Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent (B)

December 11, 2011
Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28

Well, I don’t know about you, but an awful lot of, shall we say, stuff, gets in the way of my “Christmas spirit” this time of year. It’s a great time to be a pastor, but a very busy time that often leaves me feeling overextended. There are extra services to prepare for, extra sermons to contemplate and write, and for whatever reason, Satan is especially active burdening Christians this time of year with emotional, physical, and spiritual pain. And then as a husband and a father, there is the endless Christmas shopping, wondering where the money is going to come from, long lines at the post office, grumpy people hustling and bustling to get wherever they’re going, full of anything but holiday cheer. And we miss our family out on the West Coast. Some of them will be with us, but most will be together many miles from us. I know, I’m just whining. Except that if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the fact that when you examine your own life and your own vocations, especially this time of year, you find that an awful lot of, shall we say, stuff, gets in the way of your “Christmas spirit” too. The point of my pity party is simply that there’s something common to us all at work here. No matter how hard we try, the “Christmas spirit” we yearn for is unattainable. It seems to be just out of reach. It seems like if we just gave or received the right gift, if the kids would just behave, if the family would just get along for once, if, if, if, then we’d have that Christmas spirit we so desperately desire.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the fact is, the so-called “Christmas spirit” doesn’t exist. At least not the “Christmas spirit” of sappy sentimentality and nostalgia. It never has and it never will. It’s a false god. That’s why even rank unbelievers run after it. It’s a false god because it displaces Jesus Christ. The fact is, the so-called “Christmas spirit” all too often edges out the Holy Spirit. It edges out the Word of God. It edges out the Word made flesh who made His dwelling among us, you know, the whole reason we have Christmas in the first place. And that’s why we need the preaching of St. John the Baptist. St. John was sent by God to testify to the Light that was coming into the world, the Light that is our Savior, Jesus Christ. He was sent to preach repentance: “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23; ESV), “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). John was sent by God to preach repentance, that we might receive that Light that was coming into the world, and so receive the forgiveness of sins and new life.

How easily we are distracted from the true Light that enlightens every man by the empty promises of tinsel and glitter. Now, let me say, I enjoy the trappings of the season as much as the next guy. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves. But we have the same problem the Jews have in our text. For them, religion had become all about the trappings, and had nothing to do with repentance and the forgiveness of sins, nothing to do with the Messiah who was to come into the world. Just like Christmas for us. Please do remember that Christmas is a religious holiday. It is not primarily a romantic holiday, or a charitable holiday, or a family holiday. All those things are wonderful, but they do not define Christmas. Whatever else it may be, Christmas is first and foremost the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The place to celebrate it is here at the church, where Jesus is, dispensing His gifts. It’s Jesus’ birthday. Come to His house to celebrate with Him. And even here in the church, don’t make the holiday about glowing candles and Christmas carols, as wonderful as those things are, too. Christmas is about what everyday of your Christian life is about: Jesus Christ, living in your Baptism, repentance and the forgiveness of sins, communion with the living God and with His people, your fellow Christians, loving and serving your neighbor. Make straight the way of the Lord. That means examine yourself, repent of your sins, confess them and hear the absolution from your pastor and believe it. Shove aside everything that gets in the way of that message, everything that takes your eyes off of Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith (Heb. 12:2). Hear His Word. Live in your Baptism. Rejoice to receive His body and blood at the Supper. In this way you prepare to receive the Lord in His coming at Christmas, and in His coming again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead.

This Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, is traditionally known as Gaudete, Latin for “rejoice.” We’re half way to Christmas. That’s why the candle on the Advent wreath is rose, the color of rejoicing. We rejoice because the Light is coming into the world. The Light is coming into the world to dispel the darkness of sin and death and Satan’s trickery. The difficulty is, though, that our sinful flesh loves darkness. It despises the Light because the Light exposes us for what we are: sinners in need of salvation. The sinful flesh prefers the dim, humanly-devised light of that phantom “Christmas spirit” we were talking about. It would prefer to make Christmas about anything but Jesus Christ and salvation from sin. It would prefer to remove Christmas from the Church. Because in the dim light of the “Christmas spirit,” we can make ourselves appear to be good and kind people, charitable and generous. But in the true Light of Christmas, the Light that is Jesus, the innermost thoughts of our hearts are exposed, and they are ugly thoughts. Every secret deed, every ill-spoken and bitter word, every callous thought comes into the Light to be dealt with when Jesus comes on the scene. Sin is exposed in the Light of Christ so that it be forgiven, covered over by His blood, buried in His tomb. Sin is exposed and dealt with so that it cannot condemn us. And that is reason for great rejoicing. So do not hide in the darkness any longer, beloved. When you find yourself being sucked back into the darkness and distracted by everything that is not Jesus Christ, repent. And rejoice in His gifts. Rejoice that you are Baptized. Rejoice that He pronounces you righteous with His own righteousness. Rejoice that He feeds you with the Supper of His body and blood. That is what Advent is all about. That is what Christmas is all about.

And that is how we make straight the way of the Lord. By repentance and faith. It begins with a deep, deep sorrow over our sins and offenses against God, our despising of His Word and gifts, our lovelessness toward our neighbor, our lust for other gods who are flashier and who tickle the fancies of our flesh. And then we immerse ourselves in the means of grace where God dispenses to us all the benefits of our Lord Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. And we rejoice. Gaudete. We rejoice, because we do not get what we deserve, what we have coming, eternal punishment in hell. God has mercy on us. He is gracious. He gives us what we do not deserve: salvation, eternal life, the love of God, joy in the Gospel, perseverance under trial and the cross, the peace of God that passes all human understanding, and every other good gift besides. In reality, that is how the Lord makes straight His path in us. He sends His Holy Spirit so that we hear and heed the preaching and believe in Christ as our Savior from sin and death.

The “Christmas spirit” is no substitute for the Holy Spirit. It produces no real rejoicing. Just disappointment. Because it takes our eyes off of Jesus and distracts us with all the stuff of the world’s celebration. And the stuff of the world’s celebration is fallen. Even the good stuff and the necessary stuff can take our eyes off of Jesus and become a god to us. Repent, beloved. Make straight the way of the Lord. Prepare this Advent season to receive your Lord at Christmas here as He comes to you in His Word and Sacrament. Prepare for Him to lighten your heart with His gracious visitation. And what you’ll find when you believe that Christmas is about receiving Christ as God’s gift to you, is that Christmas will not fail. It will not, and cannot. Your yearning will be satisfied, because your delight will be in God, and in His Son Jesus Christ. And the Light who is Christ will shine even in the midst of the busyness of the season and the stuff that surrounds our celebration and even the attacks of the devil who would take your eyes off of Jesus. He won’t be able to, because the Light who is Jesus Christ dispels all darkness. He comes to you and gives Himself to you. This gift is certain. There are no ifs. And He is never out of reach. He is right here, right now, for you. Rejoice, beloved. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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