Thursday, December 22, 2011

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

(Reposted from last year)

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!”


Anonymous said...

Thank you Pastor Rydecki. That is one of the most incredible sermons I have ever heard. Thank you for sharing the "Gift'!

Jerry said...

Dear Brother Rydecki,
This excellent article was the back page of Forward in Christ -- A Lutheran Voice last year. Because we celebrate Holy Communion on Christmas Day, and because your words so clearly connected the Incarnation and the Real Presence, your article was the substance of our Christmas Day message (properly credited in the bulletin, of course). It will be again tomorrow as we once again celebrate The Nativity of our Lord -- the Mass of Christ.
Thank you for your words from the Word!
Pr. Jerry Ewings

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Thanks for your kind words, Jerry, and every blessing to you and your congregation at Christmas!

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