Friday, December 10, 2010

Word of the Week for Dec 11th, 2010

Nativity sceneImage via WikipediaStill No Room...
And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths,
 and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.(Luke 2:7)

It seems that each Christmas many of us grumble about the pressure to remove Christ from the “Holidays” with just saying “season’s greetings.” 

Really, Christians should expect nothing else from the world. That doesn’t mean an individual, congregation, or community can’t go against the grain by proclaiming the birth of Christ publicly. It just means that the world hates Christ and will do whatever it can to get rid of Him or distort who He really is and what He really did.

John’s Gospel speaks of how the world received Christ:

10 He was in the world,
and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God,
to those who believe in His name:
13 who were born, not of blood,
 nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man,
but of God. 
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we beheld His glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
” (John 1:10-14)

The world He created did not recognize Him when He came to earth. His own did not receive Him. But there are those who receive Him by faith, not by biology, not by decision, not by choice of will, but born of God through faith in Christ, “to those who believed in His name.” 

The reception for the Christ was poor. No bed, no room, no house. There was no place to welcome the King of creation. Just a dirty stable with the stink of animals and a feeding trough for a cradle. 

As soon as King Herod found out about the birth he tried to have Jesus killed. What a welcome. Christ became a fugitive from the powers of the world. 

When He began His earthly ministry at age 30 people were still trying to destroy Him. Remember Christ raising Lazarus from the dead? What a wonderful and clear fulfillment of prophecy. There could be no doubt who this Jesus of Nazareth really is. True, many were following Him.

But what was the reaction of the authorities to this miracle? John records in chapter 11:

45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”
49 And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.
53 Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.

And the night He was betrayed Christ prayed the following in John 17:

“14 I have given them Your word;
and the world has hated them because they are not of the world,
 just as I am not of the world.
15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world,
but that You should keep them from the evil one.
16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them by Your truth.
Your word is truth.
18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”

The world hates Christ, it hates Christmas, it hates Christians. That hatred is obvious when someone desecrates a church or a Christian symbol--like the art recently displayed at the Smithsonian museum.
But that hatred of Christ and His saving word, the hatred of Christmas and the message of God’s love for the world in Christ comes in more subtle ways as well. 

The most basic is the neglect of God’s Word. “Sanctify them by the truth, Your Word is truth,” Christ prayed. It’s not just church bodies which change from the clear Word of God in obvious ways, it is also those who just don’t want to be “offensive” in this world. Those of us who would rather avoid feeling strange and like we don’t fit in. We want to fit in and get along. 

Christ doesn’t want us to fit in, He wants us to be set apart from the world by what the Bible teaches--not in a sanctimonious and self-righteous way. We are to be humble, admit our sin, and believe the forgiveness Christ has declared to us. We are to proclaim the message of the forgiveness of sins, relying on God’s promise through the Word and Sacraments and not on what the world would have us do.

Paul described Christ’s humility this way in his letter to the Philippians chapter 2:

“5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
7 but made Himself of no reputation,
taking the form of a bondservant,
and coming in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death,
 even the death of the cross.
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him
and given Him the name which is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of those in heaven,
and of those on earth,
and of those under the earth,
11 and that every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Christ came as a child to serve, to teach, and to give His life in our place. That’s who we worship when we look at the manger. The manger is special and glorious not because of being part of a pretty Christmas scene. The manger is a dirty and low place, a humiliating place to put a child. The manger is glorious because of who was placed in it. That baby is the Creator, the Judge, the King of Glory. 

The stable in our nativity sets is not merely a pretty decoration, it is a reminder of the abject poverty of Christ and the world’s rejection of Him even at His birth. “There was no room for them at the inn.” They couldn’t buy out another person. The stable is glorious because of who it is that was born there that night two thousand years ago. 

And in the eyes of the Heavenly Father, all those who believe in Christ are also glorious. This is not because believers are good people or better than anyone else. Quite the opposite, it is because Christ has given them His Holy Spirit and dwells in Christians. For it is not just the world and His own that rejected Him, our own flesh rejects Him as well. But He has conquered. He has served. He has clothed all believers in His righteousness through His Word and the water of Baptism. And it is through faith in Christ in His Word alone that any have salvation.

That’s why the world hates Christmas, Christ, and Christians. That’s why the world doesn’t want the truth of Christ to be talked about in any public forum. And that’s why our own cowardly flesh shrinks away from reading the Bible every day. 

Do you want to put “Christ” back into Christmas? Read the Bible. Not just at Christmas, but every day. Confess your sins and believe in the forgiveness Christ declares to you in the Gospel. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to give faith in Christ. And giving forgiveness and faith, He also gives the resurrection. That is the real gift given to the world at Christmas. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessed Christmas to you all.
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