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Lindemann on the Nativity of Our Lord

by revalkorn ~ December 10th, 2010

THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD

Christmas, the Mass of Christ’s Day, is the only feast of the year for which two Services are appointed and two sets of Propers are provided. The set of Propers for the Early Service has been spoken of as historic, the set for the Later Service as dogmatic. Whether we find it convenient or not, the fact remains that both sets are appointed for The Communion. In many churches the Holy Sacrament is celebrated only in one or the other, though the appointed Propers are used in both Services. Some churches have eliminated the Holy Communion entirely on Christmas Day. The reason is said to be that the members and children and visitors attend in unusual numbers and that the visiting nonmembers do not wish to sit idly in the pews while the members communicate. For the sake of people who attend once or twice during the year God’s saints are deprived of the Holy Sacrament! A far simpler solution would be to arrange a special program for all who even at Christmas are in a hurry. In such a special service the choirs may sing to their hearts’ content, the organist play interminably, the pastor limit his ministry to a brief reading and a short prayer. A ceremony of candle-lighting may be performed. In fact, any and every sentimental prettiness observed in churches that have no Holy Sacrament may be imitated. This should satisfy the nonchurched and induce them to come again on Easter. But the Services appointed by the Church, The Communion with its own set of Propers, is chiefly for the faithful. The Feast of the Holy Nativity is not an occasion to deprive the faithful of the Holy Communion for the sake of the infrequent visitor. If the number of communicants is large, the Celebration in both services is the partial answer. Christmas, the Mass of Christ’s Day, is incomplete without the Eucharist.

THE PROPERS FOR THE EARLY SERVICE

The Church prepared for the commemoration of our Lord’s Nativity not only during the Season of Advent but also with solemn services on the day be-fore the Feast, especially in the evening of that day. The faithful gathered in the church, passed the hours in song and prayer, listened to homilies, and so watched for the coming of the Great Day. As midnight struck, they burst forth in the song of joy, the first Introit of the Day.

The Introit. “The Lord hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. The Lord reigneth, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith He hath girded Himself.”

The manhood was taken into God, and the Child of Bethlehem was begotten of the Father in the one day of eternity.

The Collect. “O God, who hast made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light, grant, we beseech Thee, that as we have known on earth the mysteries of that Light, we may also come to the fullness of His joys in heaven.”

The language clearly indicates the time when this prayer was used: “this most holy night.” Christmas is a feast of light. Its date was chosen that it might supplant and give some Christian meaning to the feast of the sun-god’s birth (sol invictus). Christ is the true God of the sun, who overcomes the darkness of hell. His birthday is quite appropriately commemorated at the time when the sun begins his return. This idea of light overcoming darkness has found expression in the lighted tree. It runs through the fabric of the day’s Propers like a golden thread.

The Epistle (Titus 2:11-14 or Is. 9:2-7). The first presents the purpose of Christ’s appearing, the message of His coming, and the life He demands of mankind. The second presented difficulties in the translation of the Authorized Version, and preachers hesitated to give the necessary and lengthy textual explanations on this day. For instance, the Authorized Version said in the third verse: “Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy.” Yet the next words were: “They joy before Thee according to the joy of harvest.” The Revised Version has eliminated the “not” and reads: “Thou hast increased its joy.” The fifth verse is made clearer also. This may encourage the choice of this Epistle as text. Beginning with the sixth verse, it offers an excellent basis for a sermon on “Our Glorious Christmas Gift,” showing who and whose He is.

The Gradual. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning. The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. Alleluia! Alleluia! The Lord hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. Alleluia!”

The Revised Version translates Ps. 110:3 as follows: “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host upon the holy mountains [or: in holy array].”

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 2:1-14). From the wide variety of subjects suggested by the narrative of the Birth, the preacher must choose one that is in harmony with the Propers. The idea of the Light dispelling darkness is presented in the Collect and in the Epistle from Isaiah. In the Holy Gospel the shepherds keep watch by night, and the glory of the Lord shines round about them. This may suggest that Christ’s birth illumines the world’s darkness concerning our fate, ourselves, and the future. However, the great thought of the Early Service is announced in the opening sentence of the Introit and repeated in the Gradual. The manhood was taken into God. The angel declared that the Babe is Christ the Lord. In the Epistle, the Child born of the Virgin is called Mighty God, Everlasting Father. This would suggest a sermon on “The Union of the Two Natures in Christ.”

