Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Advent Midweek I

Advent Midweek I: The LORD Builds the House
December 5, 2012
Text: Psalm 127

            If you read the December newsletter, you know that this time of year I often pine for the perfect family Christmas complete with all the trimmings.  A certain longing for the perfect family Christmas is built into our culture, from Norman Rockwell paintings to George Baily in It’s a Wonderful Life.  But we ultimately know it’s an illusion.  We confess it in our secular Christmas songs, like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “White Christmas,” which are actually about our dreams for a Christmas that never materializes.  The singer of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” will only be there in his dreams.  Bing Crosby dreamt of a white Christmas like the ones he used to know.  It all worked out in that particular movie, but we all know that, snow or not, Christmas never quite lives up to its expectations.  The perfect family Christmas doesn’t happen because in this fallen world full of sinners, the perfect family doesn’t happen.  It’s a mess, this business of family.  Family members argue.  Children misbehave.  Some children never get the chance to live and be present around the table.  Loved ones are missing due to sickness and death.  Greed and commercialism get the best of us in spite of our objections.  So we long for what is unattainable: The perfect family Christmas.  As defined by us, that is to say.
            Our Psalms for this Advent midweek series refocus our attention.  They each have something to teach us about family and our place in the family of God.  More importantly, they each deliver Christ.  So as we prepare for Christmas in this preparatory season of Advent, the Scriptures have their way with us, which is to say, the Holy Spirit has His way with us.  We learn of God’s will for us and His plan for our salvation.  We receive Christ through our ears and in our mouths, and having received Him, we sing His praise in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  Psalm 127, written by King Solomon, places into our mouths our God’s teaching about family and the nation.
            So to begin with, there is the confession that “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1; ESV).  The “house” here means your family.  It is the Lord who has given us our families and continues to provide our daily bread to sustain those families and protect them.  Our other readings shed some light upon this.  Our Old Testament lesson (Gen. 2:15-25) shows us that God instituted marriage for our good, for companionship, for procreation, for husband and wife to cling to one another and become one flesh.  Our Gospel lesson (Matt. 19:1-15) shows us that it is the Lord’s will that what He has joined together never be separated, and the He longs to bless our children, which, by the way, happens for our children in their Baptism and as they learn His Word here in the Divine Service and in the Sunday School classroom.  Beloved, you didn’t establish your family or build your house by your own efforts.  The Lord did this for you.  The Lord God built your house, placed you in a family, gave you the vocation of husband or wife, son or daughter, brother or sister.  If you try to build this on your own, it will all be in vain.  Actually, you couldn’t build this on your own if you tried.  Even the families of unbelievers are gifts given to them by our gracious Lord.  Christians acknowledge this fact, and receive their families and their daily bread with thanksgiving to the God of heaven, from whom every good gift and every perfect gift proceeds (James 1:17).  Christians establish their families on the basis of God and His Word.  “Oh, blest the house, whate’er befall, Where Jesus Christ is all in all!” (LSB 862:1).  Christians bring their families to Church faithfully to hear the Word of God and receive the Sacrament.  Christians bring their families to Bible Class and Sunday School to drink ever more deeply of our Lord’s Word.  Christians make that Word the center of their family life together.  And in so far as they don’t, they repent.  It’s a struggle to do this, but it’s worth the struggle.  And God blesses anyway, graciously, apart from our ability to live up to our vocations in the family.  He establishes the family.  He builds the house.
            And what is true for our families is true for our nation.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Ps. 127:1).  Our security and our prosperity as a nation depend upon the LORD.  Our government, believe it or not, is God’s gift to us.  But the government is not God.  It is God who gives us peace and quietness, who gives His Word free course to be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, who gives us security and the freedoms we enjoy so that we can live as His children and joyfully confess Him.  And He can take those blessings away.  In any case, it all depends on Him.  He gives these blessings to believers and unbelievers alike.  We have no peace or safety apart from Him.  Christians acknowledge this, and live their vocations as citizens fearing God and honoring the government, paying taxes and performing their civic duties.  We trust not in princes.  We trust in the Lord alone.  Whatever happens, we need not fret and worry.  God gives to His beloved sleep (v. 2).  We don’t need to lose sleep at night.  God is still in control.  He continues to give us daily bread.
            And what is perhaps most remarkable about this Psalm over against the messages that we hear from our culture, is this: “children are a heritage from the LORD” (v. 3).  Having children is a good thing.  In fact, the more the merrier: “Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them” (v. 5).  So much for the myth of overpopulation.  Now, this is no judgment upon those who don’t have children for whatever reason.  But this is to say that in our culture of casual, consequence free sex, where children are often regarded as an inconvenience or a punishment, and where abortion on demand is regarded as a sacred right, this Word of the Lord is a necessary corrective.  Children are always a blessing.  They are a blessing whether planned or unplanned.  They are a blessing when they are born disabled.  They are a blessing when they don’t live very long or are stillborn.  Ah, yes, they are a blessing even though they bring us suffering and tears.  Some parents will meet their child for the first time in heaven.  They are a blessing when the budget is tight, when we have to lower our standard of living to support them.  They are a blessing when they are born to single mothers, when kids (or grownups, for that matter) make a “mistake,” even (to be extremely controversial) when they are the result of the great evil that is rape.  Children are never begotten apart from the Lord’s will.  Not even when their parents sin in their conception.  Every child is a child for whom our Lord Jesus Christ became flesh, a zygote for zygotes, and embryo for embryos, a fetus for fetuses, a baby for babies.  Every child is a child for whom our Lord Jesus Christ died, that they might have eternal life.  Every child is wanted by God.  Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14).    
            And speaking of unplanned pregnancies, consider Mary of Nazareth.  She’s an unwed mother.  The whole town is talking.  Her betrothed, Joseph, thinks he should put her away quietly.  By Law he could have her stoned to death, but the heartbroken fool loves her.  She’s sent out of town to Cousin Elizabeth, to hide herself away.  Even after the angel appears to Joseph in a dream to clear things up, the scandal continues.  Off to Bethlehem for the census, there’s no room in the inn.  The baby is born to poor parents in a stable, laid in a feeding trough, among the animals.  It’s the perfect family Christmas!  Because this boy, born in poverty and scandal, is God.  He is THE Child who is the heritage of the LORD.  He is our house, our home, our mighty fortress.  He gives us, His beloved, sleep.  Because He comes to us in the middle of the mess that is our lives and our families and our broken hopes and dreams.  He comes to us in the middle of our sin and death and shame.  And He takes all that is wrong, all that is broken, all that is deadly and dead, to His cross, where He dies for us.  Merry Christmas.  That’s the big gift of God for you.  Salvation in God’s cross and death.  New life in His resurrection.  Your Savior, born of an unwed teenage mother, this inconvenience, the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
            So understand, you won’t find the perfect family Christmas around the dinner table or the Christmas tree.  That for which we pine in our Christmas music and movies is actually found, of all places, around the Lord’s Table, the altar, where the God who became flesh for us gives us His flesh and blood to eat and to drink for our salvation.  The children of God are right where they should be at Christmas.  Around His Table.  The LORD has built this house.  The LORD has brought you into it.  Whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, there is always a place for you here.  Here, your Father says to you, “Welcome home, dear child.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

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