Archive for December 26th, 2012

Collect of the Day:

Heavenly Father, in the mist of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we also may look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


2 Chronicles 24: 17-22

Psalm 119: 137-144

Acts 6: 8–7: 2a, 51-60

St. Matthew 23: 34-39

We are now  in the Twelve  Days of Christ Mass which concludes on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th (this year it is a Sunday).  The first 3 days after Christ Mass are today’s feast, then tomorrow St. John, Apostle and Evangelist and then The Holy Innocents, Martyrs.  The contrast between this day, along with The Holy Innocents and the common sentimental understandings of Christmas are sharp but should not be.  Pr. Kaj Munk, a Danish Lutheran Pastor (13 January 1898 – 4 January 1944), who was  executed by the Nazis for his resistance to their tyranny, caught this contrast in the sermon cited after the biography on St. Stephen.  Stephen was the first martyr. “Martyr” is from the Greek word for witness.  Pr. Munk also so witnessed and many do to this day.  We thank the Lord for their faith and hope and love in service to Jesus Christ and their neighbors.–Pr. Schroeder

About   St. Stephen, Martyr, from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House:

St. Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), was one of the Church’s first seven deacons. He was appointed by the leaders of the Church to distribute food and other necessities to the poor in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, thereby giving the apostles more time for their public ministry of proclamation (Acts 6:2-5). He and the other deacons apparently were expected not only to wait on tables but also to teach and preach. When some of his colleagues became jealous of him, they brought Stephen to the Sanhedrin and falsely charged him with blaspheming against Moses (Acts 6:9-14). Stephen’s confession of faith, along with his rebuke of the members of the Sanhedrin for rejecting their Messiah and being responsible for His death, so infuriated them that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen is honored as the Church’s first martyr and for his words of commendation and forgiveness as he lay dying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).

“The Christ Child is the world’s Savior and Prince of Peace because He is the world’s greatest war Lord. Apparently there is the most glaring contrast between the Christmas gospel and that for St. Stephen’s Day–between the Christ Child and the first Christian martyr. But in reality there is the closest connection.

The pagan Christmas with eating and drinking and parties and family joy may well be contained in the Christian celebration, but it can never take the place of it. Jesus Himself took an interest in family life, and He attended parties; but He was, nevertheless, ever on the way to the cross. Let us sing Ingemann songs and eat goose and play with our children about the glittering Christmas tree; but we must never forget that the coming of Christ to earth means dauntless struggle against evil. And if we kneel by the manger in other than sentimental moods, we shall become aware that one hand of the little Child is open and kindly, the other clenched in blood.

We wish one another Merry Christmas. And we mean; may your Christmas goose be delicious–or your meatballs, if that is the best you can afford this year; may you have fuel to keep your house warm; may you have friends and loved one about you; may your tree glitter in its wonted beauty and the hymns sound with their old power. And may there, through it all, be one song in your heart: ‘My Jesus, I want to be where Thou alone wilt have me.’ Yes, but there are so many doubts and questions that spoil my Christmas joy.

Well, but who promised you joy? It may be better that you have a poor Christmas. Don’t be like a spoiled child and think of God as a great Santa Claus who has in His bag some sort of electromagnet with which to give your brain cells such a shot that everything becomes gloriously clear to you, and that you can be happy, in harmony with yourself and the world. My friend, perhaps your doctor can do that for you with a stimulant that will send the blood to the brain and clarify your mind so you see things in bright perspective. This has nothing to do with real joy. True Christmas joy, no matter how much or how little of it you may comprehend, means that you have Christ, and that you go where He wants you to go.”

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You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice

 If you believe that secular mythology, then Christmas is for nice people, not even good and faithful people.  Santa is one scary individual. He won’t even let you cry. He won’t listen to your heart’s joys and sorrows. You just better watch out. Naughty and nice…Nice…have a nice day?  No thanks, I have better plans.  The Lord has the better plan. The plan is simple:    Christmas is for sinners. Christmas is for you.  Nice is not the same as good.God is good. He is not nice. When Isaiah in the Temple saw the utterly good God, he cried out I’m a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips. When Peter saw his boat sinking for the great catch of fish at Christ’s Word and command, Peter cried out, depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man.  It is the utter goodness and holiness of the Lord, which go together as His love that overwhelms. 

And  naughtiness is not the same as sin and evil. Naughty belittles the immensity and propensity of sin and evil in and around our lives from Adam on down to us. Naughty and nice minimize the struggle and so they are a lie, well, g-damnlie. I think this is so done in order to get a handle on good and evil, our struggles and so rely on our efforts. But we can’t.  We even say society or my family is guilty instead of ourselves.   As nice does not describe His love and mercy, so naughty does not describe Newtown, war, abortion, child abuse, hatred, anger or troubles in a family and His judgment of such. Such overwhelms and the Lord goes to the source of it all:  He became flesh, us and yet utterly not us to save us to be overwhelmed and so in Him to overcome. Christmas is for sinners. Christmas is for you.   

