'And finally, he came to save you from death, not only the moment of death but all the death that comes before death. The deaths of those you love and the death you experience in your body before your death. Every physical pain you experience, every disease of body or illness of mind, every genetic variation or limitation, every addiction and accident, all the degeneration of aging, all of it is what he came into the world for.'
The Nativity of our Lord – Christmas Eve
December 24, 2021
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III
‘For Us, For All, For You’
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
For a child has been born to us; a Son given to us…
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all…
To you has been born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Three pronouns: us, all, you. We will examine each one of these in turn.
Isaiah was speaking to God’s ancient people, in the midst of a dark time. For they were oppressed by their enemies. Isaiah wished to rekindle their faith in their God and to remind them of God’s care of and faithfulness to them.
The ‘us,’ then, refers to the ancient people of Israel at a certain time in their history. But we who are celebrate the birth of the Christ-child believe that these words mysteriously and deeply refer to him, even though he was born long after these words were written. Even though his kingdom does not appear as bringing in the political peace that the writer of these words might have been thinking of, we see Jesus as the fulfillment of these words, for he governs his people spiritually and brings them peace.
The ‘us’ is the people of Israel for whom Jesus came as Savior, and it is the Church, the people, Jews and Gentiles, who are called by the name of Jesus into this salvation. We always remember that Jesus is ‘Messiah,’ the heir of David, and therefore fulfiller of the promises to God’s ancient people. But by grace people of whatever ancestry, can be and are included in the ‘us’ of the family of believers.
I invite you to look with your mind’s eye beyond this small space, to look beyond the small number of people gathered here, and see the Church in all its splendid diversity gathered at this time all around the world. In small backwoods churches and in large cathedrals. In Europe and Asia, Africa and the Americas and Australia. In every language of humanity, in every culture, by people of every color of skin and ethnicity. Even though we do not have every culture in the world represented in this room, we sing the music of many different cultures in our worship tonight and tomorrow: American folk-song and Gospel music, English and Latin and French hymns, German chorales, Gregorian chant. In the music we sing, if in nothing else, we who are gathered here are reminded that we are part of a great ‘us’ for whom was born a child.
From ‘us,’ we move to ‘all.’ The grace of God is not for a select few – the super-spiritual, the well-bred, but it is for ‘all.’ It is not for those who can afford it, but for ‘all.’ It is not even for those who can make or have made the time for the celebration, but for ‘all.’ We Christians, like the shepherds and angels, are called to be messengers, for all people are invited to celebrate this child who was born and through him to be purified and made into a people who are zealous for good deeds.
Maybe you don’t see yourself as smart enough, articulate enough, to be a messenger. But it can be as simple as mentioning when someone asks about your holiday that you were in church. If someone knows that you are a Christian, that can lead to something else. You do not have to have all the answers for someone. You don’t even have to have all the answers yourself.
I am reminded of the atheist who said, ‘I don’t respect Christians who don’t share their faith, because if you think that people like me are going to hell, and you don’t let me know that, what does that say about you and how much you care about me?’ I’m not saying that we should tell people they’re going to hell. But if we believe that Jesus is the Savior from sin, death, and the devil, we then at least can tell people that we went to church on Christmas, because we believe that. It’s not a hard thing to do.
We’ve looked briefly at two pronouns: ‘us’ and ‘all.’ Now we come to ‘you.’ When the angel says to the shepherds, ‘To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,’ the pronoun used is plural: you all – or yinz. Whatever. But does this mean just the shepherds who hear the angels? Does it mean just the people of Israel who are alive at that time? Or does the word ‘you, all of you, yinz’ include more? The people of God ‘the us?’ the people of the world ‘all’? Yes, and it includes you – second person singular.
Only if you believe that it is for you Christ was born that you will include yourself in the ‘us.’ It is only if you believe that it is for you Christ is a Savior that you will understand that the message is meant for ‘all,’ to train us all in holiness and to inflame in us a desire for goodness.
What does it mean to believe that Christ is your Savior? It is to believe that because sin, evil, and death oppress you, he came into the world as a human being, as Savior.
He came to save you from sin, to bear it and to forgive it and to die for it.
He came to protect you from evil, not that evil will never befall you, but that it can never separate you from the love of God because it never separated him from his Father.
And finally, he came to save you from death, not only the moment of death but all the death that comes before death. The deaths of those you love and the death you experience in your body before your death. Every physical pain you experience, every disease of body or illness of mind, every genetic variation or limitation, every addiction and accident, all the degeneration of aging, all of it is what he came into the world for.
Many people really aren’t afraid of dying. What people are afraid of is suffering pain. In fact, many would rather die than suffer pain or physical limitation. But Jesus can bring meaning and life even out of pain and limitation.
For the past couple of months I, along with many other college friends, have been praying for a friend of ours. We both majored in music education, played the euphonium, sang in the select choir. I became a pastor; he became a teacher and then an administrator.
But his life is going to look very different now. Specifically, like so many others over the past two years, he contracted COVID-19. Because of pre-existing conditions, the oxygen deficiency meant that his extremities became diseased and gangrenous. Though many were praying for him, both of his legs had to be amputated above the ankles. Eventually, he lost one hand completely and most of another. He has not died. But the life he lives will be painful and limited because of what he is experienced.
He has lost much, but he is alive. And more importantly, he has not lost his sense of humor. He has not lost his family. Most importantly, he has not lost his faith No doubt he’s going to have bad days ahead, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But, as he has told me, this is a new beginning. I think he sees more clearly than ever before that he is part of the ‘us’ of God’s people who came to his aid, and the aid of his family, in a time of emotional and financial need. He has a new desire to share his faith with the ‘all’ for whom the grace of God has appeared. And even when threatened with the death of his body or with constant reminder of the losses he has experienced and will experience he cannot be separated from God’s love. He is being saved, through Christ, from bitterness and despair and hopelessness. Life, even with pain and limitation, still has meaning, hope, and love. And even when death does come for him, as it did for many with COVID, and will for us all, God still yet can give life and hope, for the child who was born died and was raised from the dead.
This man whose story I’ve told is, appropriately enough, named Christopher, which comes from Greek christophoros, ‘Christ-bearer.’ He bears the name of the Messiah, the Christ, and he bears him in his heart who was born as a human being, whom angels proclaimed and shepherds found, to whom wise men gave gifts. And each of us, whatever our names, may bear Christ in our hearts, to give us joy in this world rather than despair.
‘For us’ – the people of God. ‘For all’ – all who ever lived, live now, or will live. ‘For you’ with all your sufferings and limitations, your griefs and doubts, your sin and death. A Savior. Christ. The Lord.