Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Homily for the Christian Funeral of Raeann Rosenbergen

John 6:27-40; Romans 8:14-23; Ecclesiastes 12:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Chris, Charlie, Sheryl, family and friends of our departed sister in Christ Raeann, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
To say that the past several years have been difficult for the Rosenbergen family would be a gross understatement, I suspect. Dear Fred, husband and patriarch, died in the Lord just three years ago after several years of decline and struggle, the last couple requiring Raeann to serve as nursemaid in the home. And then, not long after Fred’s passing, Raeann’s own health began to deteriorate, and cancer returned and began to claim her. Understandably, there have been struggles with grief, maybe even depression. There have also been struggles with loneliness and fear. And, there may even have been struggles with medications and other treatments taken to alleviate the feelings of grief, depression, loneliness, and fear. Some of these struggles simply come with age and are natural to the course of our lives ever since man’s fall into sin. Indeed, our Old Testament lesson today from Ecclesiastes describes these days as “evil days” and years of which we say “I have pleasure in them.” However, the fact that both Fred and Raeann struggled with cancer can surely be seen to be exceptionally difficult and out of proportion within the general populace for two souls to bear. Indeed, the lesson from Ecclesiastes describes it well: “the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, […], and those who look through the windows are dimmed and the doors on the street are shut.”
Indeed, these are bleak words, and I only share them with you today in order that you may view your life within its proper context, between conception and death. For, death, and all its corollaries – aging, decline, and disease – are the result of sin – not of any one’s sin in particular, but of sin in general, what we call original sin – the “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” kind of sin. And so, we all die. We know that well enough. But, better that we take heed of that fact when we are young and vital, and not only when pleasureless days come upon us. And yet, we need not be gloomy or negative, for we are not like those without hope. Indeed, we, like faithful Job, know that our Redeemer lives, and that, even in the midst of struggle, and suffering, grief, depression, loneliness, fear, and even death itself, we will persevere and will emerge victorious through the victory that is ours, even now, through Jesus Christ our Lord. For, Christ has won the victory for us over sin and Satan, death, and the grave. And, that is what we are here today to remember and to celebrate as we struggle and grieve and mourn our dear departed sister in Christ, Raeann. The LORD has made a promise to Raeann, even as He has promised you: He will never leave you or forsake you. And, nothing can separate you from His love in Jesus Christ. Christ has died, and Christ has risen; and, Christ will raise up Raeann, and you, and all the faithful on the Last Day, and they will live with Him in His Father’s house forevermore, where there is no struggle, suffering, grief, depression, loneliness, fear, and where there is no death any longer.
You see, it is all too easy to take these things for granted when you are young and vital and death seems a long way off. The LORD actually permits trial and tribulation and suffering to come our way so that our hearts are turned back to him in faith and trust. The LORD would have you see that, even in the midst of life, we are dying, that we would not so cling to the things of this world and the pleasures of life, but see this life as preparation for the next. Our Lord Jesus teaches, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” Your LORD would have you know that you are His children now through baptism into Christ and faith, even though what we will be in the resurrection has not yet appeared. This should be a source of great hope for you, even as you face trial and tribulation, suffering, and even death. St. Paul exhorts you saying, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” and, “The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now,” “ever longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”
We have a common enemy, even the Enemy of God Himself, who eagerly desires for you to fall out of faith, to become irrepressibly angry and full of hatred towards God because of trials, tribulations, suffering, and death, or to become the opposite, and fall into hopelessness or despair. Either way, he wins. Your enemy would have you focus only on the bad times and on the sorrow and grief, pain and misery, and believe that is all there is. But, you know that is not true. You know that there have been many good times, happy times, and blessings. And, if you look at your life, and the lives of those you love, with the eyes of faith, you will see and remember that even in the hard times, and even in the dark times, there is a peace which passes our human understanding, even comfort, and hope, for He who created you has promised never to leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate you from His love which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
I’ve known the Rosenbergen family the entire twelve years I’ve served as Pastor of The Lutheran Church of Christ the King. Sheryl and Michael, yours was the first wedding I was blessed to solemnize as a newly ordained Pastor. I’ve baptized your children, and I’ve ministered to your family through your Father’s illness and death, and now your Mother’s. I’ve seen the hard times you’ve been through, but I’ve also seen the closeness and love you’ve shown for each other. I saw all those photos last night at the funeral home, and I noticed that there were a lot of smiles; they were all photos of joy and celebration and life. You have been richly blessed with loving parents and loving siblings, with faithful spouses and beautiful children. It is clear that Fred and Raeann gave you everything they could because they loved you and wanted the best for you. And, it is clear that you have loved them and cared for them in their weakness and remained vigilant by them even through death. You were a blessing to them, and a comfort and joy, even as they were a blessing, comfort, and joy to you.