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.”

THE PROPERS FOR THE LATER SERVICE

The ancient Church had to contend with the attractions and customs of the pagan world just as we must today combat the secularization of Christmas. The second set of Propers emphasizes that the Christians are not to be carried away with the world’s use of Christmas, making it a holiday instead of a Holy Day. We need to have the wondrous story told in its full import, in its application to the souls of men. The old fathers took the message “Unto you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord,” and in the Propers developed this text into the mightiest festival sermon.

The Introit. “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Oh, sing unto the Lord a new song, for He hath done marvelous things.”

The Collect. “Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the new birth of Thine only-begotten Son in the flesh may set us free, who are held in the old bondage under the yoke of sin.”

This prayer strikes a quietly sober note in the midst of this Holy Day’s great joy. The Church could pray for many things. Her greatest desire, no doubt, would be to take up the song of glory and pour it forth in adoration and thanksgiving. But in deep quietness of heart she finds the very center of her Lord’s coming into the flesh and carries this in her festival prayer to the Giver of the divine Gift. Note the contrasts, “the new birth” and “the old bondage,” and “free” and “bondage under the yoke of sin.”

The Epistle (Heb. 1:1-12). The Introit declares, “Unto us a Son is given.” The Epistle tells us that the Son who was given is the Son of God, by whom God spoke to us. He is the Word or final revelation of the Father.

The Gradual. “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth. The Lord hath made known His salvation. His righteousness hath He openly showed in the sight of the heathen. Alleluia! Alleluia! Oh, come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us worship and bow down before Him. 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. John 1:1-14). The lessons for the Later Service describe Christ’s relation to God. In the Epistle He is the Son, in the Holy Gospel He is the Word. There is no inconsistency, for the Epistle states that God spoke to us by the Son, who is, therefore, the Word, and in the Holy Gospel St. John describes the Word as the “only Son from the Father.” This Word is the Light of men. There is also the element of the witness-bearing Church: “We have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” Christ’s real relation to God no human comparison can fully exhaust. “The Son” seems to express distinction of person, and “the Word” unity of substance.

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.”

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

The Son of God

A. Previous Revelations. God had previously made His will known to man “in many and various ways.” His revelation had been progressive, increasing by slow degrees in clearness and fullness. The various ways included visions, appearances, mysterious types, appointment of sacrifices, giving of the Law, the institution of a system of worship, and the direct inspiration of the prophets.

B. The Final Revelation. The Christian revelation is not progressive but final, not distributed into various channels but concentrated in one Person. Of this Person the Epistle teaches us:

1. His Relation to the Father. He is “a Son.” God said to Him, “Thou art My Son.” He is the Father’s Son as no other is or can be. He is not only “of God” but “God of God.” “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature.” He is not only “Light,” but “Light of Light,” a breaking forth of that Light which God is. He is “Very God of Very God.” Others could reveal God by what they said, He alone by what He did and was.

2. His Relation to the World. “Through whom He created the world.” To creation He was the source of its existence. “Upholding the universe by His Word of power.” In Him dwells the power by which all things are held in being and freshness. He is the Renewer as well as the Creator of nature’s beauties, “whom He appointed the heir of all things,” Possessor and Lord. From Him all things came, and to Him all things tend.

3. His Relation to the Angels. His position is far above theirs. He possesses eternal Sonship. “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” He inherited eternal Kingship, “a throne for ever and ever,” and wields a scepter of righteousness. “God has anointed Thee with the oil of gladness beyond Thy comrades.” He enjoys eternal bliss, being not only the King of Glory but the King of Gladness and Joy. Saints and angels indeed taste of this joy, but He was anointed with the oil of gladness above them all, “when He had made purification for sins,” for He is the Author and Finisher. Eternal being is His, and “Thy years will never end.” “Thou art the same.” He shall remain when all created things shall have passed away.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

The Word of God

A. The Pre-incarnate Word. As in the Epistle, we see:

1. His Relation to God. He shares the eternity of God, His most intimate presence, His very nature.

2. His Relation to Creation. He was its Source, “all things were made through Him.” He is also nature’s constant Sustainer. See marginal note of the RSV.

