Yixing Teapots

Register

Log in

Topics

Archives

Lindemann on Christmas I

by revalkorn ~ December 10th, 2010

THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

The name of this Sunday is as given and not merely the Sunday after Christmas. For next Sunday is the Second Sunday after Christmas and not the Sunday after New Year. (The civil New Year’s Day has no place in the ecclesiastical year.) In some years this Sunday within the Octave of Christmas is not observed, as when the Nativity falls on a Sunday. However, provision has been made for it with a full set of Propers. Apparently it is not expected to contribute a very important part to the building of the Year, yet there are important lessons to be brought home and the testimony of this Sunday is needed, not to strengthen but to complete.

The Introit. “Thy testimonies are very sure; holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, forever. Thy throne is established of old; Thou art from everlasting. The Lord reigneth, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith He hath girded Himself.”

The Lord’s decrees are very sure. He has decreed that we are to be heirs of God through Christ. The way to this goal leads through repentance and the Law. The birth for us is to be the birth of Christ in us. Holiness befits God’s house and the sons of God. We are to be free from the bondage of the Law, to live as it befits heirs of God through Christ.

The Collect. “Almighty and everlasting God, direct our actions according to Thy good pleasure, that in the name of Thy beloved Son, we may be made to abound in good works; through the same,” etc.

This prayer seems to be inspired by the holy lives of Simeon and Anna, faithful examples of devotion even under the Law. But at the end of the Holy Gospel we read of the growth of the Holy Babe into the manhood that later received the Father’s commendation, “In whom I am well pleased.” Here we find the source of the petition that the Father direct our actions according to His good pleasure, so that in our lives we may abound more and more in good works.

This Sunday is the last of the civil year. The Church does not recognize or rightly know anything of a New Year’s Day. This is foreign to her Year and purpose. But in the early days of the Church, this time of the year was given over to celebrations of heathen customs in connection with the ending of the old and the beginning of the new year. Certain gods and goddesses were invoked, the people thronged their shrines. With the carnival spirit prevailing, revolting excesses became very common. The Christians who had been converted from heathenism and lived in this pagan atmosphere were tempted to relapse into the old customs and to participate in the festivities. The Church endeavored to counteract the attractions and temptations by offering other observances. The Vigils, the Early and Later Services, the days of St. Stephen and St. John and the Holy Innocents were designed to preoccupy. But the lure to pleasure and excess made itself felt even within the fold. Therefore the Church entitled the Mass of this day “the Mass for the Redemption from the Worship of Idols.” This day’s Collect was appointed for that Mass. At a much later date, attention tended to turn to this Sunday as a sort of “Old Year’s Day.” The modern Christians, too, must live in a world that observes the end and the beginning of the civil years with pagan customs and excesses, and are apt to yield too much to the spirit of the season. Therefore, more and more, this Sunday is observed with a looking forward into the new year. The Collect is particularly pertinent, as are some parts of the Holy Gospel.

The Epistle (Gal. 4:1-7). Many see in Christ the “holy Infant so tender and mild” and celebrate Christmas before a decorated tree and a profusion of gifts. They see romance in the stable, the manger, and the poverty of Bethlehem. Others prefer to view the Babe as the future Man of Sorrows, who by obedience and self-abasement brought men out of the misery of sin. Still others see in Him only a wise teacher or an extraordinarily noble person. But we have arrived at a better understanding of the poverty and humbleness of the Birth. “Though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.” St. Augustine wrote: “God was made man that man might become God.” He is ever the same, as Infant, as King, at Easter, at the Ascension, or at His Last Coming — the Crucified. As we stand at the Manger, we see the Cross looming behind it. In the tender hands of the Babe we see the wounds of the Crucifixion.

The Gradual. “Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips. My heart is inditing a good matter, I speak of the things which I have made touching the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Alleluia! Alleluia! The Lord reigneth, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith He hath girded Himself. Alleluia!”

The Proper Sentence. “Alleluia! Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad before the Lord; for He hath made known His salvation. Alleluia!”

The Gospel (St. Luke 2:33-40). Somewhat reluctantly our thoughts travel to the scene pictured in the Holy Gospel. Forty days after the Birth, Mary’s Child is presented in the temple. The aged Simeon takes the Infant in his arms and blesses God for the grace of being permitted to see the Redeemer before his death. Now he is ready and glad to depart this life. Then the old man becomes very serious, for as a prophet he looks into the future, thirty-three years hence. There he beholds an appalling sight. The Child he holds in his arms is a grown Man, the Redeemer of the world. Yet His own people, whose glory He was destined to be, have rejected Him and delivered Him to the heathen, to whom He is destined to be a light. A cruel deed has been perpetrated. Three crosses are set upon a hill, two holding each a robber, the one in the middle bearing the one-time Child of Bethlehem, the innocent Son of God. There He hangs, helpless and naked, His hands and feet pierced with nails, consumed with thirst, covered with blood, forsaken by His heavenly Father. The sun has hidden its light at the sight. Below the Cross stands the woman who on the Holy Night carefully tended the Infant. Simeon utters the prophetic words: “Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”