I know that in these last months, Raeann shut a lot of people out. Her home was like the one described in Ecclesiastes: “The windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut.” She was under attack by an Enemy – your Enemy, and God’s Enemy. But, you refused to leave her alone and let him win. Even through the last days and hours, you were with her, and that was a source of great comfort and peace for her. In truth, I believe that Raeann was more confidant and at peace these past two or three weeks than I had seen her in the last year. I believe that it was family and faith that carried her through, and I believe that she died in peace, and I know that she is with Jesus, and with Fred, where there is no struggle or suffering, no grief, depression, loneliness, fear, and no death. And, that is not the end of the story, for that is not the end of your story. For, there will come a day when you will see them again, with your own eyes, and touch and hug them again, with your own arms, and hear them and speak to them again with your own ears and mouth. Though you have grief and sorrow and sadness now, though you miss them now, if you reflect on things with the eyes of faith, you would not wish them back, but your only wish will be to be with them where they are. Take heart, find comfort, and be at peace in the sure and certain promise “that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and [the LORD] will raise him up on the Last Day.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Homily for The Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Matthew 2:1-18; Revelation 14:1-5; Jeremiah 31:15-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There will be wars and rumors of wars in the Last Days. Indeed, this has been true in every age of mankind. For, wars are not waged by emperors and kings, presidents, and dictators alone, but there are drug wars and there aregang wars, and there are Mafia wars; There is the war against terror, the war on women, and even a war on Christmas. In all of these wars and rumors of wars, whether they be military, social, cultural, or political, there are casualties above and beyond and outside of those who fight in them: Children, the elderly, the poor, and the unborn just to name a few, along with many others who are simply caught in the crossfire, who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. While these causalities may appear to be merely collateral, we know from the Scriptures that this is not the case. For, we know that there is truly only one war, the war between God and Satan. And, we know that we are not merely collateral, but that, because of our sin, we are often complicit with the Enemy, intentionally, or unintentionally. We know that there are no holy innocents, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But, still, there are those, who by no actual sin of their own, nevertheless suffer and die on account of Christ. And, for Christians, we know that we all will die as martyrs before the great war is ended. For, no one gets out of here alive, because the wages of sin is always and only death.
That’s why the account of The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents today still sounds contemporary and fresh, like a headline from today’s newspaper, or a breaking story on the evening news. Everyday we are inundated with reports, complete with graphic images of the bloodshed and gore, of drive-by shootings, people pushed onto the tracks of oncoming subway trains, cops executed at point blank range while sitting in their squad cars, shootings in movie theaters, shootings on college campuses, and military bases, and so much more. In fact, not coincidentally, the last time this feast day fell on a Sunday was in 2012. Back then we were still reeling from the execution of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The line between collateral and principal damage becomes very blurry and very indistinct indeed.
Let me assure you, however, Newtown did not happen merely because Adam Lanza was insane, or even evil, and, likewise, no one who died that day was truly holy or innocent. Newtown happened because there is a war going on, an ancient war that began before the creation of mankind, a war between God and Satan. Look, I’m not saying that Adam Lanza wasn’t culpable for his actions. He most certainly was. Likewise, I’m not saying that those children and teachers did anything to warrant what happened to them. They most certainly did not. However, I do mean to lift your awareness to the overarching reality of the great war that is going on, a war in which Newtown was but a tragic and horrible skirmish. For, if you will not lift your eyes and awareness to see what’s really going on, then you will be consigned to fretting and hand-wringing as events like Newtown continue to unfold year after year, week after week, and day after day.
