Isaiah 42: 1-7
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
The thing about epiphanies is that they are events when people realize something that was eluding them. A better way of describing this event is like turning on a light. You walk in darkness and you have no clue what is in front of you. Say you are walking down a hallway in the middle of the night barefoot to go to the bathroom and a shooting pain rips all the way your leg as you step on something pointy. You have no clue what you just stepped on and your pain is already distracting you. Finally you get to the hallway’s light switch and behold there is toy on the floor; maybe a Lego or a Hot Wheels car, but tiny with pointy edges. You get an epiphany, a realization. That is what I stepped on. It is like walking in the dark trying to find an object, only for your much smarter better half to turn on the lights for you, thus turning what would have been minutes of searching into mere seconds.
This is why the season of Epiphany is filled to the brim with imageries of light. It begins with us remembering on January 6th the Wise men who follow the Advent Star and ends with us remembering the transfiguration of our Lord.
Now speaking of Wise Men, through the power of the Holy Spirit, it was revealed to them through the studying of Scripture
that the Messiah was to born soon, and that the guide they will follow will be the Advent Star. This was their epiphany. It’s kind of interesting because their epiphany happened not after, but before Christ’s birth. And after their epiphany they gathered their gifts and traveled far so that they could get to this Christ child as soon as possible, how they got their epiphany exactly, we do not know, but we know that such an epiphany could have only been possible through the grace of God. And then shortly after the birth of Jesus, within forty days, in accordance with Matthew and Luke and Leviticus, the Wise Men finally laid eyes on baby Jesus.
Such might have been a second epiphany for them for it is one thing just knowing of something, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game seeing it for yourself. This is why some parents break down in tears of joy upon seeing their child for the first time. This could be during an ultrasound or right after their child’s birth. Such a person knows that they are already a parent, and may have spent many months of preparation for this child, but the full reality doesn’t hit them until they see with their own eyes their son, their daughter. The Wise Men knew of Jesus, but as soon as they saw the baby in Mary’s arms, they immediately fell down and started worshipping Jesus. The full thrust of reality, another epiphany moment, overcame the Wise Men as they saw in front of them their King, their Lord, their Savior.
This is the real reason why Epiphany is celebrated after Christmas, and why we wait to focus on the Wise men until a couple weeks after the birth of Christ, because the true Epiphany the Wise Men had was when they finally saw for the first time, God in the flesh.
Now after Jesus came into the earth, many saw Jesus but knew not who he truly was, short of a Nazarene who was the Son of Joseph the Carpenter. Most who worshiped Jesus before his mission was to begin did so because the Holy Spirit had already revealed to them the full reality of who Jesus truly was. This includes Simeon and Anna who were there on the fortieth day of our Lord, upon his and Mary’s purification ceremony. But outside of the few who were blessed by the Holy Spirit, most people did not know that Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself made flesh. How could they? Why would they? Thus, in order for such to happen, an epiphany of sorts must occur.
When we read our Gospel and the other Gospels that refers to the event of Jesus’ baptism, a question that should be asked is why did God the Father do what he did on that day? He obviously didn’t do it merely for Jesus sake alone, for we know that Jesus
was trying to keep his true ministry secret from the ears of the Pharisees who would have clearly killed Jesus, and thus if this baptism was for merely Jesus then God would had provided his revelation to Jesus in secret. We also know that Jesus doesn’t need an epiphany to realize that he is God’s son, just look at the shenanigan he pulled off when he was 12 and stayed in his Father’s house. So Jesus didn’t need an epiphany. So why did God the Father say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”?
The answer is because God did this not for Jesus’ sake but for those who witnessed this event. This was God the father and the Holy Spirit which descended like a dove intervening on behalf
of Jesus in order to provide all who witnessed this event an epiphany, to realize the full depth of who Jesus was. Let it be known that the only way one can believe that Jesus is Christ is through the Holy Spirit. Thus the Holy Spirit was present, and the Father spoke, all for the sake that all who were present would believe that Jesus was Christ.
