Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Bridegroom's Gift to His Bride at Christmas(s)

Like it or not, Christmas is one of those holidays that the Church shares with the world. Many festive traditions have grown up around it, like trees and lights and music and presents. The Church uses these to celebrate the birth of Christ. The world uses them simply to celebrate. We may bemoan the secularization of the Christmas season and we may complain that the world has stolen from the Church more than she has willingly shared.

And yet, how can we complain? Even though the world abuses it and often refuses it, Christmas is God’s gift to all men. The whole world is invited to the celebration. Shout it from the mountaintops! Proclaim it from the pulpit! If you belong to the human race, then “a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” Hear the good news and believe!

But there remains one Christmas tradition that is reserved for the Bride of Christ, his Church – a gift meant only for her. This gift is unpretentious. It doesn’t sparkle; it doesn’t shine. In ancient times, the entire Christmas season grew out of this gift that now lingers modestly in the background, no longer the focus of Christmas, and yet not quite forgotten. It is a Christmas gift given for the Church alone to receive, wrapped up and waiting for her on Christmas morning.

You won’t find this gift under the Christmas tree or at the dinner table, but you will find it on many a Table in many a church on Christmas morning: a body that was given in and from the womb of a virgin; given under law to redeem those who were under the law; given over to death for the sins of all; a body born in time but prepared in eternity so that God could die and man could live, the Word Made Flesh who once made his dwelling among us.

See! He makes his dwelling among us still – the same body, the same blood, no longer wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, but wrapped in bread and wine, cradled in a pastor’s hand and given to you...and to you...and to you.

You didn’t get to hear the angelic host singing in the night skies of Bethlehem, but you do get to join the saints on earth and the hosts of heaven in glorious song, “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” You didn’t get to be there for the miracle of the virgin birth, but you do get to be there for this miracle when God comes to earth and gives himself to his people to touch and to taste, to eat and to drink in Christmas communion. You get to celebrate the birth of Christ in the sacramental presence of Christ. Who would have thought?

What a miracle! What a gift – better than any present waiting under the Christmas tree! The gift of real peace. The gift of eternal life. The gift of divine forgiveness. The God-given medicine against guilt and condemnation. At the heart of Christmas is the Word Made Flesh – in the Gospel that tells of his incarnation, and in the Sacrament that brings the Incarnate Word to earth again.

Of all the Christmas traditions that the world has borrowed and emptied, this tradition belongs to the Church and to her alone: to meet together on December 25th in the Real Presence of her Savior, born in Bethlehem, to receive him with all his benefits and to offer him the worship of faith. And in this Christmas communion, her song speaks of the past as well as the present, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!”


Daniel Baker said...

Unfortunately, we don't all get to participate in the joys of our Savior's feast of love on Christmas morning. I pray that those who legalistically prohibit those of us who would like to commune with our Lord in such a way during future Christmas celebrations will read the thought-provoking words posted here.

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Exhortation for Holy Communion from the Christmas Gospel
by Dr. Martin Luther

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Whenever God permits us to celebrate another Christmas, He grants us a special and wonderful favor. He allows us to see into His fatherly forgiving heart. For indeed in Jesus the grace of God that confers pardon on all people has come.

The grace of God is nothing more or less that His underserved kindness and mercy toward sinners. Thus, in the birth of the Christ Child, God reveals to all people just how He feels about them. This Child was born for them – all of them – all of US! He came to save all, without exclusion or exception. As the sun shines on everyone, so God’s Sun of Righteousness was to shine on everyone.

Of course, any who are too proud or ashamed or unconcerned to acknowledge their utter sinfulness and complete moral helplessness and depravity, any who strive to be good in God’s eyes by their own works, such do not receive the benefits of Christ’s birth, life, and death. God’s grace is only for those who know and understand they have nothing to offer to God, no sacrifice to bring for their sins. But all who come to the Child of the Manger with the God-given conviction that nowhere else but in Him alone is there hope and salvation, these find God’s grace and love.The lowliness and poverty of the Babe of Bethlehem are but symbols of our guilt and shame, which He took upon Himself.

This is what we believe with all our heart when we come to the Lord’s Table to be united in soul and body with our dear Savior. We realize that we are sinners who have accumulated a huge debt before God because of our constant rebellion and many offences. But this Child was born for just that purpose of taking away all our sins, guilt, shame, and punishment.

In Jesus, God became man that He might be able to die for the sins of the whole world. The body that came from the blessed Virgin Mother He gave for all mankind on the cross, and that very same body He gives to us in the blessed Holy Sacrament today. The blood He shed for all He gives to us together with the wine, to assure us that He did indeed enter this world, and that He did indeed shed His blood to pay our debts to His Father. By giving us His body and blood, together with the bread and wine, He declares that we, too, are now totally and completely reconciled with God, and that we too are now people who have God’s good will and thus eternal peace with Him.

Our very presence at the Lord’s Table is a visible declaration on our part that we believe all of this. As often as we eat and drink to His name, we proclaim His birth and His death. By our eating and drinking we declare that God’s Son became a human and gave Himself for us in order to pardon us from all sin.

Because of this we can renounce all false teachings and worldly passions, and await with joy the appearing of our great Savior, Jesus Christ.

Truly blessed are all who in such a way receive the Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and so declare their confident faith in the grace of God that appeared in that stable of Bethlehem. Come then, my friends, as pardoned and redeemed sinners, and faithfully lay hold of God’s grace and forgiveness. This is the greatest Christmas present of all! Then the glory of the LORD will shine brightly in your hearts, and the dark night of sin will be banished. And as happy children of your heavenly Father you may live each day looking forward to your final deliverance with the Second Coming of Jesus. His is the name of names. In this name we are saved.

Thank you, God, for Jesus! Amen.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Pastor Spencer

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