Why does the Church ask us to meditate on these sad thoughts while still within sight of the manger? Surely, she wishes us to celebrate a joyous and happy Christmas. Yet she introduced the account of the Holy Gospel to remind us that Christmas is not sheer poetry. Our Lord’s birth marks the beginning of a hard and bitter life for the Redeemer. We must view this life as a whole, as a sacrifice of humiliation that is crowned by His death on the Cross. Christ’s entire life on earth, from birth to death, was a horrible abasement and deprivation. It was the price of our salvation. We must bear this in mind if we are to understand His birth in the stable. His entire life was a sacrifice.

The Proper Preface. “For in the mystery of the Word made flesh, Thou hast given us a new revelation of Thy glory, that, seeing Thee in the person of Thy Son, we may be drawn to the love of those things which are not seen.

REFLECTIONS ON THE EPISTLE

The Epistle asks us to reflect on the sublime thought of our supernatural elevation. Why did Christ become a little child and endure so many things? The Epistle opens with a picture from everyday life. A rich man, a king, dies and leaves his whole estate to a minor son. As long as the heir is still a child, he has no right to administer the property, but he remains under obedience of his guardian and tutor. In no respect does he visibly differ from an inferior. He is obliged to ask for everything and to thank for all that is done for him. But as soon as he has reached man’s estate, he becomes lord and ruler. Here St. Paul compares the Old Law with the New Law. Under the Old Covenant, the people were already heirs of the promised redemption, but they remained minors, without the right to administer the benefits of salvation, for they were still servants in God’s eyes. At the coming of Christ all this was changed. “When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Through Christ’s birth we were made children of God. We are no longer servants as in the Old Testament. Instead we are the beloved children. For this Child willed to become a child that we might know we are the children of God.

One of the mysteries of sanctifying grace is that it brings us into closest union with the blessed Trinity. The Holy Spirit comes upon us and lives in us, making body and soul the temple of His glory. The Holy Spirit brings the other Persons of the Godhead to dwell in our soul. We become members of Christ and brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus. He abides in us and we in Him. The Holy Spirit leads us also to the Father and makes us beloved children. On earth adopted children have blood that is different from that of their parents, but God’s adopted children are truly His children, since they are made partakers of the divine nature through grace.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

This day is really not the Sunday after Christmas but the Sunday after Christmas Day, for the great Christmas truth is still before us. Having considered the Incarnation, we now learn its meaning. We pass from the God-ward view to the man-ward view, the truth of the Incarnation as it affects our relation to God.

A. Man’s Position Before the Incarnation. The human race was then in its minority. This was true also of the chosen people, who, though heirs of God, were still treated as children and expected to obey as servants. Their position was preparatory, “until the date set by the father.” They were not yet capable of freedom but were under “guardians and trustees.” They were learning elementary lessons, and lessons pertaining to life in this world, “the elemental spirits of the universe,” and lessons very hard and burdensome, for they were “slaves.”

B. The Time of the Incarnation. Christ’s coming took place at the time fixed and appointed in God’s eternal decrees, at the time determined in ancient prophecy, when the kingly power had passed from Judah and while the second temple was still standing. It took place at the time most suitable, when the world had learned that it was hopeless to think of improving the human race by means of any of the religions or philosophies then existing; when all was ready for the diffusion of a world creed, and the Empire by its arms and laws had paved the road for the messengers of the King of Kings.

C. The Truth of the Incarnation. “God sent forth His Son.” This Son was pre-existent. He was before He was sent. He was divine, for He was with God before He was sent from God. “Born of a woman.” He was human. No reference seems intended here to His supernatural conception, but only to His birth as man. “Born under the Law.” He accepted the position of those He came to save. He came to share not only our humanity but our inferiority. He accepted as man the relation in which He found men standing towards God, even though this relation had been caused by sin. God’s children had become merely servants, so Christ took upon Himself the form of a servant. Though void of sin, He accepted the low estate to which sin had brought us.

D. The Purpose and Result of the Incarnation. Christ acquiesced in our condition and assumed our relation toward God, but only in order that He might alter this relation by “redeeming those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” This new relationship to God came by the Incarnation of our brother man, the Lord from heaven, through brotherhood with whom we receive the adoption. Nor is this change merely nominal. With our position is given the power to gain a new disposition. With our new relation is given the power to acquire a new feeling of kinship with God. “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts,” to enable us to realize and act out our adoption. It is not because we are spiritual that we are made sons, but because we are sons, we receive the assistance of the Spirit. As many as are led by the Spirit become sons of God in the fullest meaning of the word and shall in due time, as heirs of God, enter into perfect communion with God. This is the final goal of the Incarnation.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