You see, it’s not simply that Herod was an evil, paranoid, and murderous king, – he was all that, to be sure, – but that’s not why all the male children in Bethlehem two years old and younger were murdered. No, that was not it at all! They died because Satan wanted the Son of God dead – period, – and he’d murder anyone and everyone necessary to accomplish his evil intent. And yet, the children were not innocent either, at least, not in the sense that they were without sin. No, they were sons of human fathers, just like all of us, and all people everywhere, at all times and at all places, save one, Jesus, and thus they carried the stain and corruption of their father’s sin, and his father’s before him, all the way back to our First Father Adam. Sin is sin is sin is sin is sin, and the wages of sin is death – period.
No, what we see in Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents is the true face of our Enemy Satan. It’s overkill. Herod murdered many more than he needed to murder Jesus. But, that is how Satan saw those children. And, that is precisely how Satan sees you – as lambs for the slaughter. You are collateral damage to him, and yet, not even that! For, to call something collateral is to suggest that it has some value. You and your life have no value to Satan at all, other than satiating his rage and anger at his own self-imposed hell and damnation for hating and rebelling against God. Truly, Satan exists in that place Jesus describes as being “outside the gates” of God’s kingdom, where there is only “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Satan hates God, and therefore he hates you. He doesn’t want you for your worship and praise of him. He doesn’t want you for his kingdom. He wants you to die and to suffer with him eternally because he hates God – period.
This day we remember those innocent lives cut down by Herod in a paranoid, delusional, and jealous rage. And, we remember that they were murdered simply because of Jesus, not because of anything they did, not even because of their confession of faith in Jesus like the Apostles later. And yet, over 3,000 children are murdered each and every day in this country, not by bloodthirsty, wicked kings, but by their parents, by abortion, and few bat an eye or raise a voice of concern. That’s over 1.2 million children murdered each year in the United States. Yes, there is a war going on, and the collateral damage is beyond horrific. You must lift your eyes and awareness to see what’s going on! And, then there are the reports of children, and adults, entire families and villages being beheaded, shot, crucified, or murdered in any other number of ways daily in places like Iraq and Syria. Where is the sense of horror and outrage over these lives destroyed? Truly, there is always a voice of lamentation and bitter weeping in Ramah. Whether it’s Newtown or New York City, Virginia Tech or Fort Hood, Ferguson, Littleton, Aurora, or Iraq or Syria, or anyplace, anytime, anywhere. Those are the voices that you actually hear. However, there are countless voices that you do not hear, that our culture does not recognize. Truly, we are very selective as a culture in our outrage and offense.
Yes, there is a war going on. It is a brutal and a bloody war, and most of the time it appears that we are on the losing end of it. But, take heart. We are not like those who have no hope. For, indeed, the victory has already been won by our LORD. What we experience now are but the last skirmishes of a war that is already over. In Jesus’ death upon the cross, Satan’s head was crushed, he was defeated. And, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension were the proclamation heard round the world, in heaven and on earth and under the earth: “The war is over! Satan is defeated! The LORD’s Christ has conquered!” What you experience now is the withdrawal of Satan. He can longer hold the field. His only weapons now are lies and deception by which he means to destroy your faith in the victory of Christ. And, they are powerfully effective weapons, for when you see and hear about wars and rumors of wars, and when you see seemingly innocent men and women and children being slaughtered without conscience in many and various ways, Satan will use that to shake and to destroy your faith. He does this, not because he wants you to worship him, but he does this because he hates you, because he hates God, and he knows that he is defeated and that his time is short. Therefore, like a defeated king or emperor, in his withdrawal, he commands his troops to salt the soil so that it will not bear fruit, to burn and to pillage and to plunder, to rape and to kill – just for the hell of it! – out of rage and anger and hatred for everyone and everything because of God’s righteousness and holiness which condemns Satan to hell and damnation for all eternity, where there will be eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus’ lives! The victory’s won! And, this is the feast of victory for our God! Alleluia! Though Satan may rage and destroy, he cannot take the victory from our God. That means that, no matter what happens to you and to others who trust in Christ for salvation, nothing can snatch you out of His hand. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He will work all things – even the evil and the wicked things – for the good of those who love Him in Christ Jesus, because the victory is His and it cannot be revoked. Though Satanic Herod slaughtered the babes of Bethlehem, the Holy Family escaped into Egypt, because God works all things, even the evil and wicked things, for good. And, after Herod’s death, the Holy Family returned to Galilee where Jesus would carry out His ministry, because God works all things, even the evil and wicked things, for good. And, finally, God gave His Son over, and Jesus willingly gave Himself over, as a sacrifice, that Satan would appear to win and to destroy the Son of God. But, things are not always as they appear. Jesus was the true and only Holy Innocent one. And, in His death upon the cross, he destroyed the power of sin, and He opened the pathway to life for all who trust in Him. Though Satan, and the men whom he had deceived, meant it for evil, God meant it for good. He works all things, even the evil and wicked things, for the good of those who love Him in Christ Jesus.
