'This is what we do when we keep Christ-mass – Christ in the Mass. We come even unto Bethlehem to see for ourselves and hold for ourselves and receive into ourselves the One who gave himself as a child and now gives himself on the Altar.'
The Nativity of our Lord – Christmas Day
December 25, 2021
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III
‘Keeping the Mass in Christmas’
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There is a small community church just a few minutes from our home in Irwin. They have a sign out front, and the messages are changed every few weeks or so with sermon titles, general messages, and invitations. Some of you may know me as a connoisseur of church signs. I look for the good ones, the bad ones…well, mostly the bad ones. There are very few good ones. Just like there are very few good Christian bumper stickers. Don’t get me started on ‘bumper sticker theology.’ Just don’t.
But the sign on the community church for the past few weeks has read ‘Christmas begins with Christ.’ Now how could anyone have a problem with that? After all, it’s objectively true. The word ‘Christmas’ does indeed begin with ‘Christ.’ But I wondered if I should call them, or email them, and remind them that Christmas also ends with Mass.
Now why is a Lutheran pastor talking about Mass? Isn’t ‘Mass’ what Roman Catholics call their worship services? Yes; it is what they call the services of Holy Communion. And didn’t we Lutherans get rid of the Mass a long time ago? No. we did not. In fact, our founding documents in the Book of Concord all refer to the fact that we Lutherans observe the Mass weekly. The problem the early Lutherans had was not the Mass itself but the errors and abuses they believed had crept into its celebration and interpretation. I don’t need to get into that because, well, time, and energy, and there’s presents.
But suffice it to say that we Lutherans celebrate the Mass. We usually call it something else: the Holy Communion, the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Divine Service. It is the meal that Jesus left for his disciples. After his resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven, they would encounter him in bread and wine together and thus be bound to him and to each other.
That is what the Lord’s Supper is, an encounter. It is a meeting with the risen Jesus, who is present in earthly elements, wrapping himself in them just as he wrapped himself in human flesh when he came into the world so many years ago. He presents himself to us when we gather on the first day of the week, the day of his resurrection. In the meal we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, because it is Jesus whom we receive, and Jesus is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
It is Jesus whom we receive – and this means that we treat the earthly elements of bread and wine with respect. It means that we don’t switch them out for croutons and grape juice. This is why we can’t use little disposable plastic cups for the wine. I understand. I get it. Even though it might be easier, more convenient, even perhaps just a tad bit more sanitary, to use the little plastic cups, it would not be fitting. The problem is not necessarily just that we would throw away the cups and leave some wine in them or something.
If we are just having a sip of wine, we use plastic cups. But if the Lord of the universe is coming to us, we avoid them so as to honor the Lord. It’s not that he’ll be offended if honestly the only thing we have is a plastic cup. But everything we do should be to remind ourselves and everyone who comes that the one contained here is precious, irreplaceable, the exact opposite of disposable. We must be diligent, because in everything we do we show what we believe. The world is so disposable, we find something, we use it as fast as we can, we discard it, we move on to the next thing. But Jesus is indispensable. We must show that with how we handle his body and blood, because if we don’t, we’ll forget whom we’re dealing with. We’ll think he’s unimportant, or that what we’re doing is unimportant.
And so we came to church last night, and we come to church this morning, to receive the Lord’s meal in which he comes to us in bread and wine. Not only do we keep the ‘Christ’ in Christmas,’ we keep the ‘Mass’ in Christmas.
For people celebrate Christmas in multiple ways. More and more today people simply observe a secular festival, unrelated to the church. Piped in music over the radio substitutes for singing hymns of praise. Food around the table and remembrances of Christmas’s past substitute for the Lord’s meal and the Lord’s Word. These are like the people who are in Jerusalem on Christmas Eve so long ago, who are involved in eating and drinking and the noise of the city and so are unaware of the angels hovering over the fields to give the message.
There are other people who do seek out the message. Some don’t leave their homes, which we understand during COVID, and there are other reasons why many stay at home. But some would choose to stay home even in the absence of pandemic. They are satisfied with the story, with the Word alone. Others go to a church. Perhaps there is music, perhaps there is a sermon. But one might say these are like shepherds who are in the fields, who hear the angels’ message, and who rejoice in it, but then are satisfied with merely seeing a spectacle and hearing an announcement. We should not be dismissive of such people, as we are not to be dismissive of anyone.
But what does the angel say to the shepherds? ‘This shall be a sign for you – you shall find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.’ And when the angel departs, the shepherds say to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing which has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they go with haste and find what the angel has told them: the Word made flesh, the grace and truth of God made visible. They see with their own eyes and perhaps hold in their own arms the ageless one who is newly-born.
This is what we do when we keep Christ-mass – Christ in the Mass. We come even unto Bethlehem to see for ourselves and hold for ourselves and receive into ourselves the One who gave himself as a child and now gives himself on the Altar. Do not satisfy yourself with the angel’s message. Only seeing the sign for yourself, only receiving it as ‘for us, for all, for you’ is enough.
s MCF +