Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sermon for Christmas Eve - December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-9; Psalm 96; Titus 2:1-5; Luke 2:1-20
St Stephen Lutheran Church
Pr. Maurice C. Frontz III STS

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

If I was to give this sermon a title,
I would title it ‘The Unlikely Heralds.’
God chose the unlikeliest heralds,
the lowliest missionaries,
to announce salvation to the world
on an evening long ago.

The angels were unlikely heralds.
Our second reading tomorrow morning,
from the first chapter of the letter to the Hebrews,
speaks of the angels as ministering spirits
to those who are to obtain salvation.
Although pure spirit,
they do not use their spiritual nature as a mark of superiority,
but in obedience to God they speak to mortals,
bringing them good news of a great joy,
and in that joy they sing to God.

The shepherds were even unlikelier heralds.
Despite the fact that King David had been a sheepherder,
the shepherds were outcasts in Judean society,
viewed with suspicion as most backwoods or rural people are
in every society.
Perhaps we who are from this cultured area
view people from Central Pennsylvania
or rural West Virginia that way.
Or maybe you have experienced this:
that Pittsburghers are viewed as a little bit rustic
by those of the more well-heeled east coast
or the jet-setting west coast.
It’s not called ‘the Paris of Appalachia’ for nothing.
In any case, these shepherds were of no importance
and less education,
and yet Luke tells us that God chose them to be both recipients
and tellers of the good news,
the first missionaries of the incarnation.

But the unlikeliest missionary of all is God himself.
For it is the Christian faith
that the child who was born in Bethlehem
was not simply a child of very religious parents
who grew up to became a great prophet of peace and love,
but the true God made incarnate for our sake.
The letter of Titus says,
‘The grace of God has appeared.’
It is not a general grace of God,
an amorphous, formless expression of God’s good will,
but in this human being,
born as we are,
needy as we are for both a mother’s and father’s
protection and love,
needy for shelter, needy for food,
in this one the grace of God has appeared.
‘He it is,’ says Titus of the Lord Jesus Christ,
‘who gave himself for us.’
He came not only as a herald to tell us of God’s salvation,
but as one who as a true missionary would share everything
with the people to whom he was sent,
including flesh and blood.
He came not simply to announce but to accomplish.

The angels, the shepherds, Jesus himself:
the unlikeliest heralds and missionaries.
But God always picks unlikely heralds and missionaries.
From the Old Testament down to our own day
he picks not the famous and the great,
but the lowly, to be his messengers to the world.
He chooses the Church to be the body of Christ,
to be God’s hands and feet and voice in the world,
to call people to the salvation which he offers in Jesus.

Through unlikely heralds, ordinary missionaries.
through parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends,
pastors, Sunday school teachers,
storytellers, hymnwriters and hymnsingers, 
you were taught the story of Christmas.
You learned of shepherds and angels and the Holy Family.
You were told as if by angels,
‘O come, all ye faithful,
joyful and triumphant!’
and, ‘Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ the Lord, the newborn King!’
You learned to sing the words.
You learned that this is where you need to be
on a dark winter’s night,
huddled around the lighted candles and the twinkling lights
which stand for the light of the world
who is hidden to all eyes
except the eyes of faith.
You learned to love the story
and to want to hear it again,
like a family gathered around a table
going through a photo album,
remembering the good and bad times,
telling stories and jokes and laughing and crying at the same time.

And, like the shepherds, you are called to go and tell the story,
to be the unlikely heralds of the good news.
This did not come easy to the shepherds.
They were not professional proclaimers.
Sometimes we think we have to be professional proclaimers
in order to tell the good news.
If we think that, let us remember the shepherds!
They had no education,
and yet Luke tells us that they told all that was told them.
That’s all we have to do,
that’s all our pastors and teachers and parents and grandparents did.
They told us all that was told them.

Sometimes even we ‘professional proclaimers’
shy away from being carried away by the Gospel,
so that we are willing to let our whole lives be taken over
by telling the good news.
We would rather take refuge in theological formulations,
or in simply encouraging others to be better people.
The good news for sinners is so threatening,
so life-changing, that it is difficult for even professional proclaimers to handle.

What should we say?
Simply what Isaiah said, and Titus said,
and what Luke tells us.
‘Unto us,’ ‘For us,’
‘Unto you, ‘For you.’
For us God came down from heaven.
Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given!
To you is born this day a Savior!
Why? To save us, to forgive us,
to make us his own,
to purify us, to change us.
In this child, in this Messiah,
we know that God loves us! He loves you!

This is the message we are told,
this is the good news of great joy.
In speech and act, we are to be tellers of this story,
and though speech without act is deaf,
act without speech is mute.
We must speak of the meaning of this birth
and try as best we can,
with the help of the Spirit,
to live out its meaning in daily life.

If we find that if we can’t begin to speak
of what God has done for us
in the making-flesh of the Christ,
then maybe the first person we have to evangelize is ourselves.
As I’m not one to title my sermons,
I’m also not one to make my congregation
repeat after me in sermons.
I think that’s manipulative.
But if I were such a preacher,
I would make you echo these words:
‘Christ was born for me!’
Do that in the quiet of your room,
or in the silence of your car,
where you can mean them.
And then when you’ve got it down in your heart,
go and tell in whatever way you can,
not to prove that you love God
but because the God who loves you
loves everyone else too,
and he has chosen you to be the unlikeliest heralds
of his birth among us to save us from sin, death, and evil.

May the God whom the angels herald,
the God whom the shepherds find,
the God who appears in lowliness
shine forth in your hearts this night.
May he grant you the zeal to do his will,
and the peace that passes understanding,
that peace that shall one day rule over all the earth.

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.