The war is over. The victory is won for God in Christ. What you experience now are the last and final skirmishes. But, know this: “Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on.” “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” You are they spiritually, in Holy Baptism, for you have died and have been raised to new and eternal life in the Spirit. However, upon the death of your body, your soul will be with Jesus until the day of the resurrection of your body. Then, every eye will see and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. And, God the Father, the victor over sin, and death, and Satan, will be glorified. Of that day, the Spirit and the Church cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly, come!” And the Lord replies, “Wait patiently, in faith, and in trust, and do not be afraid. But, watch, for I come tomorrow.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Homily for The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Day

John 1:1-18; Titus 3:4-7; Exodus 40:17-21; 34-38

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There is a great difference between creating and making. Indeed, for you to have created something implies that you are the source and origin of, not only the thing created, but of it’s constituent materials and parts, the stuff of which it is created. Thus, human beings cannot truly be understood to be creators in any sense faithful to the fullness of what it means to be a creator. Rather, we are makers. That is to say that, we make new things out of pre-existent things, materials, and parts. For example, we take clay and we form it into a pot. We take chemical elements and we combine them in such a way so as to make plastics and metal alloys and all sorts of things. Truly, even in conception and childbirth, where it may appear that human beings are actually creators, sources, and origins of life, we are still dealing with pre-existent created materials – namely, we are the materials, created by God, through which He makes new life. Thus, we even call conception and childbirth by a different term, procreation. Procreation means a moving forward of creation. For, what is truly going on in procreation is that God alone is the creator and giver of life, but He works with us and through us in such a way that He permits us to participate with Him in moving His ongoing creative work forward.
Our God is both a creator and a maker. He creates ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing, because He is the source and origin of all things, even the materials and the parts of which other things are made. He creates by speaking His creative and performative Word, a Word that brings into being what it says. Thus, when God speaks “Let there be light,” there is light. And when he speaks your sins forgiven in Jesus, they are forgiven. Yes, our God is both a creator and a maker, and, in many ways, He is also a builder. One of the things God builds is human beings, men and women. Whereas God created heaven and earth, the sun, moon, and stars, oceans and continents, plants and animals, and all things by His creative and performative Word, ex nihilo, out of nothing, God created humankind in a very different way. He did not speak man into existence, but He made Adam out of the earth He had already created and He breathed his own life into Him. And, then, in an even more unique creative act, He made the woman, Eve, out of the material of Adam: “The LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man.” However, the original Hebrew word translated as made here, literally means built. God actually built Eve, the way a builder builds a house.
Such building language can be found in other places in Holy Scripture. For instance, in Psalm 139, David praises God for His handicraft in forming his inward parts and knitting him together in his mother’s womb. Likewise, in the same Psalm David speaks of his frame, that is, his body, or more specifically, his bones and sinews, being intricately woven in the depths of the earth. David confesses that the LORD has “fearfully and wonderfully made” him, and that He knows and sees everything about him. The precise word for build is used again in Psalm 127: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Likewise, the language of building and houses is used in connection with the tabernacle, the temple, Jerusalem, and Zion. That the LORD builds proclaims His intimate involvement in the lives of His people. That He builds a house proclaims that He intends to dwell amongst His people as one of them.
