Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Advent


Fourth Sunday in Advent (A)
December 22, 2013
Text: Matt. 1:18-25

            Christmas is near.  So near you can almost taste it.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve already been tasting the Christmas cookies, undoing everything you’ve worked so hard for since the Lenten fast.  That is why we’ll all make our New Year’s resolutions in a couple of weeks, which we’ll promptly break.  But we aren’t worried about that now.  Not yet.  Now, we’re filled with anticipation and excitement, nostalgic for the Christmases of yesteryear, hoping to capture once again that old Christmas feeling.  But our memories are faulty when it comes to the good old days.  The truth is, Christmas never lives up to its expectations.  We make it so stressful.  There is always so much to get done, the shopping, the cooking, the baking, the merry-making.  There are the decorations to put up, the house to clean, the cards to send, the presents to wrap, the phone calls and visits to make.  Some of it is good and enjoyable, but there’s so much of it.  It’s all a big blur.  Hectic.  Chaotic.  And, of course, when all is said and done, the house is a disaster, the new toys are already broken (and you didn’t get the right batteries anyway), the gifts were wrong and have to be returned, and you’re left, not with a Christmas glow in your heart, but with a giant, Christmas-sized headache.  Some of you have even greater challenges, though.  Some of the family members you love aren’t talking to each other.  Maybe they aren’t talking to you.  Some of your family members or close friends have made decisions that have brought them harm, and deeply disappointed you.  Some of you will face Christmas for the first time without a loved one who has gone to be with the Lord.  Depression is rampant this time of year.  No doubt some of you are suffering with that cross.  And of course, we know about all those among us who are suffering great physical afflictions.  What is it about Christmas that it never lives up to our expectations?  Is Christmas broken?  Has Christmas failed? 
            If you think you have problems this Christmas, just take another glance at the Holy Family’s situation in our Gospel.  An unwed, teenage girl from Nazareth finds herself pregnant.  She tells her family and her fiancé she’s seen an angel, who told her this baby is from God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, the Son of the Most High.  Likely story.  Poor Joseph.  What’s the guy to do?  By all rights he should hand her over to the religious authorities as an adulteress, to be stoned to death.  But he doesn’t want to do that.  He’s a just man, a faithful and pious Jew, waiting for Messiah to come and deliver his people.  He has compassion, and… well, he loves her, the poor schlub.  So, a quiet divorce.  That’s the best answer.  Engagement, betrothal, was regarded as the same level of commitment as marriage.  The only difference was that the bridegroom had not yet taken the bride into his home and there had been no consummation of the marriage.  So you see, Joseph had to divorce her, both to protect his own reputation (he hadn’t touched the girl!), and because the only way to break the relationship is by a legal severing of what God has joined together.  That first Christmas, the family was broken.  Everyone was suffering.  Everyone was hurting.  It would take a Christmas miracle to put it all together again.
            And that’s what happened.  An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.  Joseph, Son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20; ESV).  So, it was true after all!  She wasn’t making it up.  Mary, God bless her, is still a virgin!  She has been faithful.  And not only that, she has been chosen by God to bear His own Son, the promised Messiah.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21).  He’s been given to be the Savior of the world.  The Name “Jesus” means “The LORD saves,” and that is what He will do.  He is the LORD, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, but now also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, and He has come to redeem us, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death. 
            He is the rightful heir to the throne of David.  Don’t miss how the angel greets Joseph: “Son of David.”  The royal lineage is passed down now to Jesus, the Son of David par excellence, the fulfillment of the promise that David would never lack a man to sit on his throne.  But Jesus’ throne is of another sort than King David’s.  Jesus’ throne is made of wood.  It is the throne of the cross, whereon the proclamation is nailed, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (John 19:19).  For on the cross, crowned with thorns, the Savior claims for Himself a Kingdom, a people for His own possession, and you are given to be in that number.  Jesus was born for this, to make you His own by taking on your flesh and blood, coming into your mess of a life, taking on your diseases, your hurts, your sorrows, your griefs, taking into Himself your very sins, all of them, and bearing them to the death of the cross, your death, your condemnation, which He willingly takes upon Himself in your place.  Jesus comes into a broken family in order to redeem your broken family.  He is conceived by an unwed, teenage mother to redeem unwed, teenage mothers.  He is born of a virgin to redeem virgins.  He passes through all the stages of life to redeem us at every stage of our lives, from microscopic embryonic life to the grave.  He is born amidst sin and suffering and hurting because He is the cure to it all.  That is why He came.  Our Lord Jesus did not come into the world expecting us to clean up the house for Him, put up the decorations, bake Him Christmas cookies, and make sure He experienced a Christmas glow in His heart.  He came because we are incapable of cleaning it up.  Because as hard as we strive to decorate our lives with good works, in the end, it’s only worthless tinsel, shiny to be sure, but messy and good for nothing.  Jesus did not come to be adored and receive our worship and praise.  He came to rescue His enemies, those who hate Him, those incapable of worshiping Him, much less believing in Him, those who would crucify Him, you.  That you might be reconciled to God and have eternal life. 
            This is the miracle of Christmas.  Jesus has become one with us.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).  He has suffered everything we suffer.  He has endured everything we endure.  He knows what it means to be sick.  He knows what it means to be heartbroken.  He knows what it means to be falsely accused, arrested, tried, beaten, tortured, mocked, and condemned to death.  He knows it all.  Because He’s suffered it.  He’s been there.  He’s one of us.  He’s as with us as with us can be, truly our Immanuel.  The only difference is, He never sinned.  But He does know what it means to be a sinner.  For He became THE sinner for us.  All our sins were heaped on Jesus, that the Father would punish them all there, in His body, on the cross of Calvary.  So we have no more sin.  Jesus has taken it all away.  He has paid for it all in full.  This was the plan all along.  The proof is that now He is risen and lives and reigns at the right hand of the Father, and He will come again to get us, to deliver us finally, once and for all, on the Day of our own resurrection from the dead.  
            This is a great comfort for us at Christmas and always.  Jesus does not fail to come to us because our lives are messy.  He comes precisely because of the mess.  Christmas is not about having everything neat and in order.  Christmas is not about all the hustle and bustle that becomes so distracting.  And above all else, please understand that Christmas is not about a feeling at all.  A warm glow is nice, but Christmas can get along just fine without it.  Nor is Christmas about giving and receiving gifts, or getting together at Grandma’s.  In fact, this may surprise and even offend you, but Christmas is not about your family.  Nor is it about coming to Church to adore the baby Jesus.  That would be your work for Him, and Christmas is most assuredly not about your work for Him. Christmas is about this one objective fact: God has come in the flesh to save you.  And He comes to you right here in the Church in His flesh, in His Word and Sacrament, to deliver that salvation wrapped up in the swaddling clothes of Words and water, bread and wine.  Everything else you add to Christmas, the traditions, the decorations, the feasting, the presents, and even the family gatherings… though those things be good and wonderful, they have nothing to do with the essence of Christmas.  The essence of Christmas is Jesus.  The essence of Christmas is Christ for you.  He is for you, right where you are, right in the mess that is your life, right in your sin and suffering and death, right in your disappointments and depression and broken relationships, right there to cover it all with His blood and forgive it. Christmas is not broken.  Christmas has not failed.  Christmas is doing exactly what it was given to do.  Giving you Christ.  Everything else, beloved, is just wrapping paper.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

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