Sunday, December 21, 2014
Homily for Sunday School Lessons and Carols - Rorate Coeli - The Fourth Sunday of Advent (Advent 4)
Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7; Luke 1:26-35, 38; Luke 2:1, 3-7; Luke 2:8-16; John 1:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Of the many good, wonderful, and miraculous things we celebrate at Christmas – the Incarnation of God and the Virgin Birth, Peace between God and man, a spirit of reconciliation, peace, joy, and good will between men and women of every creed, race, and clan – one good, wonderful, and miraculous thing that often gets overlooked is God’s Divine Providence, His guiding and directing of all things toward His own holy, good, and wise ends.
For example, consider only the events of which you have heard this morning from God’s Holy Word. First, there was Isaiah’s prophecy, spoken to the people of Judah nearly seven-hundred years before Jesus’ birth. Isaiah prophesied to a people who were continually vacillating between faithfulness and idolatry. Isaiah warned that God’s holiness could not bear with sin and that His righteousness could not permit sin to go unpunished, therefore His judgment was coming. But, Isaiah also showered Judah with the beautiful and comforting Gospel of God’s compassion, mercy, and love, foreshadowing His sending of the Messiah born of a virgin who would be a Light to those walking in the darkness of sin and death, a Great Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.
Then you heard of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, nearly seven-hundred years later, in the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement to a young Judean virgin named Mary. Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear the Son of God, and that He would be given the throne of David and reign over the house of Jacob forever, just as Isaiah had prophesied.
Luke’s Gospel also records for us how God utilizes even earthly governments and human laws, institutions, and machinations, both good and bad, to accomplish His good and holy will. This time, through the Prophet Micah who prophesied, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” In fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy, Joseph and Mary, great with child, found themselves in Bethlehem for a census ordered by Caesar. The fact that the city was crowded with people from all over Judea registering for the census made it so that Mary delivered her son in lowly and humble conditions, likely in a common room in the home of Joseph and Mary's kinfolk, laying Him in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. In God’s wisdom and providence, even these seemingly insignificant elements were in fulfillment of prophecy of the kind of King His Son would be: mild, humble, selfless, and sacrificial.
In like manner, the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy was proclaimed first, not to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin, the religious leadership of Israel, not to Herod or Pilate or Caesar, and not to those of wealth, power, or great reputation, but the proclamation of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy, the proclamation of the Gospel, was given first to those of low estate, to poor and humble shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. Even still today, the chief responsibility of Christ’s undershepherds, His pastors, is to proclaim the Gospel and to guard and keep His sheep in the darkness of this world’s night of sin and death.
And then, in our final reading from the Gospel of John, you hear that this was God’s will and design before man’s fall into sin, before the creation of man, indeed, before the foundation of the world. John’s Words “In the beginning…” take you back, well, to the beginning of God’s revealed Word, to Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….” John proclaims to you that the Word of God was with God in the beginning, and that, in fact, the Word of God was God, and that all things that God has made have been made by the speaking of His life-giving and creative Word. What we celebrate at Christmas, especially, is what John proclaims in the last verse of today’s reading: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
At Christmas, we must remember that, though we may see darkness and sin and suffering and death all around us, though wars and rumors of wars dominate the headlines, though natural disasters destroy lives, homes, and livelihoods, though diseases take the lives of those we love, and though even children are not spared the horror of evil at the hands of broken, corrupted, and sinful men, we must remember that God is in control, before sin, before man, before the foundation of the world, and that He has worked, and He is working, and will continue to work all things, even the bad things, the horrible things, and the evil things, for the good of those who love Him, whom He has called in His Son, His Messiah, our Savior, His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.
At Christmas, we remember that God did not turn a cold shoulder in judgment against His rebellious creation, but He did the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the impossible, and the miraculous – He penetrated His fallen and broken creation and became one of His creatures, being born of the flesh of a woman in weakness, lowliness, and poverty that He might be everything His holiness and righteousness required for you, in your place, as your substitute, that He might bear in His own flesh the necessary wage of sin, death, and shed His own holy and innocent blood to wash away your guilt, that He might be at peace with you, and you with Him, and live in His holy and righteous presence in holy communion with Him – flesh of His flesh, bone of His bone – evermore and evermore. This Peace is God’s gift to you at Christmas, and every day of the year, every day and year of your lives. Remember and treasure His Word, His Gift, and enjoy His Peace and live His Love, every day of the year.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.