2nd Sunday after Christmas – C LSB #’s 367, 387, 379
Text – Ephesians 1:4 NIV
For He chose us in Christ, before the creation of the world, to be holy & blameless in His sight.
BEFORE THE CREATION
How are the Christmas presents holding up? They can have a rather short-term life. I bought a godchild of mine a car racetrack set one year. It was broken within a month. And older people tend to complain that things don’t last like they should. So you may have heard the phrase, “They just don’t make ’em like they used to!”
The United States is known as a society of people who not only seek but demand instant gratification. In a humorous play on that tendency, where I lived in Colorado there was a restaurant with this sign, “We guarantee fast service, no matter how long it takes.” At the opposite extreme of our impatience is a story I heard regarding life in ancient Korea.
There, when the father died, the eldest son was expected to mourn his father’s death for three years, & their tradition required that he do so 7 days a week. The son would often build a small house near the grave & he’d live there the entire 3 years. That’s quite a lesson in being patient & looking at life with a long-term outlook.
That happens to be one of the points made in the sermon text today. Paul writes that we were chosen already before the creation of the world. He is trying to help the Ephesians adapt to the concept of Christian hope which is a long-term outlook. In the city of Ephesus the concept of ‘fate’ was seen as ruling their lives.
‘Fate’ is capricious, it is moody, it is fickle & unpredictable. The whys & wherefores of curse or blessing are a continual mystery. With ‘fate’ as their highest god, people tend to live very superstitious lives & good fortune always has strings attached. There are no guarantees with ‘fate,’ & without a guarantee there’s little point in taking a long-term outlook. ‘Fate’ has no history or track record as Yahweh does. The God of Abraham & Isaac & Jacob has a history of making prophecies & fulfilling them. People with faith in Christ are able to trust in Him because He always follows through, no matter how long it takes.
In our economy, computers become obsolete the moment you walk out of the store with them. A new car loses several thousand dollars of value the minute you drive it off the lot. Even particular models of running shoe will be phased out, after only two or three years, purely for marketing reasons.
As far as attitude is concerned, Americans have a lot in common with the people of Ephesus. We’ve surrendered to the natural tendency to focus on a short-term outlook. If we don’t see results within a few weeks we bail out. It’s our sinful nature to demand instant gratification. It takes discipline & training to practice delaying gratification.
Today’s younger generations need to be taught from Ephesians, about delayed gratification. The older generations need to brush up on it, & to practice it in all areas of their lives, not just those which suit their fancy. Our Father in heaven chose us in Christ to be holy & blameless in His sight, not just in our own sight.
Our lives leave a lot of room for improvement in respect to being holy & blameless. Those are such perfect standards that they are not attainable. Anyone who realizes the implication is forced to confront a struggle. Because of their short-term worldview, the Ephesians struggled with the concept of being at peace with God on a long-term basis.
Americans struggle with that concept too, & the majority of them today are coming to the conclusion, “Why bother?” They figure God can get along without them. They seem to view Christianity as being more about a lifestyle than about a relationship. It’s like Christianity is about trying to be holy & blameless, rather than about being a child of God. Viewing religion as if it’s about trying to be holy & blameless leads to all the wrong conclusions. It’s easy to develop a false sense of righteousness. It’s easy to develop a false sense of hopelessness. Either case leads to a short-term outlook on life, because neither case depends upon an eternal God in order to make it through the day.
Instead, people look to the stars, in horoscopes & psychic readings, to discover their ‘fate.’ People look to the events of their life to find purpose & meaning. For satisfaction, we look to how much we accomplish, or to get by with doing as little as possible in order not to be the fool who always gets taken advantage of.
Being so focused on the short-term, we fail to see the forest for the trees. In that shortsighted, & sinful, view all the details of earthly existence end up becoming the only substance of our existence. God fades out of the picture & we wind up worshipping the created things instead of the One who created them.
The 1st chapter of Ephesians opens by worshipping God. Paul expresses thanks to God the Father for choosing us already before the creation of the world, before any of the events of our day. That means our value & worth is not intimately connected with the details of our earthly existence. It is not dependent upon our lifestyle, but upon our relationship.
It is God the Father who establishes that relationship through His act of choosing us. He chose you to be His adopted sons through the holy & blameless life of His begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Once we understand that life & religion are not about trying to be holy & blameless, then we can truly relax & rest in the love of the Father who adopted us.
Then we serve Him joyfully, not out of fear or compulsion like those who serve ‘fate.’ Then we do not need the advice of horoscopes, because we know that God the Father has our life in His almighty hands. He has plans already from before the creation to give us hope & a future. And He is not a capricious & moody lord as ‘fate’ is. We can never know the will of ‘fate’ but we do know the will of our heavenly Lord, because He revealed it to us in His Word.
New Year’s Eve has come & gone, & it is common to picture that event with an hourglass. The sands of time keep slipping through the hourglass of history, but the children of God have a foothold on something rooted in eternity. We live in this world but are not of it. We live in time, but are not imprisoned by it.
Others may fear what awaits us tomorrow, next month, next year, but Christians may face the future calmly because our safety, purpose & identity are based in God’s action, NOT ours. Fear comes from the knowledge that we can & we do fail. It comes from the realization that we cannot predict exactly when we will fail.
Heavenly joy comes from knowledge that God knows all our failures ahead of time & they do not catch Him by surprise. His long-term outlook includes all of history, & for us He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. Heavenly joy rests in the fact that all of our failures have been forgiven & forgotten by Jesus.
A long-term outlook is able to look even beyond sickness & death to the resurrection & eternal life. For the joy set before Him (meaning our resurrection & eternal life) for that joy Jesus endured a torturous death on the cross & even the hell of being abandoned by His Father. All that so He could speak these words:
“…I am the resurrection & the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; & whoever lives & believes in Me will never die…” (John 11:25-26) It was for that which God chose you & me even before the creation.
Your life is not plan B. It is not ‘fate.’ Your life is not God’s 2nd choice, or all that was left. We can truly take a long-term outlook already today, because as God’s children we will never die that eternal death. Christ has won the victory & His resurrection from the dead guaranteed you that victory for all eternity. If the people you know insist upon speaking of ‘fate,’ then tell them that the only ‘fate,’ which exists for the children of God, is the ‘fate’ of eternal life.
So how are your Christmas presents holding up? Yes, that was a trick question. I’m checking to see if you’re learning to think with a long-term outlook instead of a short-term one. I’m not concerned with any of the earthly presents you received, all of which will one day be destroyed. I mean, “How are the blessings of forgiveness & eternal life holding up?”
That is a good question to ponder each & every day of the year. Amen.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room & heaven & nature sing… No more let sins & sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found… Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ, while fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains repeat the sounding joy… Amen. LSB 387:1, 3 & 2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet