In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, here we are. Advent 4. So this week: yep, Christmas. For us, it comes so fast. For Him, the Center of the season, Jesus, it took an eternity. Literally. “Begotten of His Father before all worlds,” working in time once time began, yet waiting with eagerness for His human birth in about 3 AD. It happens so fast for us we might just miss it; we might be so caught up we don't realize what has happened, and what continues to happen.
What honor! And yet we don't recognize it. What privilege, and yet we don't claim it as our own. God has become one of us. God, in our flesh! Have you taken the example of Blessed Virgin Mary or the shepherds or Simeon and stopped to ponder what this might mean, that God's own Son is born a childi.
Luther used to recount an old tale that went something like this: “Once upon a time the devil attended Mass in a church where it was customary in either the Lord's Prayer or in the Creed to sing: Et homo factus est, that is, 'God's Son has become a human being.' While they were singing this the people just remained standing and did not kneel down. The devil was so outraged, that he slammed his fist into one man's mouth, saying, 'You boorish bum, aren't you ashamed to just stand there like a post and refuse to kneel for joy? If God had become OUR brother, as he did become YOUR brother, our joy would be so great that we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves.'”ii
Well, first of all, the devil wouldn't be at a Mass, or 'Divine Service' as we've renamed it. It's not possible for Him to remain in a place where even the name of Jesus is confessed, let alone where Christ is truly present, like at Mass. For Christ didn't come for the devil's purification. He came to make us humans clean. Only humans and holy angels are granted admission.
But the purpose of the tale, anyhow, isn't to recount a fictitious event, but rather to give us some real food for thought. To get us to think about our ceremony, how we respond not only to the real presence of our Lord, but even just the mention of His magnificent works among us; the most magnificent being that He became one of us. Et homo factus est, 'God's Son has become a human being,' or as this church just confessed in the Creed: “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.”
Advent is a penitential season; that means while the world is rushing around in all it's “holiday spirit” (whatever that means), we, the Church, pause. We take hours during the week to receive a focused mind. And it's a specific focus, namely on the birth of our Savior, the birth of God, the Incarnation, God assuming our flesh. We receive this Good News over and over again, we meditate on it, so that we can also live it, or rather, so it, the Gospel, can live in and through us.
We are honored over and over again. Every time you hear of this blessed event of God's birth, that is an opportunity for you to boast, in a good way. You have something in common with God! You are His brother! Are you kidding me!? You think you're proud of having a connection with a family member who won the state championship or invented the plunger or something. Give me a break, your brother Jesus created the universe! As handy as the plunger is, gravity is a bit more useful. See the stars at night, yep that's your Brother's work; of course He worked with your Father on the deal, but still pretty impressive, aye?
Now that's something to boast about. But that's only the beginning of it all; you should see what else He does. In one Word, He cleanses all sin. Through a few drips of wine and a small piece of stale bread He enters into you, setting Himself up as your spiritual fortress, cleaning out the trespassers and protecting you from any invasion of the enemies. These are the magnificent works of your Brother, of your God.
So how do you respond? Have you really given it any thought? What do you confess by your actions? Now don't go and compare yourself, don't indulge your evil mind and judge how anyone else responds. The question is, are you making the good confession? Because your going to have to do something; and that something will be a confession. You make the decision: either you kneel in humble reverence that God is physically present in this place under bread and wine, or you stand in pride and confidence as you look forward to the eternal banquet feast where all the faithful will stand and receive their crowns as kings with Christ. Either way, give it some thought. But whatever you do, do it in the confidence not of yourself, as if what you do makes a difference. Do it all for the glory of God, with a firm confidence in your Brother, your Savior, who has given you this freedom to be here, in this place, as He continues to come to be with His family, to love us and protect us and recreate us every opportunity we allow Him.
Yes, and it really is true freedom, truly freeing. That's what this whole thing is about anyhow: freedom. Jesus is a warrior, He comes to battle for you. You can't do it, He can and did, and does. Quite a freedom fighter, though, right? I mean, just look at Him, a little baby! Are you kidding me? How vulnerable! How weak.
“If you are the Christ, save yourself,” He will eventually hear from the doubters, the blasphemers. But His whole life, really, nothing about Him would give us any confidence in the man Jesus of Nazareth, especially in His birth, lying there in a manger of all things. The King of all creation just lies there in such wretchedness; suffering Himself not only to be a baby, but a poor baby with a feeding trough as a bed. How humiliating! “Then shame on me! Why am I so stuck-up? Why do I want to be so high and mighty that I never want to suffer anything? If the King of glory suffers as he does, for my sake, who do I think I am, anyway? Isn't it a fact, that I am a poor sinner who doesn't even deserve to lie [in the manure pit]? But here I am lying on [a pillowtop mattress with a quilt and two pillows] while my Lord lies there on coarse straw in a manger for the cows!”iii
Yes, we should take this focus time of Advent, or at least what's left of it, to consider not only that our God became a human like us, but also how he became a human like us. Of course, the point isn't that we guilt ourselves into giving up our tempurpedics or water beds. Again, it's not about us. It's about Christ; see how much He loves us. He didn't have to be born, He didn't have to endure 33 years of humiliation. But He did. By revealing to us that He came and how He came, He showed us just who came: the loving and giving God. The God who would give up everything, for you. The God who would wait an eternity to have you, each of you, personally with Him in paradise, calling you brother, numbering you with the saints.
And here He is, physically and spiritually poor, while we are spiritually and (perhaps) physically wealthy! That's how it is, though. That's how it has to be, because that's how God decided to free you, by taking your place, by switching destinies with you: He took your hell, you get His heaven. He took your mortality, you get His immortality. He took your rags, you get His riches. He took your slavery, you get His freedom.
Now that's focus! And that's comforting! To know that even when your mind is stuck on the earthly things, as is so easy this time of year, even though you aren't focused on Christ, yet He is focused on you.
In +Jesus' name. Amen.
[Artwork by Ed Riojas]
iFrom Quempas Carol; Resonet in laudibus
iiFrom Complete Sermons of Martin Luther; Volume V, (Baker Books), page 134
iiiFrom Complete Sermons of Martin Luther; Volume V, (Baker Books), page 136