First Sunday of Christmas—Sermon
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Merry Christmas! Yes, that’s right, Merry Christmas!! Though the radio has silenced its holiday tunes and the stores have shuffled out their green and red wares to make room for red hearts and white cupids, we in the Church still say Merry Christmas! For though the 25th has passed, the season has not ended! Christmas continues, the hymns keep being sung, the cheer and well wishes continue and the tree stays in its nobel place. Therefore fear not fellow Christians for there are still days remaining to send out those Christmas cards and letters….for which Alicia and I are always thankful. With the hustle and bustle of all leading up to the big day, things get overlooked and time eventually runs out, but it is not so in the Church for the season of Christmas is 12 days! The song, the 12 Days of Christmas, got its cue not from the secular world, but from the actual Calendar of the Church. Therefore, let us continue to dispel the “Bah Humbugs” and keep witnessing to that eternal and everlasting joy that is ours in the babe born at Bethlehem. For that is why we are given these 12 days, not to make Christmas a pass-over holiday, but to dwell richly and drink deeply from our Savior’s coming. To sit and be permeated with the true Truth of Christmas in order that that saving Good news will awaken the light of faith in us so that we might bear witness to Him who is our savior, Jesus Christ.
In this season we are surrounded by many such witnesses who have gone before us. December 26th, the day after Christmas, is the Feast Day of St. Stephen the first actual martyr of the Christian faith. Stephen was ordained a deacon by the apostles in Acts 6 and then carried out his work and ministry, which included the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He did so with truth and boldness for the faith, not backing down to the darkness which surrounded him as those he preached to took exception to His cutting words. He shined his light in the darkness, but the darkness did not overtake him, even while Paul held the coats of his attackers. He with faith and hope of the resurrection, a hope born to the world at Christmas, gave His final breaths proclaiming that Jesus is Lord, as he hid his life in the hand of Christ.
December 27th is the Feast day of St. John, the evangelist. The one who did not die a martyrs death, but was no less a witness. He lived to good age and with each passing day wrote, taught and shared the faith. It was he who gave literary form to the Word of God in His most powerful Gospel that bears His name. It is He who wrote, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the word was with God. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. That Christmas passage that we read just a few nights ago as we turned off the lights and shared the flame of a sing candle to each other, symbolizing the sharing and passing on of our own faith to others.
December 28th is the Commemoration of the Holy Innocents, those children who succumbed to Herod’s wrath that we heard about this morning. Whose lives witness not directly to Jesus Christ, but stand as a testament to the true evil and darkness of the world. A world in which those most precious and innocent, children, bear the wrath of a mad king. A world of deep darkness, in which our Lord entered, that made Egypt safer for a Jewish boy, than the Jewish town of Bethlehem. Listening to Matthew’s words this morning, we hear echoes both of Genesis and Exodus. In Genesis, the homeland of Jacob/Israel and his sons, had become barren and plagued with famine and therefore Joseph led his family to Egypt to save and feed them. In Exodus, Pharaoh called for the slaughter of the male firstborn sons of Israel and Moses was delivered safe through a basket down the river. In Matthew, the land of Israel has become barren and a different famine has overtaken it. The Promised Land of Israel has become it’s worst past, Egypt, with a brutal Pharaoh of its own, Herod. Like a new Moses, Jesus must escape the hand of a brutal king. Led by a new Joseph, He finds refuge in an ironic way in the Promised Land of Egypt, out of Egypt I called my son. To this upheaval, this upside down story of Israel, these Holy Innocents bear witness as their lives are taken from them by their own people, as faithful Rachel weeps from the grave for her children, for her exiled people. These Innocents have always, in the Church’s mind, been given the highest regard and have been understood to wear the crown of martyrs. In the loss of their lives for the sake of Christ, Jesus will undue what Herod has done, by being First born from the dead and giving life to those other first born sons. In the course of Jesus’ life, He will wipe away every tear from Rachel’s face.
Today is December 29th and the 4th day of Christmas. If we look to the Church’s calendar, we see no major feast days today commemorating the work of evangelists or martyrs. There is only us. You and I who stand now before the throne of the Almighty, the manger of His Word and His sacramental presence. The witness of Christmas event has now fallen to us, as I mentioned Christmas Eve. We are now the shepherds who witnesses to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And our own witness finds its counterpart of the saints mentioned, like the Innocents, we witness in our lives to the great upheaval and upside down nature of the world that still plagues our mortal flesh. We testify by our sin that darkness still lurks, that a promised land can be a place of torture and evil. We stand as witness that the world, that we ourselves still so desperately need a savior. One to unite himself to our trials, our travails, our stress, our pain, our suffering, our brokenness and undue the work of our own brutal deeds and words. And He does in the water of Baptism we were given the promises and assurance of eternal life, we were cleansed saved by the life and death of Jesus Christ. Through the font we became sons and daughters of the kingdom and by faith we now witness to the forgiveness, grace, mercy and love of Jesus Christ. In faith, strengthened and replenished by the Holy Word and Holy Sacrament, in lives forgiven and redeemed we are called to join the ranks of St. Stephen and St. John.
We are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to let the mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ, the joy of Christmas, to be the constant theme and witness of our lives. For we have been saved. We have been forgiven and undoubtedly we know people, neighbors, brutal kings of the world, dark powers and principalities in this world that need to be confronted with the Good Christmas News of Jesus Christ. They need to know and to hear that God will undue every evil that we inflict upon one another, for judgment and righteousness belong to Him alone. They need to know that there is one who is with them in the midst of their suffering from disease and illness, who has defeated all. They need to know the peace that is found in the forgiveness of Christ and they will need to hear it and see it from US. By our mercy and grace, they will know the graciousness of Christ. By our compassion and love for each other, they will know the compassion of Christ. By our witness to Jesus Christ in word and deed, even to giving our lives for His sake, they will know the power and eternal life of God. By our persistent abiding in this Christmas joy, they will know by God’s grace come to know that everlasting joy as well. So brothers and sisters keep wishing each other Merry Christmas. Keep sharing and giving gifts and finish those Christmas cards for the world is waiting, our neighborhoods is waiting, our homes, schools, and jobs are waiting for the light of Christ to shine and banish the darkness.