Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Sermon

Christmas Eve
Matthew 1:18-25
Bror Erickson
[18] Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. [19] And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. [20] But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "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. [21] She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." [22] All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
[23] "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel"

(which means, God with us). [24] When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, [25] but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus for he WILL SAVE his people from their sins. You will call his name Jesus for he will save.
Matthew opens up in a peculiar way giving the story of Jesus birth. Legend has it that Matthew interviewed Joseph concerning the birth of Jesus. It makes sense. The story seems to be told from a man’s perspective. Nothing about the journey to Bethlehem during Mary’s third trimester, or why they had to go. Just a bit of a story concerning Joseph’s misgivings concerning Mary’s pregnancy, and the angel's visit. It picks up in Bethlehem, the visit of the magi, Herod’s slaughter of the innocent, and the trip to Egypt. Which Luke does not concern himself with, possibly because Matthew already had. But we are told that Mary’s child shall be called Jesus, because he will save his people from their sin. The theme of the story is given in the name, the plot is set. “He will save his people from their sin.” In reality the rest of the story is not much more than a working out of this. He will save his people from their sin. The next question to be asked is “how will he do this?”
But perhaps there is another question that needs to be asked. Who are his people? I think Joseph would have understood this to mean, at least when the angel uttered it, the Jewish people. Jesus was a Jew. And it would make sense that Joseph would nationalize this statement according to his own ethnicity. But to do so would be to forget that Jesus, this little child, as of yet not born, begotten by the Father and conceived by the Holy Spirit is in fact God, as John will not let us forget tomorrow morning. This little child, as of yet not born, is the creator of the world who made you and me, indeed he is responsible for creating Joseph and Mary. And it seems to me that if he created me, I belong to him, that if I owe him my existence, then I am his people, and if you owe him your existence you are his people.
And of course it makes sense that that is true, but we don’t live as though it were. We belong to God, but we live as if we were God’s of our own. We live as though we belonged to no one but ourselves. Perhaps we owe it to society to respect the rights of others to live as though they were God, and not to impose upon that delusion by respecting their persons. But we listen to our neighbor, respect our neighbor, more than God. Even knowing that we must obey God rather then men. In day to day living we are much more inclined to listen to our neighbor than to God. We will honor our neighbor’s request that we follow the speed limit in our neighborhood, that we don’t play our music loud enough to disturb his sleep, we mow our lawn out of respect for our neighbor as much as we do for the personal satisfaction of having a mowed lawn. But God invites us to a feast Sunday after Sunday, and we think of it more or less as an optional thing. We worry more about not making it to the company Christmas party to brown nose the boss than church on Sunday morning. We find ourselves married to people who don’t recognize God, and we sleep in with them on Sunday morning so as not to cause a disturbance, or an awkward moment. Sometimes we stop going to church all together. God asks that we give what we can with a cheerful heart, and we begrudgingly give him five bucks more out of a feeling of guilt than any joy to be supporting his work in this community and throughout the world. I won’t go into all the worldliness that surrounds the Christmas season, I’m not sure that all of that is bad in and of itself, but I do get a bit concerned when Christians are more concerned about what they will get for Christmas than honoring Christ’s birth by attending church. It is Christ mass after all. Whatever other holiday might be celebrated at this time, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, so named because He will save his people from their sins, of which we his people have many, mostly because we are more concerned about the things of this world that is corrupt with sin, than we are about the things of God.
“You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” It is an amazing way to start this story, this story that begins at Christmas with the birth of a baby boy in Bethlehem, a story that continues in Epiphany with the miracles and sermons that reveal Jesus as the Christ, and Lent in which we join Christ in his journey to Jerusalem where he dies for this sins of the world, saves his people from their sin and comes to completion with his resurrection and victory of death in Easter, but a story that never really ends, even as it begins in the eternal begetting of the son, so it continues through out time, where people are brought to believe that this little baby boy is God who has saved them from their sins, just as the angel confidently said he would. Not a partial salvation that merely tells us hoe to overcome sin in our lives by giving up this or that, or doing this and that, but by forgiving our sins with the blood he shed for us on the cross, the blood that he offers us now for the forgiveness of sins, that blood that was assumed into the divinity, when the only begotten son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary and was named Jesus for what he would do, save his people from their sins.

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