And with this event, the official ministry that Jesus was placed on this earth for began. The events that ultimately would lead to the climax of his mission, and of humanity at large, was finally put in motion, as the cat was finally out of the bag. This is the Son of God, and there’s no way you can take that back, especially in the way God presented this fact. Like wildfire the news spread and with it rumors and speculation as many who were not present wondered how this was so. Eventually the Pharisees did catch wind of this Messiah, though they knew not whom the news referred to. It took time, but eventually they were able to apprehend Jesus and kill him on the cross.
But the great epiphany, and with it the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, was in of itself a beginning for many others, a revelation that the prophesied Messiah that they have waited long for has arrived. And like the Wise Men and parents who finally see their birthed children, I could imagine a similar reaction. For most who were present were not present for Jesus, for they knew not Jesus, but for John the Baptizer. The baptized came to be washed in preparation for the coming Lord of whom John has preached about emphatically. There is no way one wouldn’t know of John, lest they lived under a rock, and new that his primary message has always been to make yourself ready for Christ is coming. So
those who came to the river came to hear from the prophet John and his message about the King who was closely approaching. They knew of Christ, but they knew not who Christ was. They heard of him, but they have never seen him, nor did they think that they would on that fateful day.
So as people were being baptized one by one, listening to the words of John, all of a sudden John proclaims that Christ is here! John then makes a scene in front of everyone about how it would inappropriate for him to baptize Jesus, but then relents and baptizes Jesus. Some at this point may have believed that Jesus was Christ at that moment, but others may have not. To those who did not believe, I wonder how many were still in denial after the intervention of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Regardless, those who were there knew of Christ, simply because of John, but now have actually seen him, truly seen him. This was their epiphany moment, as the full depth of all that John the Baptizer has been preaching about reached home. They have finally and knowingly laid eyes on Christ.
Now to all of you, most of you have already had your own epiphany moment. The mere fact that you believe that Jesus is Christ is proof of this. And I mean truly believe, as in having a faith that desires and loves and hopes in the promises of grace through Christ who died on the cross to forgive us of all of our sins. But there are many out there that know of Christ, but know not who Christ truly is. They quite simply lack faith. They have yet to have had an epiphany moment, to realize that they had it all wrong, to realize that the world which lives in darkness has been lying to them the entire time. We can serve as a light for them. For
many live in darkness and knows not the truth. We who do know the truth, which is revealed only through the Holy Spirit, can serve God in the Great Commission by boldly speaking the Word in hopes that the Holy Spirit shines out of us and enters into the hearts of those who lack faith, thus providing them with their own epiphany moment. This can be done in the form of inviting people to church, occasionally saying that Christ did die to forgive us of our sins, and using any opportunity to open up the Bible and speak the plain Word of God.
But know this; you are not the source of the epiphany. God alone is the source of our epiphanies, he who reveals himself to us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be like John the Baptizer, ceaselessly preaching of Christ, for those who have not had their own epiphany; preaching the Gospel in hopes that the Holy Spirit through us opens the eyes and ears and hearts of those who listen so that they too may finally see Christ with eyes a new.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, you who are the source of all revelations, who washes our eyes of the sin that blinds us from the Truth, help guide us as we spread your light for all to see. In your heavenly name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Isaiah 61: 10-62:3
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18
“Word made Flesh”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
Note: The original title of this sermon was changed to “Word made Flesh”.
On this 9th day of Christmas, when it seems like the Christmas Spirit is waning as we prepare for the rest of the church calendar and school schedule and future holidays, there is still much to celebrate about. I for one was still celebrating Christmas yesterday as the Hileman family, my mom's side, came together for the Christmas season. We played games, ate plenty of different foods, and just hanged out. My Grandfather gave his usual dinner prayer/sermon. And we enjoyed our time as all forty some of us caught up with each other's lives while talking about Christmas. Yet as I go to the stores I notice that as the Christmas sale stuff is twiddling the Valentine stuff is already up. I think they are available too early; my mother would disagree by saying that is just over a month away; I would counter, that's the point, its over a month away. But then again, we shouldn't trust in the commercial business to keep with the holiday traditions.
