“THE MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS”

 

Text - PHILIPPIANS 2:5--11

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR - JESUS THE CHRIST.

Every year someone approaches me in a store or calls me on the phone to announce “I just read a real important article.  The writer says we shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas on December 25th. He discovered Jesus really wasn’t born on December 25th. The date is all wrong.  We shouldn’t celebrate Christmas.”  I just shake my head – wondering why paper is wasted publishing an article refuting a claim no one is making.

I know of no credible Christian theologian – living or dead – who has said Jesus was born on December 25th.  While we know when Jesus was crucified and when He rose from the dead, no one knows the date of Jesus’ birth. Historically, there are a number of reasons we celebrate Christmas this time of the year - none of the reasons have anything to do with the actual date of Jesus' birth. Christmas does not commemorate a specific day in history. Christmas is far more than that. 

Decades ago – when I was writing my weekly column – I wrote one about the two holidays we celebrate each December – Christmas and Winterfest.  Today when a festival called “Christmas In July” has become so popular and the secular Christmas celebration begins when the children have barely stopped “trick or treating”, the distinction between the two December holidays has become increasingly indistinctive. 

     

Christmas is really our Christian celebration of the greatest miracle in all of human history. That miracle of miracles is God’s total love for us – God loving all humanity enough to come into the world God created as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ on our behalf and for our eternal Salvation.  God entering our world as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ is to Christian believers the beginning of the most wondrous event in all of human history.

The best explanation of the meaning of Christmas, for me, is contained in words which God spoke through the Apostle Paul in his EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS -  Let this mind be in you, which is yours in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men: And being found in human form, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Let this mind be in you, which is yours in Christ Jesus.  Believe totally and completely in God as Jesus Himself believed totally and completely in His heavenly Father. Believe totally and completely in God's Plan of Salvation as Jesus totally believed and lived that Plan of Salvation - even when it meant suffering and dying on the cross.  Love God, ourselves, and each other as Jesus did and does.

Christmas celebrates the miracle of God's Love for us.

Why should we be amazed that, through the virgin birth, God became the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ – was born in the likeness of men and found in human form?  With God, nothing is impossible.   If God wants to do something, of course, He can.  That's basic to God being God.

 

 

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR … JESUS THE CHRIST. 

    

The first rays of sunshine announced the dawn of another day as Simon ben Judah, Aaron ben Khalil and three other Pharisees began to walk northeast across the Holy City on a mission for the high priest. Exiting the city, they hurried across the Kidron Valley and over the Mount of Olives.

The climb up the western slope was strenuous and they reached the top   out of breath.  Under a solitary tree, they rested and drank sparingly of the water each carried. 

        

To the north - on their left - Abraham ben Isaac was taking advantage of an early morning breeze to do some threshing.  Yesterday, he had stacked newly-harvested stalks of wheat on a limestone platform atop a small hill.

At first light, Abraham rolled over the stalks with a threshing sled made of pieces of wood into which holes have been drilled and filled with pieces of basalt rock.  The weighted sled crushed the mixture of wheat and chaff on the hillside ground.

With a mild morning breeze moving across the hill, Abraham used a winnowing fork to throw the piles into the air.  The soft breeze carried the extremely light chaff to form new piles which were gathered and burned. The chaff has no other purpose than as fuel for fires.  

The heavier wheat fell back to the ground forming piles that were gathered and prepared for the making of bread. 

 

Barely past the Mount of Olives is Behurim. When David’s son Absalom rebelled against him and forced him to flee for his very life, David had fled with his head covered (a sign of mourning) and his feet bare (a sign of total humiliation) – weeping uncontrollably as he went.  As he passed under Behurim, relatives of the former King Saul cursed him and hurled rocks, dirt, dust and human waste upon David and his party.

Four hundred years after David journeyed his “Path of Defeat”, Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, fled across this same path fleeing the horrors of a starving and totally devastated Jerusalem.  He made it all the way to the Plains of Jericho.  There, by order of King Nebuchadnezzar, he was forced to watch as his two sons were executed, then he himself was blinded and dragged in chains to Babylon.  The kingdom was destroyed – the people carried off into exile on the “Path of Defeat” in 599 B.C...

