by The Rev. Matthew D. Ruesch
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Kids like Christmas for the presents. I obviously like it for the food. Oh, there are many other reasons I like Christmas…as a Christian I absolutely love the good Gospel news of Christ’s birth. But it’s still okay to like the other things…just keep them in the proper perspective. Unfortunately, our plan is to spend this afternoon traveling, so my Christmas dinner likely won’t be until tomorrow. But in the meantime, I’ll reflect on Christmas dinners past. Grandma always used to make two hams for Christmas: one for grandpa and one for the rest of the family (no kidding). Being a not-so-small person, I’ve always had a big appetite for Christmas dinner. I remember in particular one dinner when I was about twelve years old. I think it was the first time that dinner was not at my grandparents’ house, but Mom decided she was going to play host. My grandpa sat next to me at the dinner table and decided that he was going to fill my plate. I don’t know if he had Christmas visions of his grandson eating like he could but he stacked my plate with enough ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, cranberries, Jello, broccoli and cauliflower, and whatever else was on the table to feed the entire Minnesota Vikings. I ate…and ate…and ate…and ate…and then I didn’t feel very good. The joy of Christmas soon turned quite sour—literally.
Christmas within the church also in a sense turns “sour.” This is after all the Feast of Christmas—the table before you is set for this feast of our Lord’s salvation. Christmas is one of the two “high feasts” of the church year, along with Easter. It is right that you and I should eat…that there should be a meal set for us this Christmas. This gives us reason for celebration on this Holy Day, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” On this day you and I rejoice that God had saved his people! He has reigned over both heaven and earth by descending from the former to take on the humanity of the latter.
But let us be clear about one thing—this is not really a cause for a party. Our celebration is tempered by the realization of why this child has come. Mary and Joseph didn’t know it. The shepherds in the fields didn’t know it. The animals who wondered why there was a baby in their manger…they certainly didn’t know it. You and I, standing on this side of history…we do know why he has come. The child has come to die. The child has come to walk to Calvary and pay the price of sin. Our feast is less like a celebration…and more appropriately like the Passover. God had told those Israelites, “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.” So you and I stand here on Christmas, the Christ before us in his birth…and we’re on the tips of our toes…the edges of our seats…because as you and I see Mary’s child, we become aware of the fact that her “soul will be pierced.” The joy will turn to sorrow. The laughter will turn to tears. The precious life that has come from heaven to dwell as flesh among us…that life will meet death.
Our two great Feasts of Christmas and Easter form the bookends of the Christ’s life. In fact, our text from Isaiah 52 is the perfect place to take us from today, Christmas Day, straight to Good Friday. It is today that we sing like the angels sang…and we find the great comfort in those words, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,” and “The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” But before chapter 52 even ends, the cost of that salvation is revealed. “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” Then in chapter 53: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” Did you know that’s the text for Good Friday? That may not seem like very ‘cheerful’ words for a Christmas Day. But they are necessary words…for they show the price he paid so that there could be “good news”… “peace”…and “happiness” for us this Christmas morning.
There is a Christmas meal for you and me this morning. The child born to Mary has given himself so that you and I might be fed salvation. It is the cruelest twist of irony that this child who was laid in a feed box…the dinner plate of the cattle…he would give himself as the sacrificial meal…the Passover for the people of God. The glitz and glamour of Christmas certainly does turn somber and sour. The child hailed as a king by angels, shepherds, and wise men…the one who was given gifts of incense, gold, and myrrh…this child becomes the gift. This child becomes our feast of salvation.
Perhaps the passing of this Christmas will leave you too feeling “sour.” Soon the realization sets in that this break from life comes to an end. The feasting in our homes will come to an end and the normalcy of life will return. Even if you’ve got a week off of school yet…you can’t avoid it forever! Life will return, the holiday will pass, and you will realize that you are once again face to face with the world…face to face with the devil and his wily ways…face to face with your sinful flesh that seeks to overcome you. The warm and fuzzy feelings of Christmas will have faded away by then. The cute images of baby Jesus snuggled in the manger or close to his mother Mary’s cheek…the light of that picture will have dimmed from your mind. You can’t carry the “feeling” of Christmas with you. It will just as surely fade away as one day fades into the next…then one week into another…and so on.
But the Christmas meal continues. The one born to us this day—born to die in our place and be the body and blood we receive this day—he is the one who is born…to die…and to live again. He is the one who continues to come to us in his body and blood to this very day. No, the child has not gone away. He is the eternal “Logos”….the Word who was there from the very beginning, with God, very God himself. He is the eternal God who comes in human flesh to die, but to live again—and at the same time be the sacrifice for sin in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine. The meal continues because the Christ continues. He comes to us today and promises to continue to come to us whenever you and I, his people, gather together in his name.
You will turn “sour” upon leaving this place, because you will leave here and return to the sinful world to which our sinful nature is captive. But though our sinful appetites crave those things that are death to us, we return here to the meal…to the feast that itself is a foretaste of the feast to come in heaven. Here, the LORD has bared his holy harm before the eyes of all nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation before our God.” Here before you and me is salvation. It is not only salvation that you and I can see, but that we can also taste…chew…and swallow. It is the Word on which we are literally fed, because it is the Christ come to us, as very real as he was in that manger bed 2000 years ago.
Some people like Christmas for the presents. Jesus is certainly one of those, isn’t he! He is the gift of salvation wrapped in humanity. Others like Christmas for the meal. Jesus is the Christmas feast as well. He comes to our hungry souls with bread of life and blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Our gathering this Christmas is therefore not aimless celebration, but rather a joyful remembrance of the child who comes to die for us and lives unto eternity to feed us his shed body and blood. In Jesus’ name…Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The Rev. Matthew D. Ruesch is pastor at Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church in Garrison, MN.
Created: December 25th, 2008