And that is precisely what we hear in the Old Testament lesson appointed for Christmas Day. Moses erected the tabernacle, and the Most Holy Place within it in which the glory of the LORD would dwell amongst His people. The tabernacle was a tent made of animal skins, wooden poles, and twine. It was meant to be portable so that the LORD’s presence could go with His people as they traveled. And, the materials of its construction reminded the people of its purpose. The animal skins were taken from animals sacrificed to cover the sins of the people, just as the LORD had sacrificed animals to cover the nakedness of our First Parents. Additionally, their blood would be sprinkled upon the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant in atonement for the people’s sins. Still, it was necessary for the sacrifices to be repeated again and again, for they never took away sin, but only covered over sin for a time. The sacrifices were types, pointing to a fulfillment that would come later, when the LORD would tabernacle amongst His people in a tent of human flesh in the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s how St. John describes the Incarnation of Jesus. The word dwelt in the Greek is the same word as tabernacle, meaning, “pitched a tent.” Literally, the Word of God became flesh and tabernacled, or, pitched His tent, amongst us. And, as the tent of the tabernacle consisted of the skins of sacrificed animals, so the tent the Word of God assumed was human flesh, so that He might become the sacrifice of God’s self-offering, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus is the tabernacle and temple built without human hands. When His disciples remarked in awe about the majesty of the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus attested to His body as the true temple saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus is the tabernacle and the temple in which the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. This means that, when the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her, Mary conceived in her womb the fullness of the Godhead. Thus, we call Mary the Mother of God and Theotokos, bearer of God. Mary’s womb became the new Ark of the Covenant and the Most Holy Place in which the glory of the LORD was present amongst His people. And, so it was, that when Jesus died upon the cross, the veil covering the Holy of Holies within the temple tore from top to bottom and the priests wept bitterly because they knew that the glory of the LORD was no longer with them there. Indeed, the glory of the LORD had not been in the temple for over thirty-three years, for it was located within Jesus, the Word of God made flesh and dwelling amongst us, the tabernacle and temple built by God without human hands. This is why Jesus proclaimed, “The kingdom of heaven is near you,” for where He is, the kingdom of heaven is present.
The Word of God made flesh is God’s gift of His own grace and mercy to the men and world He had made that had rebelled against Him and plunged themselves into the captivity of sin and death. “He saved us not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy.” As in the beginning, when He fashioned man out of the earth He had created by the power of His Word, so in the new creation, He has re-created us out of, and in, His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. In the Incarnation and birth of His only-begotten Son, God has set us free from the bondage of sin. This is His creative work alone, apart from any work, merit, or worth in us. We are as passive and helpless in our second birth as we were in our first. However, God’s gift of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ has changed us. Now He invites us, commands us, and empowers us to procreate with Him and move forward His creation, not only in producing new life in the conception and birth of children, but by moving forward God’s creative work of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, which also bring life to those walking in darkness and the shadow of death.
We are the recipients of the greatest gift imaginable, the gift of life, true life from and with God, life that never ends. But, more than that, we are invited to participate with God in moving forward His gift of life for all people. We have been gifted to be a gift. We have been blessed to be a blessing. This is the meaning of Christmas. May the God of all grace fill you to overflowing that you may abound in His grace and be a blessing to many.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Homily for The Eve of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Eve)

Luke 2:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; Isaiah 9:2-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Something that I miss from growing up in the Midwest are the sunsets and the sunrises there. In a word, they are simply stunning and spectacular. Why is that? Well, have you been there? Have you been to states like Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and even Wisconsin and Minnesota and others? They are flat! You can see for miles and miles in every direction. And, the sunsets and the sunrises seem to stretch for miles and miles in every direction too. It is in the Midwest that the sun actually looks like that iconic sunny-side-up fried egg when it rises. And, when it sets, its colors are rose and violet and orange and yellow as far as the eye can see. But, it all begins in the silence and darkness of the night. When all is as still and dark and quiet as death, then, all in a moment, a point of light appears. And, quickly, the darkness flees as the horizon breaks forth in glorious light. Yes, the people of Illinois, a people sleeping in darkness, have seen a great light. “Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Just like that, it’s day, it’s no longer night. It is a new day, for the night has passed and cannot return.
