentalists?

When I hear a report about fundamentalist groups the sense I get from the reporter is that this group of people are somehow a little "off." That they are not the mainstream within their group. That the people are somehow scary, brain-washed zombies.

But that is not really the meaning of the term "fundamentalist." Within Christian usage it goes back to an attempt to bring about unity in the Church by finding agreement in the every core basics of Christianity. In a sense the attempt was to identify those things that could not under any circumstances be altered. Within a wider framework it means a strict adherence to a certain set of beliefs.

So - really when someone is referring to someone else as a fundamentalist they are saying: "so, you really believe what you say you believe." or: "you really mean what you say!"

So when I say that the Bible is the Word of God - I mean it. This, according to some, makes me a fundamentalist. Some Lutherans of another stripe have referred to me in just such a way. So - when they say the Bible is the Word of God, don't worry, they are not fundamentalists - they don't really believe it.

When I say the Apostles' Creed - I actually mean and believe what I say. In a historical and physical sense. The things that I say I believe happened - I believe happened. But those who would call me a fundamentalist - don't worry, they don't.

Those who accuse others of being fundamentalists are just play acting. They say the same things as I say but think themselves too enlightened to actually believe it. They say the words but wink and grin at each other while they mock those who actually hold to it. It is how elitists lie. For some reason this group is unable to say what they really believe - that what the Christian Church has held as true for 2000 years is not really true. That they are more enlightened now than everyone before them. That they actually deny the very basics of the Christian Faith. They reinterpret the Christian Faith to make the realities of the historic Christian Faith irrelevant. It is a lie wrapped in pious actions and language that goes down smooth and easy.

It is made me all the more appreciate a church body's public confession of what they believe. It is sad but true - I need the public confession of another church body so I know what they mean when they say - I believe in Jesus Christ... . What do you mean? The Lutheran church is blessed with a robust explanation of what we believe. There is not a lot of ambiguity. Here it is. This is what we believe. Take it or leave it. And we believe what we say.