There is something melancholy about the Sunday after Christmas. We feel as the shepherds must have felt when the angels left them again and, instead of heavenly glory, darkness surrounded them. Has the coming and going of Christmas had no lasting effect whatever? Has it been void of all blessing? In the year that lies ahead we shall hear how our Lord accomplished the great work of redemption and reconciliation that brought Him down to earth. What stand shall we take over against this Gospel? Accept the Lord Jesus as Savior and follow Him with trusting, loving heart? Permit Him to rule our life? Trust solely in His merit to make us acceptable in God’s sight? Or refuse to acknowledge Him as our Lord and King? Put hope for salvation and God’s favor in our own worthiness and moral excellence? We must take a stand. We cannot compromise. Either we are with Him heart and soul, or we are against Him. There is no third stand we may take. In the Kingdom of God there is no neutrality.

How the Thoughts Out of Many Hearts Are Revealed Through Christ

A. He Is Set for the Fall of Many. Mary and Joseph had heard wonderful things concerning their Child. Now Simeon’s prophecy. They must have marveled at the words of the aged man. They were not to entertain false hopes, not to be led to think that their Son’s career will be glorious before the world. Many in Israel will be offended in Him, reject Him, and fall (Is. 8:14,15).

The truth of this prophecy was soon realized. King Herod attempted to kill the young Child. Later He experienced opposition from Herod the Tetrarch, Pilate, the Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadducees. As He hung on the Cross, He was mocked and derided. After His resurrection the Apostles were forbidden even to speak of the Lord, were persecuted and killed. Also to the Gentiles He was a stone of stumbling. Wherever this sign was held aloft, it was spoken against. So it has continued to the present day. The great majority does not accept Christ as the Savior, as the Son of God, who became man to make men heirs of God. It humbles man’s pride to admit that he is utterly helpless and that help must come from the outside. Simeon says that this is not an unforeseen development. God planned it so. “Behold, this Child is set for the fall of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against.” God set Him, intended Him to be a stone of stumbling. His purpose was to confound the self-righteousness and wisdom of the world.

B. He Is Set for the Rising of Many. Isaiah once pictured how the Lord enters into judgment with penitent sinners (Is. 1:18). God is both Plaintiff and Judge. Heaven and earth are the witnesses called upon to testify that in spite of God’s countless blessings His people have turned from Him. The guilt is established beyond a doubt. The people must confess that they deserve God’s wrath and punishment. What is the sentence of the judge? “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Why this gracious sentence? Because the Child in Simeon’s arms brings righteousness to all who accept Him as their only Hope of salvation. To him who despairs of self, this Child is a rock for his rising again. This he grasps with the hands of faith, draws himself up out of the black waters of sin and hopelessness, and so is saved from eternal death. This happens wherever the sign of the Cross is held on high. Many accept, rise, and live. The shepherds, Simeon, the Magi, the prophetess Anna accepted Him. Many loyal souls followed Him in faith and love even to a martyr’s death. Preachers of the Cross turned the world upside down. To this day Christ is a stone for the rising of many who despair of their own efforts, build their trust on Christ, accept Him as their Lord and King, and serve Him in love and devotion.

The Christ Child came to be the Servant of servants, and His followers must be servants of their fellow men. There is one service each can render. Anna, at eighty-four years, could have argued that there was nothing more for her to do. But no sooner had she seen the Christ than she began to speak of the Savior to all who were looking for the redemption in Jerusalem. Into her own little world she brought the hope of salvation. If Christmas means more than a round of buying and selling, we shall speak of the deliverance Christ brought to all who look for redemption. Our witness shall not be in vain. May then the coming year echo and re-echo our Bethlehem experience.

THE HOLY COMMUNION

The thoughts of our hearts also, are revealed by our attitude toward the Christ Child. We make our decision clear today by our appearance at the Lord’s Table. By eating and drinking to His memorial we declare: “I believe that for me He gave His body into death, for me He shed His blood, that I may have forgiveness, life, and blessedness.”

But we must not think that we have met all requirements by professing our faith in His salvation. Are we to be just ornaments? Are we so vain as to imagine that we add a note of exquisite dignity and charm? We know that we are in Christ’s Kingdom to serve Him. We can render Him no service directly, for He needs nothing. We may serve Him only by serving our fellow men for His sake. We have been baptized. Whom have we brought to Holy Baptism? We have been confirmed in the faith by constant instruction. Whom have we instructed or brought to be taught? We are united with our Lord in the Holy Communion. Whom have we helped to restore to their Communion? We have the sign of the holy Cross on our forehead from Holy Baptism. How far have we driven that Cross into our social relationships, our business, our school life? How far have we carried it into our community, impressed it on our environment, stamped it into our lives?

Into His face we look, as we kneel before Him in Holy Communion, and pray: “Lord Jesus, I have resolved afresh to be Thy follower and servant. Make me a better follower, a better servant.”

Leave a Reply