What about music? You've heard me complain about this, but I've always find it odd when a Christian station plays Christmas music during the season of Advent, but go back to their non-Christmas music during the season of Christmas. I mean,
what gives, you call yourself a Christian Station; do you not know the Christmas Seasons or at least the basics of Christmas? There is a reason why there is a song called, “The Twelve days of Christmas,” and I know that you, the Christian Station, knows it exists because I remember you playing the Muppet version of the song just last week. You know, the version when Ms. Piggy sings, “Twelve golden rings... bu-dun-bum-bu.” At least there were a couple of channels that played Christmas music on the second and third day of Christmas, but by the fourth day even their Christmas Spirit started to fizzle out. But to be fair most Christian Stations are Baptist, or confused Baptist. If one can't believe in infant baptism nor in the literal presence of Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist when Christ quite clearly tells and commands us this is so, then do you believe that one would honestly know that there are twelve days of Christmas, let alone faithfully observe such? So I guess we shouldn't trust in the music industry to keep with the holiday traditions.
So whom can we trust? Well obviously Orthodox Churches, such as our own, for it is quite clear we are still celebrating Christmas today. We can also trust in ourselves and our families, for if we truly wish to observe Christmas all season then we will. I for one kept my Christmas tree up all year this last year, but that was mostly because I was too lazy to put it down and it adds a nice splash of green to the house. But my tree is still up. And we most certainly can trust that Christ will always remind us the importance of the season.
Let it be known, there is never a bad time to thank God for sending His Son into the world. There is never a bad time to
praise God for the incarnation of our Lord and Savior who came to us in flesh to live among us, to eat like us, to rest like us, to work like us, to grow like us, and to die like us, though in a more tragic way. We talk about the cross throughout the whole year, mostly because as Lutherans our theology is literally called the Theology of the Cross, we are cross-central confessional Christians, but that doesn't mean we cant talk about the manger throughout the whole year as well. At least, thank Christ for entering into our lives. To thank him for blessing us with his eternal presence in the flesh. To thank him for shattering the dark silence, for he is the Word.
Now in our Gospel, we read that, “the light shines in the darkness.” The world is darkness, and before Christ came this was most certainly true. We know we are born with Original Sin, and that nothing we do will ever merit us forgiveness. Paul tells us quite plainly that that is blatantly obvious for if we could merit forgiveness through the Law, aka Works, then we would have and there would have been no need for Christ to come into our lives. But, because we are all slaves to sin, we couldn't save ourselves, therefore we needed a Savior to have faith alone in. Before Christ no one could enter heaven, for all had fallen into sin. And it is because of our sins that this world is darkness itself. Though God created all and deemed all good after creating everything, it is because of our sins that the world darkened. We are the reasons why the world is darkness, not God. God instead is the light, so when God came into our lives in the form of the Christ child, it was like a light suddenly, and finally, turned on in the vast ever darkness. Christ is the true light, he alone guides us out of the darkness, and he alone saves.
The contrast before and after the birth of Christ is stark. For before Christ there was pure darkness. You couldn't see the path in front of you, let alone your feet. Were you on concrete or stone or grass or swamp? When you made your next step what would your foot land on? No one knew. We were lost in our darkness, in the wilderness, and the way home was unclear. The Kingdom where God reigns was lost to us. We knew of it, but not how to get to it. The Home of our Father, was somewhere, but because of our incompetence to wade through the darkness, there is no hope of ever reaching it by our own power. But after the true light came into the world, the way home became clear. A light was revealed, and the light shone on the path, and in the light was the door of our Father's house. So long as we walked in the light, or get back into the light if we were to stumble along the way, then we will reach home. Again not by our own power, but wholly because of the light that guides us.
But there is another contrast expressed in our Gospel, though not explicitly. We talk about darkness and light, but what about silence and noise? Is not Christ the Word? Words make noise, but Christ is not a mere noise nor a mere word but the true Word. He is the one whose coming shatters the silence. When Christ made the world alongside the Father and the Spirit – in accordance with Genesis which says, “Let us make Man in our image,” and in our Gospel which says, “All things were made through him,” with regards to the Word – he spoke and it came into being. All that was created was created through the Word of God, in the form of a verbal command. God spoke, and it was.
