by The Rev. David M. Juhl
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
Every year we are reminded more and more how offensive is the Name of the Lord. The month of December is slowly becoming a month where people buy presents, attend parties, and celebrate a general holiday season rather than the holy day of Christmas.
This general holiday season is a season of sentimentality. We remember the days when we were younger when families actually celebrated the holy day of Christmas. We got cool presents. We visited family we loved or merely tolerated. More than likely we carved out a couple of hours to go to church to celebrate the birth of Jesus according to the flesh.
As we grow older, the holy day of Christmas begins to turn into this general holiday season. Christmas is more about children, decorations, presents, and gaining ten pounds rather than Jesus Christ. Any mention of the Savior’s birth or attending Divine Service to celebrate Christ’s birth, let alone extolling the joy of celebrating Advent, makes people wonder about our sanity. Perhaps they think it’s nice that someone still cares about those old traditions we once celebrated. But Jesus is too divisive in these enlightened days. So we wrap the holy day of Christmas in the swaddling cloths of sentiment and the soothing sound of sleigh bells.
It may come as a surprise to know that the same thing was happening in the Holy Land nearly two thousand years ago. Jesus and His apostles went from place to place preaching and performing miracles the likes of which we don’t see in the church today. We see in the Gospels that the Pharisees, the scribes, the high priests, the priests, the Levites, and
all who held themselves in high esteem considered Christ a betrayer and His teaching heresy.
It came to the point that John the Baptist and his disciples wondered whether or not Jesus was the Coming One. Perhaps John knew something his disciples didn’t know. Perhaps John had a crisis of faith. Jesus gets to the heart of the matter when He tells John’s disciples: blessed is he who is not offended because of me.
It is clear that Jesus’ preaching was offensive. Our Lord and His disciples were accused of consistently violating Sabbath laws. They were accused of befriending tax collectors and sinners. Jesus’ accusers were always looking for the right moment to catch Him in His speech or catch Him in the act of doing something that could be deemed offensive to the
Jewish way of life.
Are we Christians offended when we see the day of our Lord’s nativity
turned into a way to end a calendar year on a happy note? Do we laugh
when we hear a congregation’s Nativity set is missing its Baby Jesus
figure? Do we put more attention on how many houses we have to visit on
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day rather than visiting God’s House for
Divine Service either or both days? Do we spend so much time making this
Christmas better than Martha Stewart’s Christmas that we forget to
prepare the royal highway through repentance toward the forgiveness of
sins so the King of Kings can make His home among us?
What did you go out into the wilderness to see? Jesus asks the right
question. If we prepare to celebrate Christmas in the true spirit of
Advent, it seems we are in a lonely wilderness compared to the rest of
the world. No one wants to hear about penitence and preparation when
everyone else is in full-on Christmas mode. We enjoy being shaken by the
wind of culture. We enjoy wearing the soft garments of
self-righteousness. There is no time to pay attention to a crackpot
prophet preparing the way of the Lord.
There is no time like the present to prepare the way of the Lord. What
is offensive to the world is Good News of great joy to the Christian.
Everyone expects the hero of a story to broadcast every important moment
to the world; letting the world know that this is someone whom we need
to pay attention. Jesus Christ fits the bill of a hero…and then some.
A prophet whose father is struck mute by an angel is born at his
mother’s advanced age. The prophet grows up to wear wild looking clothes
and preach an unpopular message in the middle of nowhere. Before this
prophet was born, another angel visited a woman named Mary to announce
she would give birth miraculously to the Savior. When Mary went to visit
her cousin Elisabeth, the prophet John leaped for joy in his mother’s
womb. The Savior of the Nations has come, just as the prophets of old
When the Child Jesus was born, angels announced His birth to shepherds.
A star shined over the place where He was born. Our Lord’s birth
according to the flesh was surrounded by all kinds of strange and
miraculous events. Everyone should have looked at these events and known
something was up. But this Hero did not come with a sword in His hand,
ready to make war against the princes of man. This Hero came to die on a
cross, bearing the sins of the world upon His beaten and bloodied Body.
Where the Jews could not see the promised Savior, the Roman centurion
could: truly this Man was the Son of God.
This Jesus, Who was born to die, is offensive. Whoever thought of God
becoming man only to die a criminal’s death then come back to life only
to ascend into heaven so His Spirit could descend upon twelve men sent
to preach, teach, and baptize? Not only is this offensive, it’s
nonsensical. Yet our Lord’s Words to His disciples, and to you and me,
still stand: blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. Blessed
are we, for Jesus restores our sight after sin blinds us. Blessed are
we, for Jesus heals our diseased bodies through His Word of forgiveness.
Blessed are we, for Jesus cures our leprosy of sin with water and the
Word of God in Holy Baptism. We are no longer cast out into darkness,
but called into His marvelous light. Blessed are we, for our ears are
opened through the preaching of Law and Gospel to hear the Savior’s
mighty deeds on our behalf. Blessed are we, for our dead bodies are not
really dead but sleeping. Jesus will call us from the grave on Judgment
Day, change our sinful earthly bodies into sinless heavenly bodies, and
take us with Him to Paradise. Blessed are we, even if we are poor in
earthly things. We have a treasure that has no price because we have His
Body and Blood under bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.
Advent is offensive. Christmas is offensive. Jesus is offensive. As this
world draws closer to its end, we Christians will have to get used to
the fact that Christ will continue to disappear from the month of
December. But Jesus will never disappear from His Church. Were there but
two or three gathered to hear His Good News, Jesus will be there,
offending the world while comforting the faithful who are not offended
by the Savior Who comes to rule heaven and earth with peace and joy.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
The Rev. David M. Juhl is pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Momence, IL.