Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011: "The Light's in our eyes"

Isaiah 52:7-10
John 1:1-14

Merry Christmas!  Your presence in worship on this holy of Holy Days, Christmas on a Sunday, is a testament to that which you know to be true.  You have seen the Light, and you have rejected the darkness of the world to come into that Light for all to see.  You have rejected the temporary, yet constantly changing and exhausting demands of the world and have sought sanctuary in the reality of the eternal Holy.  You have defied the will of the dominant culture and have ascended to something greater and longer lasting.  By choosing to worship our Lord today, you have made your God and Father primary rather than incidental because you have come to realize our Holy Father really does not ask much of us; and you have taught your children a valuable lesson.

Christmas is old news to the world that has over the years come to be taken for granted, but we notice that in the last few years an unbelieving world seems to be pushing back in resistance.  By the looks of it, it would appear the pagans are trying to reclaim a solstice that once was theirs and into which the early Church inserted the Mass of the Christ in an effort to reach them, in an effort to SHARE THIS GOOD NEWS of the birth of Messiah to a new generation and culture!  It is the same glorious story told over and over to every generation, and yet it is a story that should not get old.  It is that time of year almost everyone looks forward to because there is something magical about the whole thing.

Why, then, does it have to end?  I think it is because the Light begins to reveal something we would prefer to stay in the dark and hidden away.

Christmas is the season of revelation when we celebrate something we cannot begin to imagine but have spent the past 2000 years trying to explain: the Holy God of all creation revealing Himself in the perfection of humanity by coming to us as a Child into the very world spoken into existence by His Word; yet being revealed as that same "Word made Flesh", He found Himself rejected by His own creation.  This was expressed by St. John some 2000 years ago and is strangely and sadly relevant and equally true even today.  Only this time it is not the Jews to whom John refers.

I remember a funny story (written by Paul Lee Tan, "Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations") in which the late president Calvin Coolidge had returned home from worship early one Sunday afternoon.  His wife had been sick and unable to attend, but she wanted to know what the pastor had spoken about in his sermon.  Mr. Coolidge responded, "He talked about sin".  His wife pressed him for more details, so Mr. Coolidge was said to have responded: "I think he was against it."

The Church does not seem to like talking about "sin" much anymore (it's so negative and somewhat "offensive"); some traditions come dangerously close to suggesting that sin no longer exists for the Christian.  We are a nation - and even a Church - fixated on being "politically correct" so as to be as inoffensive as possible.  I agree to a certain extent because there is no good to come from inflicting harm or being offensive just because we can, and I think St. Paul would agree as well that it is preferable we at least show some common courtesy and basic respect toward one another even as it pertains to religious beliefs: "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with everyone" (Romans 12:18).  St. Paul further states, "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.  [So] if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love.  Do not destroy with food the one for whom Christ [also] died" (Romans 14:14-15).

Let us be clear, however.  St. Paul is not talking about "food"; he is talking about something much more profound, of much greater substance and consequence.  There is a practicality to our faith and the practice of our religion that demands daily acquiescence to the certain knowledge that we do not have to be "right" in order to be "righteous", but we must act within a certain level of consciousness that demands attention to be paid to others besides ourselves.  For instance, we are aware of the so-called "seven deadly sins".  Mahatma Gandhi, however, had his own list of "deadly sins" that should pique the conscience of every right-thinking human person regardless of religious affiliation: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, politics without principle, and worship without sacrifice.

It has been said so many times and in so many ways that we cannot appreciate the power of - or even the "need" for - a Savior until we can appreciate the power of sin itself; for if sin does not exist or is just not that big of a deal, there is no need of the Savior and Jesus is nothing more than a philosopher.  It has been said that "because of sin man has taken the deity out of religion, the supernatural out of Christianity, the authority from the Bible, the Lord out of education, morality and virtue out of literature, beauty and truth out of art, ethics out of business, and fidelity out of marriage" (author unknown).  So if there is no sin for which atonement is required, Jesus was just a prophet; just a teacher.  And His painful death little more than an act of injustice and mob violence - which is nothing new or special.

One need only to have an honest look around - in and outside the Church - to know this all to be painfully true.  And if such things can be said to be "going a bit too far", for instance toward censorship, then we understand - or should understand - that the birth of the Christ is overblown and that Jesus was nothing more than another preacher in a long line of preachers who was murdered for calling people of faith back into the fold of that faith - AND - calling "sin" out for what it really is.    

When we allow this profound disconnect between "sin" and "salvation", we diminish - or eliminate altogether - the role of the Holy Son in the Holy Trinity.  It is a falsehood to suggest that Christmas means different things to different people; this is perhaps the single, greatest deception of all time!  It is not unlike Jesus speaking to His disciples about false prophets and false messiahs in Matthew 24.  There have been many before, and there will be many more to come.  People have been and will continue to be willingly misled by such false promises as "worship without sacrifice" because such reasoning gives us an excuse to step away.  It denies that Ultimate Sacrifice made with Christ's own Blood and simply says Jesus died in vain; for there was no sin for which to atone.

Whether the unbelieving world will admit it or not, we all have a desperate need to know what Christmas really means.  And it can only mean ONE THING: "The Lord so loved the world that He gave His only Son ..."  And my guess is that if we knew - REALLY KNEW - what the birth of Messiah means to the entire world, there would be NO CHURCHES CLOSED ON CHRISTMAS DAY regardless of what day of the week Christmas falls on!  If we really could understand and appreciate our desperate need for a Savior, churches would be open each morning so the faithful could prepare themselves AND ONE ANOTHER for the day ahead - AND - the churches would reopen at noon for the faithful to recharge for the afternoon - AND - reopen again in the late afternoon so the faithful could prepare for the evening's challenges and give thanks for all that day brought forth.

But we don't.  We don't because we have mistakenly pushed aside the "Word made Flesh" in favor of the world of flesh.  We have chosen not "two sides of the same coin" in works of piety and works of mercy; we have chosen another coin altogether.  We have decided against following the Light of Christ and have chosen instead to turn in another direction - because that "Light" is just getting in our eyes.

In the name of the Holy Father, the Holy Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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