Mother Hubbard's Cupboard

A look into the mind of one of the most random, crazy people in all the land.

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Location: East Peoria, Illinois, United States

A Lutheran seminarian eagerly awaiting the return of Our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sermon for Christmas Eve Midnight

No, I didn't deliver it to a congregation, just Homiletics I.

Text: Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 110:1-4, Antiphon 2a
1 John 4:7-16
Matthew 1:18-25
Hymn of the Day: Lo, how a rose e'er blooming

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father, and our enfleshed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our Gospel text is an unusual one if you stop and think about it. Here we have a dream announcement to a man named Joseph, as if that idea doesn’t ring any bells from the book of Genesis. We have an unnamed angel who pretty much catches Joseph by surprise, and a message that has a reference to a passage from Isaiah, which we heard earlier tonight. This text seems to have something to do with tonight, but why does Matthew not record the birth of Jesus or the events leading up to it in Bethlehem? This is most of the setup for the birth, which is passed over relatively quickly. Rather than look to the events of tonight, this text is forward looking to the ultimate reason for the season, and the true reason Our Lord became man. This is not the “Peanuts Christmas Special” Gospel text of Luke 2 which we all know and love. There are no shepherds, no inn, no Caesar Augustus, no census, not even a choir of angels singing, “Gloria in excelsis!” One almost gets the idea from reading Luke’s Gospel, that everyone was happy that Jesus was born, and that Caesar himself would enter the manger right behind the shepherds. Everything is just peachy keen. But in Matthew, there is but one angel and St. Joseph the stepfather and guardian of Jesus.
Matthew’s Gospel portrays a darker Christmas story. One almost gets the impression that time is running out, and that this is completely unexpected by anyone. Joseph is thinking of divorcing his “virgin” wife whom he suspects of coming together with another man, he and Mary run from Herod into Egypt, and there is the awful slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem. There is even a nice touch of pagan astrology where magi follow a star and show up the Jews who have the authoritative Scriptures and prophecies from God. No, this Gospel is gritty, and desperate. Yet God is still in control. As Joseph debates how to divorce his wife quietly in order not to “put her to shame” – that is, to avoid her being stoned to death for adultery according to Jewish law – he is visited by an angel in a dream. He is told that Mary is still a virgin, and her child is conceived by the Holy Spirit. After being told to name the child Jesus, he awakes, and with no hint of questioning, he goes off to do as he was told. In fact, Joseph says absolutely nothing in the entire Bible. All dialogue between Jesus and His earthly parents are with His mother, and her alone. Joseph is so seemingly unimportant, that his death during the life of Jesus is not recorded by any Gospel, nor spoken of much in the various traditions of the church. It is almost as if he doesn’t even exist. This event seemingly is quite unimportant in general, except that it seems to alleviate Joseph’s fears regarding his betrothed. He is a side character to this cosmic drama, and he does as he is told in a dream. This man, who is the stepfather of Jesus listens and does what most of us would think foolish, for how many of us do what our dreams tell us?
So, with no birth, one angel, and a dream, what are we to make of this text for Christmas? Well, we find the reason given for Christ’s coming; He is to save us from our sins. He is to save us not only from our acts of lust, greed, idleness, lewdness, and our acts of omission with regard to our parents, bosses, and governmental authority, but He frees us from the sin of our first parents which enslaves us and leads us to death and damnation. He comes to save us from ourselves and we don’t even know how to welcome Him. He is the rose to blossom from the dead stem of Jesse. He is the one the prophets foretold and who kings and peasants alike in Israel had believed in. He is their king and God. He is Immanuel, “God with us.” And just as He was with them, so He is with us as king and Lord.
This Gospel does nothing, but look forward, not to tonight, but to the cross, and the awaiting of His return following His resurrection and ascension. The psalm of the day we read earlier goes hand in hand with explaining that this annunciation at Christmas-time, is actually a Good Friday and Easter text. As the Psalmist says, He has taken the right hand of God until His enemies are made His footstool. He began His reign on earth amidst His enemies on the cross, between two thieves. He came from Mt. Zion and His trial. He was crowned with thorns and welcomed in true royal regalia of whips and spit. He ascended His throne with shouts of “crucify Him,” and He still saves them from their sins by asking His father to forgive them all. Because of His work on our behalf, we are free to be His people. We are free from death, sin, and the cause of our fall, the Devil. He gives us a share in His glory and might. He gives us the right to be born again and to be adopted as God’s sons. We join His kingdom through Holy Baptism, where we are given the white robes of His righteousness and become born again from the “womb of the morning,” that is the resurrection. We are fed at the glorious banquet of Heaven by His body while we wander through this desert on the way to our final Heavenly promised land, just as He benevolently fed the Jews in the wilderness with manna that fell like dew.
But we still have a tendency to let this all pass by unnoticed at Christmas. We shop and spend time with our relatives and only vaguely catch a glimpse of the star and the figurine of the young girl and shepherds looking intently into a manger with awe and wonder. We get so caught up in the trimmings of the season; the decorating, the cooking, the driving, that we ignore what is bigger than the turkey, goose, ham, or pudding. We get so caught up in what we have to do for ourselves and others, that often this season is one of darkness and despair, and we are blinded by this darkness to the true light. This season is filled with so many responsibilities to neighbors and relatives that we lose sight of the fact that God became our brother in order to die in our place and take us from darkness into light by His resurrection from death. We are too busy figuring out what gift to buy our loved ones, that Christmas passes by and we often completely forget that God sent His only Son to us as an ultimate gift of love, or at best, we mark off one church service and a quick prayer before we gorge at the feast. We are in such a hurry to get done with food, and turn on the television where we are treated to all manner of Christmas stories and shows, including ones that are idolatrous, elevating family, or an idea of love, in place of the child who sleeps in the manger. We are confronted by red suits that show a marred image of St. Nicholas, who would be appalled by how most of us spend this season. But how does Joseph spend this night?
If we return briefly to our text, and the similarity to the Joseph in Genesis, we see this point beautifully illustrated. Joseph awakens from sleep after a vision, says nothing but trusts that it is from God, he goes into Egypt, and he watches his son grow. Matthew intends for us to see this as, in some way, the Joseph from the Old Testament, who again goes to Egypt, where he welcomes and takes care of His Son, the king of the new Israel. Jesus comes to Joseph as a son, and saves him as well, making peace with him by the forgiving of his sins, just the opposite of the Genesis story, where Joseph forgave his brothers whom he protected. He is a silent witness that God fulfilled His promises to the patriarchs of the Old Testament, just as He will fulfill His promises to us.
So even though we are still mired by sin and love either ourselves or someone else more than God, we can still live with the knowledge that God loves us, and His love can overcome any sin we have. It was meant to. Even one drop of Christ’s blood is enough to forgive the sins of all mankind, many times over. His blood that would be shed for us and which we will drink here tonight is the blood of the Son of God Himself, who comes to claim us and make us the Father’s children. He is the king of glory that came to die and rise again to forgive you all of your sins. He is the king of glory who comes tonight from the womb of a young virgin. He is the king of glory who is still with us and who saves us from our sins. He is the king of glory whose announcing wakes us from our sleep of soul and fleshly idleness. He is the king of glory who gives Himself to us as a gift, from the true Father Christmas, God. Let us then, with thankfulness, be silent as Joseph, and bask in the goodness of our newborn king, Jesus, who in His weakness saves us in a way that we, His people, with all our strength, and might cannot.

And now, may the peace which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the savior born this day, who is Christ the Lord. Amen.