But in our sinfulness, we lowly creatures who live in darkness, live also in silence. The truth is not in us, we know not the truth, and even when it is revealed to us, unless we are of the truth, reborn in it, we ignore the truth. Left to ourselves, we not only wonder in darkness but a eerie darkness that is void of the truth, void of the Word. This silence we lived in was harsh. The only times when the silence was cracked was when the Lord God spoke to or through a prophet. To the average citizen, the only hope of escaping the silence was to hear a prophet, that was if there was a prophet. And it wasn't even the prophet that cracked the silence but God Himself through the prophet. We not only lived in dark times, but also in silent times.
So When Christ did come into the world in the form of a child, wailing like every other babe upon birth, His cry was the cry that all had waited long for. His coming didn't merely crack the silence, but shattered it as the world was forever changed. He was the Word made flesh, so as he entered the world of silence which knew not the truth it was like a chorus of angels and a fanfare of a thousand trumpets suddenly and abruptly lit up a silent auditorium where not even a breath was heard. His coming forever changed us, for He is the spoken Truth we've waited so long for.
You've heard the saying, democracy dies in darkness, let me tell you that darkness dies with the Truth.
You've heard the song “The Sound of Silence,” a sad song of hopelessness about a man whose words of warning fall on the deft ears of those who worshiped a fabricated god which
encourages silence. Let me tell you instead, that silence cannot coexist with the presence of Christ who is the very example of the loud truth that cannot be quieted.
You've heard the first first of Silent night, may even be able to recite it, but let me tell you the second verse. For even though the song begins with the words silent night, holy night, the second verse enlightens us with the knowledge that that night was anything but silent. “Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight; Glories stream from heaven afar, Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! Christ, the Savior, is born! Christ, the Savior is born!” If you look at the verse closely, hymn 65 in the green hymnal, you would notice that every single sentence ends with an explanation mark! The verse is practically shouting to all who hear that angels are singing and that the savior is born. On top of that, as I hear this verse I am reminded of the words of another Lutheran pastor who says as you hear these Christmas songs that mention silence, way the silence of the world against the deafening birth of the Word made flesh.
So whereas you may take down the decorations and cease the Christmas music, that does not mean you have to leave behind the Christmas Spirit. So long, throughout the year, you never forget that the Word that was there since the beginning came into the world and became flesh, know this, the Christmas Spirit is still within you. You may not have candy canes or hot chocolate or wreaths or tree. You may even be worshiping with a jazz band outside. But so long as you remember the Word made flesh, the birth, then you are maintaining the core of Christmas.
And whereas it might be a little odd, I wouldn't mind the occasional Christmas song out of season.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, if left to ourselves we would surely be lost in our silent darkness, but because you love us beyond all understanding you gave to us your Son, the Christ Child, Word made flesh, to be the brilliant Truth that leads us to. In your holy name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Micah 5: 2-4
Psalm 80: 1-7
Luke 1: 39-55
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
With Mary and Joseph, both up to date on God's plan for them, both had the courage and patience and goodwill to follow through with their betrothal to each other and to raising the child that was in Mary's womb. Yet, you can imagine the rumors they feared might arise. Eventually, some will note the baby bump, and calculate that Mary was with child before the wedding. Some may suggest that Mary was unfaithful; some might suggest that Joseph and Mary was impatient and committed sin not waiting until after their wedding. Either way, because the prophecy of Christ demanded a virgin birth, Mary in particular was placed in a most unfortunate and incredibly unique situation.
Now, of all of Mary and Joseph's friends and family, the two who would have been the most understanding and protective of them would have been Elizabeth and Zechariah. They knew this because, Gabriel told Mary of the blessing that was given to Elizabeth. So due to this unique situation Joseph and Mary was placed under, They decided to seek the aid of Elizabeth, that is until the census kicked in and they were required by Roman law to go to Bethlehem.