 

 

Ready?  Wait!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  AMEN

I like using the words of St. Paul at the beginning of my message.  It is the first thing I type into my manuscript, and the words have the effect of centering me.  Grace.  Mercy.  Peace.   We know that there is no grace in the news of the day, that’s for sure.  I don’t want to begin there! There’s not much of mercy from people we meet.  Make a mistake and you’ll likely hear about it --- from anyone and everyone.  Peace?  We look around, and peace as we think of it may be hard to find.  Grace, mercy and peace all come ---  they come on this day and in this place --- from God and His Son, Jesus Christ.  And God’s grace and mercy and peace are the foundation for our hope.  There is no other.  There will be no other.  

We begin the Christian year today – the First Sunday in Advent.  And beginning, we look forward, not backward.  The words of Jesus in our Gospel propel our thoughts into the future.  Setting the stage for this teaching is pretty simple.  Jesus has left the crowds behind and has this conversation with four of His disciples --- Peter, James, John, and Andrew.  These disciples were the first to be called to follow Him, and the first three, Peter, James, and John, have formed a kind of inner circle among the disciples of our Lord.  This particular conversation has earned the title of “The Little Apocalypse”.  We listen in particular to the last part of it, but it began with Jesus telling them of the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place; strengthening them for their own trials that were to come; and, warning them of false messiahs and false prophets that would appear in the latter days.  Then Jesus says,:

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,  and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.   And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.   And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.  

How do we take this in?  The imagery would have been familiar to these faithful Jewish followers.  The word pictures come from the prophets:  Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Zephaniah, and Zechariah.   They all spoke using similar imagery.  Alarming as it may seem, we should remember that prophetic imagery was not always meant to be taken literally, especially apocalyptic symbols.  God intends that His people will look for His power and might to be displayed, and be ready when the Lord comes again, which we indeed associate with the last days.  Of course, the world will not recognize God’s display of power, and Jesus comforts those disciples and us that He knows us, calls us the elect, and will gather us to Himself.   His Holy Spirit will alert us.  This has been God’s plan from the very beginning.  His plan has not changed.  No matter where we are --- whether still on earth or already arrived in heaven.  The Lord wants us to be with Him forever.  Jesus continues:

 

 

“GOD’S VOICE, OUR WILDERNESS”

 

Text - MARK 1:1—8

 

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN – EVER PRESENT LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS CHRIST.

 

In the 39 years since I studied in the Holy Land, I have shared this picture with you several times. Advent’s Divine Message of fulfilled Hope still shouts from that wilderness.

The Greek noun, "ϊρημος" means “desert wilderness”. As an adjective "ϊρημος"  means “solitary, lonely,  desolate, uninhabited”.  The word has come into our language as “arid”, but the many shades of meaning in the Biblical  ϊρημος certainly fit the Judean wilderness.  Once you’ve experienced that wilderness, it  becomes permenantly etched in your mind’s eye and has ever remained for me the ultimate and joyous symbol of  our Ultimate fulfilled hope being loudly proclaimed in the place where otherwise there is no hope. It sparks our anticipation of celebrating God’s entrance into the world as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ and the eternal dimension He gives to our lives.

There are absolutely no natural resources in the ϊρημος - no way for edible plants to grow or for human beings or animals to survive even on the most primitive levels of existence. 

Mentally and spiritually ϊρημος is unforgetable – “precisely because a person cannot by himself or herself  live there. It is in the place where people have to choose whether they will put their trust totally in God or whether grumbling and impatient at having to depend only on God’s Grace, they return”³ to an unsatisfying status quo whose only benefit is familiarity with it.

For those who do not know Jesus, life itself is a barren wilderness.

 

In the year 26 A.D., much of the talk around the Holy Land was about a thirty-year-old preacher named John or, as many recognizing him from Isaiah's prophecy, THE VOICE OF ONE CALLING IN THE WILDERNESS.

1500 years before, the ancestors of the people now flocking to hear the fiery young preacher had lived in a wilderness like the one that surrounded his outdoor church — wandering there with nothing to guide them but God’s Own signs — living there with absolutely no water, no food, no shade except that with which God miraculously provided them.   Those ancestors had lived there in that wilderness for forty years and, during that time, God’s people had been taught by God what it means to trust in God for everything.  They weren’t able to buy groceries in a supermarket or even gather them from their own gardens. They certainly weren’t able to find them growing wild in that wilderness.  Every meal came to them as a twice daily miracle from God.  Water came through yet another daily miracle.  God lovingly and faithfully even gave them the ultimate blueprint and guide for living these temporal years in The Ten Commandments.

