Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Advent II - Mostly Malich 4, but also, dag nabbit, on th concept of Christmas and Christ Mass which is a much needed proclamation

(wma Audio file download here)

Are you ready? Your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation. Are you ready?

Are you getting ready for Christmas? I am. I’ve got more than enough to do. It’s a good thing I started planning services back before Thanksgiving, or I’d be dead in the water now. And my guess is, I’m not alone. There’s lots to do to get ready for Christmas. It’s a big day.

We gotta string up lights. We gotta kill a tree. We gotta hang some stockings that everyone knows won’t get coal in them no matter how our children behave. “It’s the most wonderful time, of the year.”

So much to do to get ready that one almost wishes it were all over. So much to do in anticipation, that one might be tempted to think the celebration is secondary. For most, the celebration is secondary, in fact, it’s worse than secondary – it simply isn’t worth it to most people, because most people, no matter how chatotically they have prepared for Christmas, will not be in Church on Christmas day. Now isn’t that just the strangest thing for a Christian not to do.

It was either last year or the year before, (I can’t remember which) that Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago Illinois, one of the largest congregations of God-worshipers in the United States of America canceled Christmas. To some it seemed a bizarre rendition of a Dr. Seuss book breaking into reality, though with a lot less green fur. To others it was a beautiful tribute to family values and the things this country should stand for more often, because, after all the, the real meaning of Christmas is the American dream, Grandma, apple pie, the free market, yada yada yada.

But to me, well, I wasn’t really all that surprised when Willow Creek canceled Christmas. They weren’t the first to do it, just the biggest. But it’s been happening for years here in America. And actually, it really makes a whole lot of sense. You see, when you believe “Church” is really about you worshipping god, especially in as heartfelt a way as possible, and when you judge all forms of worship by how much you enjoy them, because you can only be heartfelt about the things you enjoy - then why waste a perfectly good morning of spoiling the kids in order to go sing the Christmas version of “Shine Jesus Shine?” You can get all the real Christmas carols you want on Christmas Eve.

So it’s like this: When the closest you can ever get to Jesus is singing the you personally songs you like best, feeling the best emotions about God that you can by any means possible, then there is no good reason to break away from that parade of crumpled up paper and ribbon, which we all enjoy, and which gives us those good emotions. That can be about Jesus too, right? Why not?

You see, the sectarians, those who like to play church by themselves without the rest of history, the sectarians really believe that you do have to try hard to find God, either inside of yourself, in your experience and emotions, or somewhere out here, in the air or something. And when they gather and sing songs together, they think the emotions they feel out here are the Holy Spirit. And, by and large, they also really begin to believe that anywhere they experience those same emotions means the Holy Spirit is at work there too. And so, hanging out with family, if it feels good, is where they can be certain to find God.

Now I wouldn’t have a problem with this if it wasn’t completely without any support whatsoever from the Bible. Don’t get me wrong: the Bible is all for time with family, and beautiful music, and striving for joy and contentedness and such. But the Bible is pretty darn clear that your feelings are not proof that God is there. Your feelings are about as subjective and fleeting as the wind. And without something to moor you down, you will be tossed to and fro by every wave of teaching, human cunning, and the craftiness of the devil’s lies. That’s what the Bible says.

And so, it should really come as no surprise to us whatsoever that a giant congregation that teaches and believes that human experience is the primary rule of worship, life and doctrine, after finding that getting up and coming together on Christmas morning is a bit of a downer after the previous nights festivities, which, because they’re night services, always feel more special – it should come as no surprise to us that their spiritual guides figured, “why waste the effort?” We had a better turn out and a far more personal experience with God last night anyway.

It really comes down to this. When coming to Church is about the emotional high you receive, then you’re bound to eventually get really bored with a symbolic eating of a little bread and wine. When you’ve had the band work themselves into a trembling sweat, and the preacher cast down holy fainting spells upon everyone who’s got the flu, and the Christmas pageant last week took all your energy and time, and the last packages for tomorrow still aren’t wrapped yet, and you just want a little time to find some rest and relaxation, if this meal God coming to you to find you without a shadow of a doubt or an ounce of subjectivity or a chance of not being real, then there is no good reason to get up on the morning of December the 25th. None, whatsoever. All the churches should close down so that people can try to find God in their own way.

Yes, this is ignoring the reality of our original sin, and the fact that none of us can find God no matter how hard we try, which is precisely why God must come to us in objective means that can’t be missed or misconstrued, than can’t fail to do what they say, like bread going down your gullet to buy for God. Yes, Willow Creek was ignoring this because they, like all of the great movement of charismatic-leaning American Evangelical theology denies the sacrament, physical flesh of Christ as the meaning of Christmas. For them, the Christmas sacrament is the charismatic sacrament that they all serve as if it were a great big stone statue named baal: “personal experience.”

Again, the only problem I have with it is that it is entirely contrary to what the Bible says, and, it is entirely contrary to what the Church fathers said the Bible says, and, it is entirely contrary to what the Lutheran fathers say that the Church fathers say and the Bible says, and, to boot, it is entirely contrary to the entire structure of every bit of tradition which is in the least bit catholic, and by that, I mean universally Christian, historically authentic, and, more importantly, more concerned with what the Bible says than with what you or I personally experience.