So as Mary approached Elizabeth, this being the first time Mary and Elizabeth have met since Jesus was conceived, something marvelous happened. The unborn individual who was to be named John leaped in Elizabeth's womb upon meeting the unborn individual in Mary's womb who was to be named Jesus. This was not a meeting between two people, Mary and Elizabeth. This was a meeting between four people: Mary, Elizabeth, Jesus, and John. Now John, though touched by the Holy Spirit, was still an unborn human being. But in the eyes of God, it matters not if you are born or unborn, the blessing of meeting Jesus extends to all persons, for life begins at conception and it is faith, which comes from the Spirit, and not reason that leads living persons to acknowledging Christ. And we know for a fact that John the unborn, who was touched by the Holy Spirit, was most definitely so excited with being blessed by Jesus' presence that he leaped with joy.
And it was this leap that compelled Elizabeth to call Mary the Mother of our Lord, which is where we get the title Mother of God, and Elizabeth's proclamation of joy then compelled Mary to give her own proclamation, which we call today, the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Mary must have been bottling up so many emotions: worry, confusion, elation, anxiety, the need to say something. It wasn't until Elizabeth acknowledged that Mary was blessed for in her womb was the Messiah, that Mary exploded with joy. A domino effect of giving praise, and it all began with the first jolt of joy, John leaping.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, as Christmas comes closer fill us with your Spirit so that we too become so elated with happiness, knowing that Jesus did is already here and has already saved us, that we leap with joy and with words of praise of you on our lips. In your Holy Name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Isaiah 62: 10-12
Luke 2: 1-20
“God Is Here, Emmanuel”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
It is finally Christmas, and the Christ Child that we had waited long for to has been born. For the last four weeks we have been preparing for the coming babe, decorating with lights and garland and trees and ornaments and wreaths. In our own way, we have been preparing our own houses as royal highways for the Lord. And now He is here. Emmanuel, which means God Is Here, has arrived. And this is what Christmas is all about, the core, the center piece, the corner stone of which the season of Christmas rests upon; the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was and is and is to come, the one who will gift himself up as the most precious of blessings, Salvation from sin itself. This is most certainly true, that Christ, which is the whole point of everything, is here, Emmanuel.
And know that Christ is here do we stop the Christmas music? Do we put down the decorations? Do we put away the Royal Highway? We still have 10 more days of Christmas left! Let us at least be merry and gay, not in the secular way, but in a joyous Christian way – let us be merry and gay at least a little longer as we celebrate alongside all the preparations; but merry in what way? If you have family, spend time with them and boldly give cheers to the Lord together in person. If you have friends nearby, do likewise and spread the good news. If you have a good voice, keep on singing the mirth of the Christ Child, as the song implies, “Go Tell it on the Mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.” And if you don’t have these things, if you struggle to find joy, know this, Christ who was born in a device meant to feed animals, who was born in a smelly loud barn stable, who was not allowed to be born in more comfortable conditions such as inside due to overcrowding caused by the census, who was wrapped in cloths meant for lambs, who was a king born in such humble estate, He was born to give joy for all, to include those who also struggled the same way Mary and Joseph struggled. He was born for the downtrodden. He was born for the persecuted, the poor, the wrongfully attacked, the anxious, the humiliated, the diseased, the abandoned; he was born for all people, to include those who struggle to find a light, for He will be your light.
Emmanuel… God is not some clockmaker who winds the clock, or world, up and then leaves it behind. He came to live amongst us. He took on flesh, to be like us, to truly know our pain and our struggle, and to die as well. He doesn’t abandon us, nor did he, like some scholastics would have us believe, but He is always with us, and as proof, he came to us in the form of a babe, God is with us, Emmanuel.
And speaking of scholastics, as well as all those evil ideologues who have twisted poor troubled souls with crafty but oh so unintelligent schemes into believing horrible false notions about Christmas in order to damage our faith in the Christ Child. These includes the malicious beliefs that Christmas is actually a pagan holiday, that Advent wreaths and Christmas trees are pagan in nature, and other things. Here is the fact, not one of our Christian Christmas traditions was founded on paganism. Not one. Do not believe those evil organizations that attack Christmas and Christianity, but instead believe that at the core of Christmas is the Christ Child. Focus solely on Him.