3. His Relation to the World of Men. He was the invisible Head of the Old Dispensation, the Light in its darkness, ever shining, though unrecognized, and then, as now, the sole Source of salvation and life.

4. His Relation to Previous Revelations. These are summed up in the person of the Forerunner, the greatest of the prophets. St. John and the prophets were not the Light, but came to bear witness that the true Light was on the way, to point men to the dawn, and to show them that “the true Light that en-lightens every an was coming into the world,” yes, was already present in the world that was made by Him, though the world knew Him not.

B. The Incarnate Word. Reference to the Incarnation seems to begin with the words, “He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not.” We learn:

1. The Purpose of the Incarnation. The Son came to make us sons. St. John here gives the teaching of St. Paul in a single sentence. “He gave power to become children of God.” This is our justification, conferred in Holy Baptism, by which we are adopted into God’s family. To become children of God is the purpose and object of justification, that is, our sanctification, becoming children in the fullest sense of likeness to our heavenly Father.

2. The Facts of the Incarnation. “The Word became flesh,” took man’s nature, and in that nature “dwelt among us,” not merely as God dwelt in the material tabernacle, for that was never in any sense one with its glorious Inmate. Here the tabernacle of the humanity was inseparably one with the Divinity dwelling within.

3. The Witness of the Incarnation. This witness is supplied by men who themselves saw the glory of the divine Shekinah visible through the veil of human flesh, in beauty of character, blamelessness of wisdom and conduct, unearthliness of teaching, and in the divine power and winsomeness of His miracles. “Full of grace and truth.” Such divine fullness of beauty and convincing reality could exist only in One who bore a unique relation to the Father, only in the only-begotten Son.

THE HOLY COMMUNION

Whenever we are permitted to celebrate another Christmas, God confers a special favor on us by granting us to look into His fatherly heart. The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared. The grace of God is His kindness and benevolent disposition toward the sinner. On earth peace to the men of God’s good will. This grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men. In the birth of the Christ Child, God revealed to all sinners how He feels toward them. This Child was born for all men. He was to save all without exception. As the sun shines on all, so God’s sun of grace was to shine on all in Christ Jesus. Of course, he who is too proud or ashamed to acknowledge his sinfulness and helplessness, he who strives to be righteous before God by virtue of his own efforts, receives no grace. This is only for people who have nothing to bring before God. But all who come to the Child in the manger with the conviction that no-where but in Him alone there is help and salvation, find grace. The lowliness and poverty of the Babe are nothing but our guilt and misery, which He has taken upon Himself. In all eternity it shall not touch us.

This we must believe with all our heart when we come to the Lord’s Table to be united with our Savior. We are sinners and have accumulated a great debt before God, but this Child was born to take away all our guilt and suffer our punishment. God became man that He might be able to die for the sins of the whole world. The body He took from the Virgin He gave for all on the Cross, the very body He gives us in the Holy Sacrament today. The blood He shed for us He gives us together with the wine, to assure us that He came into this world also for us, that He died to pay our debts. By giving us His body and blood, together with the bread and wine, He declares that we, too, are reconciled with God, that we, too, are men of God’s good will. He has put all His grace into the Holy Sacrament. Sinners need not search for it long but have it close to hand always.

Our very presence at the Lord’s Table is a declaration on our part that we believe this. As often as we eat and drink to His memorial, we proclaim the Lord’s death. By our eating and drinking we declare: “He became man and gave Himself for me, that He might redeem me from all iniquity. I renounce irreligion and worldly passions, awaiting my blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of my great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Blessed are all who may receive the Holy Sacrament and so declare their confident faith in the grace of God that has appeared to all men. Come, then, as pardoned and redeemed sinners, and faithfully lay hold on forgiveness and grace. Then it will be truly Christmas. Then the glory of the Lord will shine in your hearts, the dark night of sin will be banished, and as happy children of the heavenly Father you may look for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

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