Do you get it? Do you see? Its kind of like St. Paul says in Romans chapter 15: whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

What the Bible says, Old Testament or New, is important…more important than any experience you will have this holiday season. And you know what the Bible says about that manger scene and those shepherds and that star in the sky? It says that that was the incarnation of the Lord God into human flesh. But it also says that that happened a long time ago and for a reason. It says that that baby came to save people from their sins. It says that he then grew up into a man. It says that then, the night before he was betrayed, he took bread, broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat, this is given for you…for the forgiveness of sins. Do this often in remembrance of me.” Then he went away, saying “I’m coming back, soon.”

See, the Bible says that every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we participate in the incarnation of the Christ. The same incarnation that was that baby in the manger is this bread and wine today. The mystery, the wonder, the shepherds (who were the poor), the wise men (who were the nations,) the star (that is the sign of prophecy), the angels and archangels (that sing holy holy holy, Lord God almight) all of that incarnation celebration still happens in the True Church where Jesus Christ is more than just your own personal experience or a nice emotion or a memory or a dream or a wind of teaching or a moment of heartfeltness – See, your King actually comes to you, this year, righteous and having salvation through his word and sacraments.

Are you ready? Are you getting ready for Christmas as a Christian? Are you getting ready for Christmas as a holiday that is all about Church, because Church, Word and Sacrament, are all about Jesus? Will you even be here? Or will you, like Willow Creek and so many others, cancel the real meaning of Christmas for what you’d rather be doing?

Don’t get me wrong. Christmas Eve is going to be beautiful here. It’s going to be great. It is going to be a worship experience like you possibly have never had before.

But you know what, as great as that experience will be, Christmas day is going to be better. Because on Christmas day, regardless of how you feel, regardless of whether you enjoy it or get an emotional high, regardless of your subjective, personal experience, your King will be incarnate for you, coming for you, righteous and having salvation for you, once again, because that is what your King, the Christ, who was born, grew up, lived, died and didn’t stay dead – that is what He does for you and will do for you until the day you die because he really wants you to live forever and He knows better than the rest of us that that only happens if you stay connected to Him.

That is the meaning of Christmas. Jesus Christ in the manger of bread and wine is the most important thing in life, the one thing needful, the one thing our children must be taught, and learn, and remember from this time of year: Christmas day long ago Jesus was born a babe in Bethlehem. Christmas Day, 2006 Jesus will be born again in you, as the freely given seal and mark of eternal life.

And this is important for you and your children because the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all the evildoers will be made into stubble, into chaff, into dust and ashes. This is no symbolic talk, this is real fire and brimstone like that which destroyed the ancient kingdoms of Sodom and Gomhoraa. This is real life damnation that shall set everything that is not in Christ ablaze. On that Day being on fire for Jesus will take on a Biblical meaning, and friends, you do not want your children to live to see that as their future.

And this is why the Gospel of Jesus Christ is such good news. For you who fear his name, for those of you who tremble at the sound of his coming and the destruction he brings, for those of you who know that giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing is a dangerous step closer to thinking there is really nothing to fear, for those of you know you sin, for it is ever before – Christmas is the greatest day in the year, second only to the Easter morn which proved its value. Christmas day is the day that for us men and for our salvation Jesus Christ was incarnate of the virgin Mary and was made man so that he could suffer for us under Ponius Pilate.

He may not have held a cross in that manger, but he was already carrying it, carrying sickness and infirmity, carrying dirty diapers and hunger, carrying cold chills and stinking stables, bearing up the sins of the world in himself so that he could take them all and nail them to the cross, and so the blood that flowed from that nailing could go out into all the world, literally, by the power of God, through Christ’s Mass, through Christ’s Supper, to give the Christ Mass present he came to give, free, eternal, covering-like-a-blanket righteousness and salvation which on the Day of his appearing will send you forth leaping like a new born calf.

Are you ready for that day? Yes. Jesus makes you ready, right here, not by your eating, but by his giving. Not by your drinking, but through is pouring. Not by your listening, but by his speaking. Extra nos. Outside of you, out side of your personal experience, outside of your heartfelt intentions, outside of your sick, wicked, lazy flesh – your King comes to you so that on the Day when Christmas will be canceled once and for all, on the day when all who have rejected Christ’s appearing will find their perdition, on the day when all who have despised the incarnation of God in flesh to save from sin, you, my friends, and your children, whom this promise is truly for, will find that every last drop of mystery eaten and drunk from the palms and feet of the Son of God is worth more than all the most priceless experiences you’ve ever had, because that free gift, that free grace, that free pardon which the Word of the Lord comes to you endures. Yea. God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Why? Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day – WHY? To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy! Tidings of comfort and joy. Here they are: Take eat. Take drink. For the forgiveness of your sins. For life and salvation in the world to come. This gets you ready! Tidings of comfort and joy.

In the Name…Amen.

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