Thursday, December 24, 2015
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.
“When all was still, and it was midnight, Your Almighty Word, O LORD, descended from the royal throne.” Christians have chanted these words from the Apocryphal book of Wisdom on Christmas Eve or at Epiphany since at least the seventh century. Thus, when we sang them this evening, we joined our voices, our thoughts, and our prayers with the multitude of believers before us, with centuries and millennia of saints in Christ, in unified confession of the beautiful and the awe-inspiring truth that, while we were still sinners, God acted, Christ was born, and Christ died for us that we may live in and through Him.
Stillness and silence are extremely difficult to come by these days, are they not? The shopping, the wrapping, the decorating, the baking, the cleaning, the laundry, the cooking, the family, the friends, the fights, the disappointment, the hurt feelings, the loneliness, the sadness, the despair – you’ve been caught up in this since, when, Black Friday? Halloween? Before that? Maybe you never recovered from last year?
Be still. Be still this silent and holy night. Be still and know the Lord your God. His gift to you this night is stillness, silence, peace, and rest. Rest from all your striving to appease Him. Rest from all your fretting and anxiety over what to wear and what to eat. Rest from all your fear of your enemies, from fear of your friends, from fear of tonight, and from fear of tomorrow. Only after He had prepared all things for you in the beginning did He create you in His image and set you in His creation as its Lord. Only after He had done all things necessary, and it was very good, did God take rest from His labors. Your Lord God and Creator took rest from His labors that you might take your rest in Him. He declared that day the Sabbath, a day of rest.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is God’s Word to you this night. This is God’s Word made flesh for you in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Sabbath rest of God in whom He invites you take rest from your striving, from your anxiety, worry, and fear. Our First Parents rebelled against the LORD’s Sabbath by refusing to take rest in it. Instead, they strove to take for themselves what was not given, they were anxious and unsettled about what they thought was withheld, about what they thought they might be missing out on, about what could’ve been, should’ve been, or would’ve been. They did not fear, love, and trust in God and His Word above all things, but they feared they were being short-changed, they loved the wisdom and knowledge the adversary deceitfully promised them, and they trusted in his word, and in their wisdom, rather than the LORD and His Word. Thereafter, their lives were fraught with busyness and restlessness, with striving and toil, with fear and anxiety, so that, even while they were idle, they could find no rest, no peace. And, is not the same true for you as well, O Sons of Adam, O Daughters of Eve?
Your restlessness, striving, anxiety, and fear are primordial. And yet, they are needless, foolish, and senseless, for it is finished, declares the Lord. What is finished? All that was necessary for you to have rest and peace once again. Do you strive for basic necessities – for food, and clothing, and shelter? Jesus’ body and blood are your true food and drink. Jesus’ righteousness is your true clothing. And, Jesus’ body, the Church, is your true shelter, the very temple of the Holy Spirit. Are you anxious and worried about tonight and about tomorrow? Your LORD invites you to be still, to be silent. Then you may take account, not of the things you want, or the things you think that you need that you do not have, but of the blessings that you do have, most of which you wrongly take for granted and consider the fruit of your own labors. For, Sabbath rest is about viewing the world and your life in it differently, as a gift from God. The Sabbath rest of God is a release from enslavement to the desires and pleasures of your flesh and to the pursuit of material goods and worldly values that have no life and are passing away. Or, are you anxious and fearful of wars and rumors of war, of terrorism, both international and domestic? “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And, do not be a fool; that one is not the devil, but it is your God, your heavenly Father and Creator of both your body and your soul. “Behold, He who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”
Be still. Be silent. God does His mightiest works when you are doing nothing at all. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing. He spoke His creative and life-giving Word into the nothing, and it was so. And, God sustains His creation by His ongoing breath, Word, and will. When He withdraws it, that will be the end, and all of creation will be undone, as it was first done in the beginning. Similarly, God began His re-creative work, not in a virgin universe, but in a virgin womb. Once again He spoke His creative and life-giving Word, and the Word became flesh and made His dwelling here in time, under the Law, among us. How did Mary receive this Word from God? She was still. She was silent. “Lord, may it be to me as You have said, according to Your Word.” On the cross, God’s Word made flesh spoke the final Word that need ever be spoken, “It is finished,” and then came the Sabbath. Once again, God rested from His labors in re-creating humanity in His image, and the world. The LORD has made His Son Jesus to be your Sabbath rest. Be still. Be silent. And, know that the LORD is God.
It is your sinful, fallen, corrupt human nature that will not rest, but it insists on busying itself, striving, worrying, and fretting. Anxiety, worry, and fear are the worship you give to a false god that cannot save. Addicts know this all too well. Whether it be alcohol or drugs or food or sex or whatever, when they hit bottom, when they finally can see and think clearly, they universally confess, “Let go, and let God.” Just stop. Be still. Be silent. “The devil will find work for idle hands to do?” Perhaps, but to take Sabbath rest is not the same as doing nothing at all. On the contrary, you are not alone in your Sabbath rest, but your rest is in Jesus, who is the Sabbath of the LORD. Be still. Be silent. Stop doing. But, take your rest in Christ, who has done all things well for you.
We are gathered here this silent and holy night, to remember, to give thanks for, and to celebrate God’s gift of rest for us in the incarnation and birth of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Sabbath rest and peace incarnate, in human flesh and blood, as our brother, as our Bridegroom, as our Redeemer, our Savior, our Lord, and our God.
Jesus is your comfort and your peace. He is God’s pledge that your warfare with Him is ended, that He has given you double in grace for your sins in His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Therefore, you may rest from your labors, you may rest from your striving to earn His favor or to work off your debt to Him. It is forgiven. It is finished. And, there is no need for worry and anxiety, for restlessness and fear, for the LORD your God is the Creator, Redeemer, Re-Creator, and Sustainer of your life, the universe, and everything in it. Not a hair can fall, not a breath can be taken, not a life can be given or taken apart from His will. Therefore, do not give yourself over to the idols and to the false gods of worry, anxiety, and fear. “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His Name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever.”
Soon it will be midnight, literally the middle of the night. God has already acted. God is acting still, for you – always for you. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” Tonight Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” has come to Pawling, New York. Be still. Be silent. Stop. God’s Almighty Word incarnate descends to you here at this altar. Only, He does not leave heaven behind this time, but He brings heaven with Him to you, with its angels and archangels, and with all its company. “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate Deity. Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.” Let us enter His Rest together and live in His Peace. Blessed Christmas.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.