So what is the truth about our Advent/Christmas traditions? In each and everyone one of them is the core of pointing us in some way towards Christ. They serve as imagery of life and color and joy during this season; and the history of each of them are remarkably rich. The first is the date of Christmas. Oh how the parading Grinches love their idiotic nonsense on how Christmas was established to override the roman holiday of Saturnalia. Ignore the fact that Saturnalia is actually traditionally conducted at the beginning of December. Ignore the fact that Saturnalia was established two centuries after Christmas. Ignore that Christmas was established by second and third generation Christians a century after Christ. So why December 25? Did you know that practically all well-learned Judean-Christians during the time after Jesus believed that the world was created on March 25th? Did you know that the early Christians with many years of study together came to the consensus that Christ must have started and ended his life on the day most Christians believed Christ also started the world? And did you know according to their logic, these first century Christians, that if Christ started his life on March 25, then nine months later on December 25 must be the day of his birth. That is how we got December 25th. It was all about Christ’s birth, death, and creation itself.
Well what about our decorations? Let me tell you something fascinating, most of our Christmas decoration traditions were started by Martin Luther or Lutherans in general. And guess what, none of them are influence by paganism. Do not believe the drivel of those who lie to you about how our traditions are not Christ centered but pagan in nature. The most obvious symbol is the Christmas tree.
Now after the black plague, Germany was looking for something to counter the years of dread and death. So during the time of the Reformation, practically all people, Christian, Jew, and others, started to decorate their houses with more greenery. And during the wintery season, evergreen was the perfect decoration for it brought vibrant green into a home. It was a general consensus, but the Lutherans decided to use this as an opportunity to teach Christ. Martin Luther loved music, he loved images; he loved anything and everything that could be used to teach the truth about Christ. So he used this new tradition, which was not pagan in nature, to decorate the first Christmas tree. It was trimmed to maintain its triangle shape so as to incentivize the holy trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; candles where placed in it to represent the light that is Christ who came into the world; a star/angel on top for obvious reasons; and popcorn decorations which were white to represent the holiness and purity of this baby born without original sin.
Now because Germans are very efficient people, they used the trimmings of the Christmas tree to further decorate the house such as making wreaths. Now in Roman culture, the wreath is the roman version of a crown. You know the green laurel thing found resting on the ears of roman rulers? That is the Roman Wreath, or roman crown. And since Germany was the Holy Roman Empire, when they thought of crowns, they used the typical image of a crown in Jesus’ time, the roman wreath. It should also be noted that in the 200’s, a saint who went by the name of Lucia, made the point of wearing a wreath crown with candles tied to it to light her way as she carried food for the poor and hungry and little ones. She also intentionally wore this crown of candles as a way to teach Christ who is the light of the world. Now the foul mouth Grinches would tell you that wreaths and lighting of candles is based off of a Saturnalia tradition… Ignore the fact that Saturnalia was establish a century after St Lucia. But based off the example of St Lucia and her wreath with candles, Martin Luther, started the tradition of making wreaths. Traditionally a crown of evergreen laid on a table with a single white candle in the center to represent Christ is Here, Emmanuel, a centerpiece traditionally found on a Lutheran dinner table.
More candles were also added so as to help little ones count down the weeks for Christmas. Even our food drive and coat drives during Christmas is influenced by St Lucia. And our candle light service? You guessed it, St Lucia. Now there was usually more trimmings leftover so additional wreaths were made and decorated and hung on the Christmas as the first ornaments. Eventually we started hanging these wreaths elsewhere throughout the house, and by the 1920’s the usage of wreaths in America was no longer uniquely Lutheran, and yes wreaths for the majority of American history was a Lutheran tradition, but was used by most Christians.
And one last Christian tradition that surprised me. Santa Clause was also influenced by Martin Luther. December 9th was the day most Christians during the Reformation remembered St Nicholas who was widely popular. St Nicholas who was famous for giving children presents and punching heretics in the face, ignore that latter half we don’t need kids punching heretics in the face. But Martin Luther, fearful that as St Nicholas became more popular that the common person who forget the connection between gifting presents, of which was a common tradition on December 9th, and the most glorious gift of all, Jesus Christ – Luther established the practice of gathering presents on Christmas Eve, thus starting the merger of December 9th’s St Nicholas feast day with Christmas Eve, resulting in Santa Claus. Why because, Luther did not want us to forget that the most important gift of all was, is, and will always be Jesus Christ.