The coming of Jesus at Christmas is like that. “When all was still and it was midnight, Your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne.” The stillness and the darkness of midnight represent our fallen condition. When the Scriptures describe us as a people walking in the darkness, even children of the darkness, they mean that we are completely corrupted and enslaved by sin and death. Moreover, the stillness and the silence are symbolic of our inability to help ourselves out of our fallen condition, or even to see that there is hope for help outside of ourselves. Thus, the images of dawn and light bespeak something happening to us that is beyond our control, an action that is done to us and for us from outside of us – God’s gift of His Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the dawn that rises upon us. He is the morning star, the brightest of the stars of the morning, rising just before the dawn. Jesus is the Light of God before He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, even the Light of the World who scatters the darkness, in whose presence darkness cannot abide. Jesus is the free gift of God’s grace given to us without any merit or worth in ourselves. Jesus is the free gift given into a virgin womb without the aid or work or merit of any man or woman. Jesus is truly extra nos, from outside of us. And, yet, wondrously, mysteriously, miraculously, He has become one of us: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us; and we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Blessed Christmas!
And that has changed everything! For, without the light, darkness remains darkness and will never be anything other than darkness. But, when the light comes, there is no darkness – period! Likewise, without the dawn, the night continues on unchanging. But, when the morning star rises, the night has ended and the day has come – period! And, when the Archangel Gabriel spoke the creative Word of God into the virgin soil of Mary’s womb, the Light of the World pierced man’s sin-darkened humanity and obliterated its deathly hold over us evermore. In the beginning of the new creation, God spoke His creative Word into the nothingness of a virgin womb and said, “Let there be Light, and let there be Life.” And, it was so. And the multitude of the heavenly host praised God and sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Blessed Christmas!
And, that is the meaning of this night. That is the meaning of Christmas. God has reconciled the world, God has reconciled humanity, God has reconciled you to Himself by taking on your flesh and by becoming your brother in Jesus Christ. And, just as Jesus would teach, “Greater love has no man this, that he would lay down his life for his friends,” even so, the greatest gift God could give you was Himself. He made Himself a little lower than the angels that He might crown man with glory. God became a man that man might become God. You are not gods, but you have been joined into God in Jesus Christ. He is your Father even as He is Jesus’ Father. His kingdom is your kingdom even as it is Jesus’ kingdom. His eternal life and reign are yours to share, as you are His body, and He your head, flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. Blessed Christmas!
And, on the night of Jesus’ birth, the heavens were ablaze with the brilliant light of God’s glory as the angelic host appeared to the lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night. They proclaimed the announcement of Jesus’ birth and peace with God. The shepherds were stricken with fear and the unexpected sight and because of their sinfulness in the presence of the holiness of God, but the first message the messenger gave was an absolution, “Fear not!” And he continued, “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, “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.” The dawn has broken. Light has come. No longer need men dwell in the darkness of sin and death. Blessed Christmas!
“And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” They were no longer mere shepherds, but they were changed. Yes, they were still shepherds, but in their vocations they were also messengers, evangelists, and more! For, when the light shines in the darkness, the darkness scatters and is no more. So, too, did Mary treasure all these things in her heart. She was changed. At all times she would be aware of the grace and the favor that was shown to her, and so would she show grace and favor to all. You too have received God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. You too have been changed. No longer is anyone unlovable, unacceptable, unforgivable, but all have been redeemed in Christ Jesus. Blessed Christmas! The silent night has been broken by the bright and joyous sound of the Gospel, the Good News that is for all people. Let us be like Blessed Mary, and ponder these things always in our hearts. Let us be like the Blessed shepherds, and refuse to remain silent, but praise and glorify God by telling the Good News to all!
Like the morning star, which pierces the darkness of the night, the Son of God has broken into our night of sin and death and has transformed it by taking up our flesh and being born as a child. And, that has changed everything! Blessed Christmas! The gift of God in Christ Jesus has made you to be a gift as well. Let us who have received everything from Him withhold nothing from others. In this new year of God’s grace, let us not forget His gift at Christmas, but, like Mary His mother, treasure these things in our hearts. And, from the treasure and blessing of our heart, let us bless each other, and others. May we give of the gift we have received freely and graciously to the glory of God’s holy Name. For, Christ is truly the gift that keeps on giving. He is the grace, mercy, love, peace, compassion, and forgiveness of God poured out for you, poured into you, overflowing out of you without end into the lives of others. You can never exhaust His grace. And, you can never run out of His grace to share. Blessed Christmas!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.