Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Sermon St. Luke 2:1-14

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church of Chicago 
Christmas Eve Lessons & Carols
St. Luke 2:1-14
24 December 2011
In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.
Exactly nine day ago, December 15, the combat operations in Iraq officially ended. In almost nine years, Operation Iraqi Freedom cost 4,486 U.S. troops killed, 32,226 U.S. troops wounded, perhaps more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed, and 1 trillion dollars of U.S. taxpayer money spent. And, whatever one might personally think of the conflict and of its cost, one thing we can be certain of: it did not bring peace.
It is possible that the conflict has brought some measure of democracy to that country - that has yet to be seen. It is possible that it has brought some measure of stability to the region - that has yet to be demonstrated. It is possible that it has freed people from a repressive totalitarian ruler, although what the future government will be like is still largely unknown. But it did not bring peace. Bombs are still being set off in marketplaces - civilians are still being murdered - horrific violence is still an almost daily occurrence. Whatever good or evil it might might have wrought - it did not bring peace.
There was peace in “those days” of Caesar Augustus when he ordered a census of his Empire. It was the Roman Peace - the Pax Romana. It was a peace that came through conflict, war and conquest. Rome had conquered much of the known world, and so there was peace. It was an uneasy peace, to be sure - but it was peace. And the Caesars - the Emperors - like Augustus - were the peace makers - through conquest; and they were the peace keepers - through force. But it was peace nonetheless.
War and conquest do sometimes bring a kind of peace for a little while - but never more than a fleeting peace - a temporary peace. But the Almighty God used this fleeting, temporary peace to do something new - something that would bring true Peace. To a little nondescript, backwater town called Bethlehem in an unimportant region of the Roman Empire called Judea to an insignificant Hebrew girl named Mary the LORD God sent the true Gift of Peace to mankind. The angels sang it to the shepherds, “Glory in the highest places be to God, and PEACE among me with whom He is pleased!”
Mankind does not know true peace apart from this Gift of God. We are, by nature, at war with God, in conflict with Him and under the conquest of sin. Sin is our emperor and our captor. We have belonged to sin, death and the devil from the time of the disobedience of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. And so we rage and war against our Creator with our false belief, our idolatry, our lust, our rebellion and our hatred. And that warring against God has eternal consequences. Because when you put yourself in opposition to God, you will always lose. And the only end is then to be our under the eternal conquest of the devil.
But, thanks be to God, that, “in those days,” the LORD God did send the true Gift of Peace. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord.” These words are so familiar to us that they can pass right over us without our even giving them much thought. But these words speak peace to our war - an end to our conflict. 
  That Baby is the long awaited Christ of God - the Savior of the world - the bringing of true Peace - Peace between God and man - Peace between your Creator and you. That Peace is not of your making - it is only of His. 
Later in this very chapter Simeon said to Mary in the Temple, “a sword will pierce through your own soul too,” the sword of grief as her son, her baby hung upon the cross making the Peace you could never accomplish, however hard you might try.
“It is accomplished!” He cried from the Cross. That was His cry of “Mission Accomplished!” But it wasn’t just bravado. He accomplished True Peace for you and all God’s righteous anger was stilled because it was poured out on Him. 
That is Christmas - although is sounds a lot like Good Friday. The two can never be separated. Christmas is God’s declaration of Peace in Jesus Christ alone for you through His miraculous conception and birth, sinless life, holy death and glorious resurrection. 
Christmas, contrary to some sentimental opinions is not found in your hearts: it comes from outside of you and is found at the manger, at the cross, and at the empty tomb. 
His declaration of Peace for you is found again tonight in His Holy Word of Holy Absolution, in Holy Baptism, in the Holy Supper. That is Peace - true Peace.
The world will always have its conflicts and wars, and sinful man will ever find new ways of hating and killing his neighbor. But in Jesus - the Babe of Bethlehem - you have Peace - true Peace.
And now may the Peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting and may the Peace of Christ prevail on earth.
In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, May 6, 2011

"That was long and I liked it."

This past Thursday we had a somewhat different Chapel Service than we usually do at Gloria Dei Lutheran School of Chicago where I serve as Pastor. Usually, our school chapel is the Office of Matins, which lasts about one half hour. It consists of the Matins Liturgy, two hymns, sometimes a Psalm, the Te Deum Laudamus (or another Canticle), two readings and a brief homily. 

This last Thursday, we had a Service of Supplication and Prayer. It was somewhat different. The Service had four rather long readings, a longer homily, and three hymns. We also chanted Psalm 62 as well as one of the Canticles from Lutheran Service Book. The Service was about one hour in length. After the Service, one of our 1st Grade young school children (not a member of our parish) said to me, "That was long and I liked it."

"That was long and I liked it." What an interesting comment from a six or seven year old non-Lutheran little boy about a liturgical Service. I did not ask him what he liked about the Service. I do not really know if he could have articulated what it was about this "long" Service that he liked. But there was something there - something that resonated with this little boy - something that brought forth that comment. 

Children are not stupid. Children also naturally resonate with rite and ceremony. We so often treat children as they are stupid and that they cannot possibly "get anything" from rite and ceremony. They can appreciate, understand, and yes, even "like" complex things like a somewhat complex liturgical Service where there is standing, sitting, praying, chanting, listening, speaking and singing. They are, after all, creatures of rite and ceremony. Their entire lives are made up of rite and ceremony. This is true for all of us. 

When we treat children as if the only things they can understand and appreciate are those things that are based on entertainment and silliness, as if they are too stupid to understand that which is reverent and even sometimes complex, we do them and the Church a great disservice.

"That was long and I liked it." Yes it was and I am glad you did. Maybe, just maybe, there is hope.