“TWO QUESTIONS EVERYONE MUST ANSWER”

Text – JOHN 18:33—38a

 

GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR –  CHRIST THE KING.

Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year and as we anticipate Christ’s Second Visible Coming and our preparedness for that Judgment Day, our focus is on our temporal and eternal Lord – CHRIST THE KING. When we face CHRIST THE KING on Judgment Day and prepare to enter into the full glory of The Kingdom He has prepared for us, there are two questions everyone must answer.

The first question is “Is CHRIST THE KING?” Pontius Pilate a low level Roman political appointee stood face to face with God Who came to earth as The vulnerable flesh and blood Christ to achieve eternal Salvation for all His subjects and asked, “Are you The King of the Judeans?”

We all know this King’s name is Jesus – the name given to Him by His Heavenly Father, through the angel Gabriel who said to 

Mary, “You will   bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.” 

Ìησους in Greek and Joshua in Hebrew means “God saves” and, in those years when the names people gave their children said something about the hopes and dreams they had for their children, Joshua was a name people of faith often gave to their children Who they prayed would put their total faith in God Who saves.

We are all familiar with the man who replaced Moses as the leader of God’s people and whose father, Nun, named him Joshua.  That Joshua knew how miraculously God saved His people from slavery in Egypt and as miraculously saved them from starvation and thirst wandering 40 years in the barren wilderness. Joshua led God’s people into the Promised Land confident that God would save them from the strong evil forces in their path. His name proclaimed his faith in God Who saves His people – freeing them from slavery and giving them a Promised Land. Confident in God Who saves, Old Testament Joshua followed wherever God lead him and God’s people.  Joshua lived by the faith he had in God Who saves.

God named His Own Son Jesus – “God saves”. But with this Joshua-Jesus there was a difference.  This Jesus is God Himself coming as The vulnerable flesh and blood Christ to save us – not from temporal slavery in Egypt, but from the slavery sin and death hold us captive to – and to lead us not into a temporal Promised Land, but into the full Glory of CHRIST THE KING’s Eternal Kingdom.

And Jesus has a title. The Christ - χριστος in Greek and Messiasin Hebrew - means The Anointed One. In the Holy Land, kings and prophets -  called to service by God - were anointed with oil, blessed, and empowered to serve. CHRIST THE KING was divinely anointed to establish His Eternal Kingdom and to make us citizens in it.

The high priest and other Judean officials - putting their temporal positions and political expediency ahead of their God-given Faith - feared Jesus’ growing popularity and His exposure of their failure to lead their people according to The Word of God. To remove Jesus as that threat to their positions, they accused Him of challenging the authority of Caesar.

Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you The King of the Judeans?”

Showing His knowledge of the political force attacking Him, Jesus asked Pilate, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about Me?”  Pilate  answered, “Am I a Judean? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed You over to me. what have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world.”

Jesus was not saying He does not have authority over this world. 

He was saying that The Source of His Authority is not of this world. 

He said, “My Kingship is not of this world; if My Kingship were of this world, My servants would fight, that I might not have been handed over to the Judeans.”   Temporal rulers assemble temporal servants to fight for them and to overthrow their enemies.

When God was visibly here as The vulnerable flesh and blood Christ, the world was ruled by Caesar with the iron hand of the legions of Rome. Jesus replied to the Roman governor Pilate, “My Kingship is not of this world.” The Source of CHRIST THE KING’s Authority was and is divine and His Reign eternal.

Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?”

Jesus came as The vulnerable flesh and blood Christ to redeem us as members of His Eternal Kingdom so Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to The Truth.  Every one who is of The Truth hears My Voice.”

Pilate’s response brings us to the second question we all must answer. “What is Truth?”  Sadly today, Truthis something many in the media, in government, in entertainment, in education and even in the church have problems defining.

Twentieth Century heretics did not invent political correctness.  

