In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Be reconciled,” writes St Paul in our second reading. But reconciliation means that someone has caused a particular offense; committed an act that broke trust or betrayed an agreement, an act that somehow hurt or killed a relationship. / And St Paul's statement is absolute, it applies to everyone: “All must be reconciled to God,” because all have broken the trust and thus hurt and killed the relationship.
And, unfortunately this is also such a common thing among us, in our relationships. Anger, immorality, gossip, these are the tools that lead to divorce, estranged family members, and the worst of all, separation from God.
“I want another chance. I wish things could have been some other way,” we say. We wish we could take lots of things back. We wish we could press some magic do-over or restart button like on a video game. Yes, we all have things that we wish could be otherwise than what they are. But there is no do-over button, at least not within our reach. We are left with the aftermath, the consequences of our's or someone else's actions. God is the only One who can make things otherwise.
And so He showed His great love to us in that, at Christmas, God makes things otherwise. He takes the evil things that are / and re-creates them, makes them good. He makes us good. This is the work of God’s 'making otherwise'. He does not merely wish that things were otherwise, as we do. He changes things. He sees the brokenness and tragedy of the world caused by man’s fall into sin and makes things otherwise. He does this through the Incarnation of His Son, born of the Blessed Virgin. We will sing of this in the exultant refrain to the Quempas Carol on Christmas Eve: “God’s own Son is born a child, is born a child; God the Father is reconciled, is reconciled!”
Everything is made different through the Incarnation. Our Father has been reconciled to us and we to Him. This is the ultimate and most important 'making otherwise'. The re-connection of friends, or of husband and wife, or of parent and child, / these are of no value without the re-connection of the heavenly Father to us, His children.
We are in danger, we are born in danger, fatal danger, of an eternal fatality. The children suffer the same consequence as their parents. Father Adam and Mother Eve have sinned. The trespass? Disobedience. A simple act, one that took only a few seconds, but that has eternal consequences. By that act, that disregard for the Word of God, man must die. But God is mercy. As it is written: “The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring [singular]; he [masculine singular] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his [masculine singular] heel."”
God is mercy, He will be that “masculine singular.” Jesus is the Offspring that will bruise the head of Satan, that is, defeat Him. But first, a Baby. Christmas before Good Friday, but Christmas always with a mind on Good Friday. /
There's a painting by an unknown artist that depicts a baby, umbilical cord still attached, with a crown of thorns piercing His skull. “How disgusting, how offensive.” The cross is offensive / and disgusting, just like sin, even more than sin. Sin is death for the sinner, so the cross must also be death to The Sinner, or rather, to the One who took all sin / and died, this baby Immanuel, Jesus. God's own Son, made to be sin for us, that we sinners might be made to be God's own sons, reconciled to our eternal Parent, through our eternal Brother, forgiven and free.
No need for a do-over or a restart, it wouldn't help anyhow. On the one hand, a do-over wouldn't help because the offense has already been caused; it's history. You have hurt and killed relationships, worst of all your relationship with your heavenly Father, and you're destined to do it again. That's sin for you, and the crushing weight of Law exposes that sin. Every sin, that is, every time you disregard God's Word, like your first parents did, you dis-connect yourself from your heavenly Father. Repent.
On the other hand, a do-over is no good because Jesus has already done everything necessary, for you. You are re-connected in Jesus, by His death and resurrection some 2000 years ago.
This is the easy yoke and light burden of the Gospel; that you are simply called to receive what Jesus has done for you. In other words, you only must repent and be forgiven. Then repent and be forgiven again, then again and on and on goes our life as God's children / until finally, like all those who have died in the faith, we too / are released of our bondage to sin and death and offense as we fall asleep in Jesus.
But what of those worldly things, of our other broken relationships? God has come to reconcile our eternal, heavenly relationship, but has He come to reconcile our earthly relationships as well? Does He even care?
Like our continued reconciliation with the Father, it all begins with repentance, or rather, God repenting you. With honest eyes, you must look into yourself. “What have I done, what must I repent of?” Thus God gives you / His Law. Have you been unfaithful, have you been angry, have you betrayed confidences or selfishly acted in a way that only served yourself? Repent. The fruit of these seeds of Satan is broken relationships. And you sow them, often. Repent; allow yourself to be led to repentance. The Law works to show you your sin, where you have trespassed over into un-protected land. The Law accuses you, it accuses us all. We are all guilty! We cry out to God, have mercy on me, the sinner. But not to some distant, abstract, agnostic God. We cry out for mercy to the God of mercy. God is mercy. God is love. He reconciles you in love to Himself that you might be given the “ministry of reconciliation,” as St Paul calls it.
Forgiven, you live in a state of peace and harmony. This is who you are. As you come to Altar, as you hear preaching, as you confess those particular sins to me, your pastor, you are preserved in that peace. God renews His promises to you, reinstating you in the high office of His child, heir of His kingdom of reconciliation. So what does this have to do with divorce and estranged children and broken friendships?
Be who you are. Be at peace. Do not be angry. Do not gossip. Keep your eyes and hands away from everything that might rob you or your loved ones from such peace. For, by getting angry, by gossiping, by living in immorality, you are lying to yourself and about yourself. That is not who God has made you to be. Take pride in who God has made you to be in the waters of Holy Baptism. You have become the righteousness of God, so live in that righteousness.
Take the example of your brother, Christ. Study the Scriptures, what do you see Him doing? Imitate Him who is your righteousness. Most especially, He forgives you (that's the whole purpose of His birth, and the consequence of His cross); He forgives, so you also, forgive one another.
Has someone been angry toward you. Go, fulfill your office as child of God and minister of reconciliation. First, you repent of what you have done to insight such anger, then go and forgive, even without an apology, go and forgive, just like the Father forgives you even without your apology. / Has someone committed some immorality against you: first, you repent, then once forgiven, you go and forgive.
This is who you are now, I'm not telling you anything different than what you already know. You just need some reminders every once in a while.
You are forgiven to forgive others, loved to love others, reconciled to reconcile others. In these ways you are simply being who you were made to be as you are at peace in Him who is born a child, born The Child, even Jesus Christ, our Lord! /
No take backs, / but He takes you back. Go, and do likewise.
In +Jesus' name. Amen.
[Artwork by Ed Riojas]