The Lord tells us in His Word regarding His Son:

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench

A bruised reed and a smoldering wick are so frail. In fact, by any worldly standard, worthless, not good for anything.  He will not break nor quench either.  He comes to give His mercy up close and personal and intimate in your body and soul so that by faith through His grace you may cling to the One who is for you more than you are for yourselves. His Body and His blood.  Christmas is for sinners. Christmas is for you. Those who were brought together by the Lord God of Hosts this evening were an unlikely cast of characters: the Virgin Mother, an elderly stepfather, shepherds and eventually Persian astrologers, the magi.  He brings down from their thrones the rich and powerful and lifts up those of low degree. He did not break either nor quench the smoldering fire of their lives.    Instead, by the breath of His Holy Spirit He brings to life, His life, those longing for His coming again.  All our words, all our deeds, and our attempts to fix sin, which can do good up to a point, but apart from Him will fall flat.  Can you really forgive your self?  Your neighbor? On your own? “When everything else has declined to a dead end, when human reason no longer knows how to come up answers…Where human help come to an end, there divine help comes to the rescue.” (Johann Gerhard) Christmas is for sinners. Christmas is for you.

Therefore, Christmas is for the Child…we say at the birth of a husband and wife’s first child, a baby changes everything.  It sure does…a husband and wife become Father and Mother.  Now because of the Child born this night He alone could teach us to pray:  Our Father who art in heaven…no matter how people try, no one can take Christ out of Christmas.  If you know your frailty and not your strength, your sin and not your supposed goodness, Christmas is for the Child who is for you. The Gospel is a costly balm for spiritual wounds. However, what is the use if one wanted to pour the most costly balm onto a rock; that is, preached the Gospel to a hardened heart? (Johann Gerhard) 

For to us a child is born,   to us a son is given  In doing a long addition problem the old-fashioned way, on a piece of paper and with a pencil, you come to the sum and it’s wrong, I have to go back to where I went wrong.  This is what the Incarnation is all about:  to go to the place where we went wrong, Emmanuel God with us. He does so not to say what you have done is okay and I accept it, but I come to change it and this Child changes everything, at the source in a feeding trough and at His Mother’s breast and finally and fully on a cross.   He loves us more than we love ourselves by our selves, which is a lonely God forsaken love.  He knew the opposite:  the intimate love from His own faith-filled Mother.  IN that, mercy to minister to fallen world. How corrupt a world?  Mother Theresa said, “… if we accept that the mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants.” This Child’s love is God’s forgiveness to change us from the inside out. No violence as a Man He ever did but violence done to Him for you, for us all.   We can only change on the outside but it never sinks in. Let this sink in: Christmas is for the Child, born for you that we are re-born.  Already, the wood of the manger points to the wood of His Cross and the third day…

There are many visits by angels in four Gospels…at the beginning of the Gospels and at the end of the Gospels which are really the new beginning.  Many visits bringing message, good messages, good news to the Lord’s chosen regarding the births of John and Jesus.  Birth announcements… and at the beginning, the Resurrection:  He is not here, He is risen!  Angels first announced He is here and then at the Resurrection,  He is not here: the wonder of it all is the manger could hold Him but not the tomb. The Virgin’s womb could hold and nourish Him but not the tomb.  Such is the humility and power of Jesus Christ for you, for us all.  Death could not hold Him:  not murder, injustice, massacres, abortion, infanticide, hatred, anger and genocide.  He is the life of all the living.

 Christmas is for kids,we say.  Now it makes sense that Christmas is for children. Christ is for children.  He said the only way one can receive the Kingdom of God is as a child, which He knew as God and as a child Himself:  trusting the Lord surely, the Kingdom He builds securely, naught from Him can sever, Alleluia.  Even when Herod the Great killed all the male children under the age of two to kill the Child, Jesus knew how precious life is  and He took care of them. When parents were bringing children to Jesus, the disciples were stopping them and the Lord said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  This is the text read at a Baptism.  Even an adult who is baptized receives the Kingdom as a child.  Christmas is for sinners. Christmas is for the Child, for you.  Christmas is for His baptized children and all those so washed in His Name to be His children.

 Our mission’s Christmas tree has been the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  Again, the only time Linus ever parted with his security blanket was in that show when he read the Christmas narrative in Luke 2 which we heard tonight. He dropped it to read the Scripture.  He eventually laid down his blanket at the foot of the tree.  We can lay down everything at the foot of His tree, the Cross.  In the show, Snoopy decorates his doghouse in gaudy Christmas decorations to Charlie Brown’s chagrin who does not like the commercialization of Christmas (this TV show was done in ’65!), and has discovered the true meaning of Christmas:  Christ.  The whole gang comes up and takes down all the gaudy decorations on Snoopy’s doghouse to adorn the bent over tree and it is glorious.  You are clothed in Christ in your baptism and one day it will be glorious, even now a taste of the glory to come in Jesus Christ. Walk wet in your Baptism.  He trains you renounce all ungodliness and  worldly passions to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.   This age needs the Son of God, Son of Mary and all His baptized children.  The world did not know Him. His own people did not receive.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.(St. John 1)  And the light of the Child still shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood nor overcome it.  Amen. Now the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will  guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 


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