It was well established even before Pontius Pilate practiced it. To Pilate, truth was what Rome and Pilate said it was and what they said it was was whatever was politically expedient at the moment. Pontius Pilate could truthfully find Jesus innocent of all charges and still sentence Him to be crucified because that was the politically correct thing to do.

Jesus said, “if My Kingship were of this world, My servants would fight.”  We are all familiar with militant Muslims who practice Jihad.  Sunni ISIS members are caliphatists. A caliphate (

خِلافة‎) is the official Islamic world government ruled as a dictatorship by a caliph and Sharia Law. The caliph (خَليفة‎ khalīfah or successor) is Muhammad’s successor – not as messenger of God, for they say Mohammad was God’s final messenger – but the caliph is successor as commander of the faithful and conqueror of all who do not believe as the Caliph believes. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaims himself to be the caliph - the absolute ruler of the worldwide Muslim state. All Christians, Jews, and Muslims who stand in the way of his caliphate world conquest are the enemies to be eliminated.

In the midst of the threat from ISIS, there is an even more dangerous enemy.  It is the assault – inside and outside of Christ’s Church – on the Faith, Ethics and Morality of CHRIST THE KING’s Kingdom in heaven and on earth. It is the failure to recognize the Lordship of Christ and The Truth of His reign.  It is the devaluing of human life and the destroying of the family God Himself created. It is the world’s idolatrous beliefs and its lack of God-given Faith.

There are always enemies of Christ’s reign who know that to attack Christ they must destroy Truth – as today they rise to launch the most pervasive attack on Christian beliefs and morals in the history of the world – some of the attacks come from idolatrous religions and some from hedonistic organizations. We are seeing the tragic human harvests created by both groups.

Those who promote old sins as new virtues and who belittle the Authority of God's Word like to accuse those who are faithful to THE WORD OF GOD of being judgmental and of thinking too highly of themselves.  Nothing could be farther from The Truth.  Those who are faithful to THE WORD OF GOD are people who recognize we are all sinners who don't have all the answers.  Those who are faithful to THE WORD OF GOD know that God does have all the answers and that, in Love and Grace, God is willing to share The Truth with us and through us.

The Truth is that Jesus - God saves - is Emmanuel– God with us – God as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ coming to save us from sin, death, and the devil. The Truthis The Christ is The Ultimate Sovereign establishing His Eternal Kingdom for our temporal and eternal citizenship.

As I began to write this sermon, I wrote phrases like the ultimate truth and the real truth – how redundant!  Truth is Truth – it is or it isn’t.

Is Truth the politically correct pronouncements of a ruler who proclaims Jesus totally innocent and condemns Him to a politically correct horrible death? Is Truth the words of some judges, politicians, media figures, preachers, bishops and others who make of truth whatever suits them and their desires in the moment? Is truth political forces, in the name of religion, murdering and raping to make their brand of idolatry the world’s truth? None of that is Truth.

Jesus is The Truth. Jesus says “I AM THE WAY” (God’s Grace alone in Jesus Christ is THEonly WAYto our Salvation).  Jesus says “I AM THE TRUTH” (our God-given Faith in God and in God’s Word is based on THE TRUTH).  Jesus says “I AM THE LIFE” (THE only real LIFEis revealed and lived in Jesus Christ – all else is mere existence and a very temporal one.) Do we want The Truth?  Jesus is The Truth.

“Jesus, Are you the King?”  “Jesus, What is Truth?” Pilate didn’t really care about Jesus’ answer to those questions – not while Pilate was busy putting together his own agenda driven, politically correct version of truth. THE TRUTH is an encumbrance to people - inside and outside of Christ’s Church – who make their own pseudo truth a political correctness branding all who dare challenge it prejudice.  Ultimately Pilate didn’t care and they don’t care.

Today – this final Sunday of the Church Year – we focus on CHRIST THE KING and The Truth.  About that we care.  About that we 

must. That   is The Truth from CHRIST THE KING.

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST THE KING AND HIS WORD NOW AND ETERNALLY.  

AMEN.

+________________________+

CHRIST THE KING – THE LAST SUNDAY OF THE CHURCH YEAR November 26, 2017

 

Dr. Kurt Borows

Pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Catawba Island, Port Clinton, Ohio

 

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