So as we observe Christmas these next ten days, let us sing, and keep our decorations and our traditions, with this most important message always in our hearts: the core of Christmas and all we do is Christ.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, lead us away from the temptations of the Devil who teaches sweet distracting gibberish and instead always keep in our hearts the truth, which is that you indeed came into the world, our king and Savior, to reign now and forever. Amen.
Zephaniah 3: 14-18a
Isaiah 12: 2-6
Philippians 4: 4-9
Luke 3: 7-18
“A Mere Prophet”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
For the longest of time, Israel was without a prophet. Complete silence for centuries, a void, a darkness, has overshadowed Israel. It was like when all the animals have rushed away and an eerie silence befalls a community as the background white noise disappears before the coming storm or earthquake. And a massive was indeed coming, coming in the form of Christ’s arrival. But there was an eerie silence, for the last prophet who walked on the earth was Malachi. You may know him as the author of the final book of the Old Testament, the final book, named after him, Malachi. The Old Testament, the Torah is a living document meant to be a historical account of the Judeans, therefore with each prophet a new book was usually added. But with the eerie silence that befell the people of God, a silence that lasted 3 to 4 centuries, The Torah and the history of Israel stagnated, ever waiting for the next prophet.
So when the next prophet did finally show up, his arrival lead to a most curious reaction. John the Baptizer, a prophet to prepare the people for the coming Messiah, preached simple things and baptized with mere water. Yes, he was a prophet, but because Israel was without a prophet for so long, their perception of him was grander than whom he truly was. He spoke with fire
and brimstone, calling out hypocrites as he disparaged his own listeners with derogatory names such as brood of vipers. He called out the fact that instead of repenting they hid behind Abraham. That is no different than a Christian swollen with pride hiding behind Christ in order to excuse sinful actions and not repent. He called them out and warned them the end times is coming, which is the coming Lamb of God who must die on the cross to save us from our sins.
Concerned, the crowds asked him what they must do while also asking to be baptized. And John gave them obvious answers, answers that should have led to a nonchalant reaction. This includes telling them help the needy, don’t steal, don’t lie, have gratitude; things that the Judeans should already be doing. But because they do not do these things and because it has been a long time since a legitimate teacher has come to tell them the Law, they didn’t just started seeing John as a prophet, but they overreacted so hard that they started asking if whether or not John was Christ.
You may have heard stories of kids who are so horribly abused that they just don’t know what genuine goodness is. They are ridiculed, persecuted, attacked, emotionally manipulated, and beaten. Once rescued, they finally experience genuine care, as a
parent or a friend or a normal civilized person would naturally provide. Yet because, said child has never known kindness, such actions may become too much to handle and those who first treated them with care become like gods to them.
John is providing simple messages that should be naturally understood by the common Judean, but this mere prophet in the eyes of a people who felt abandoned was no mere prophet but their saving grace. He may be a messenger, but that is all he is. Thus John explained to those who reacted with joy at this apparent Christ-like figure, that he is only baptizing them with water, but the true Christ who is coming, and is in fact already here, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. This is why we say baptism is not an act of man but an act of God, because through baptism you indeed, 100%, will receive the Holy Spirit. And if you think that John the baptizer is so great, Christ who is coming and is already here is so much greater that John is unworthy to untie Christ’s sandals, a task that would be done by slaves.
John is a mere prophet, but if you think so fondly of him, then boy are you going to be surprised when the real deal comes. So you are impressed by the words of John? Wait until you hear the real Christ. You think John is fire and brimstone? You haven’t heard such yet. You think John preaches good news? Christ is the Good News. Yes, it is okay to be amazed by John, but his job is to point us towards Christ whose amazingness dwarfs John.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, by sending John to prepare us you allowed us to get a heads up on your arrival and to heighten our expectations of you. Help us to never grow lax in observing your Law and know that your Grace will always be more than our human understanding. In your holy name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.