1st Sunday after Christmas – C LSB #’s 384, 465, 387
Text – Colossians 3:12-13
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy & beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, & patience, bearing with one another &, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
WHERE CHRIST IS FOUND AT CHRISTMAS
It’s finally over – another month of insane expectations. All the festivities, parties, shopping, extra church services, birthday celebrations, the practice sessions & then the Christmas program, decorating, wrapping gifts, opening gifts, giving gifts, maybe some extra baking, cooking, cleaning, family get-togethers. December is a busy time of year.
We don’t do all those things just for nothing either. There are reasons behind the chaos of the season. So I want to ask this question to kind of bring it all together for us, to help you appreciate everything you’ve been through in the past 30 days, & why all of it is so worthwhile: “At what moment during the past month of activities did you find Jesus?”
Yeah, I know, it’s a question so blatantly obvious, it should not have to be asked. During all the festivities & celebrations, during all the pandemonium of the season, was there at least a moment or two in which you can say with certainty, “Yes, it was then, or it was there, that I found Jesus”?
One year I found Him during the Living Nativity walk as I was literally shepherding people through the countryside & village. I was one of the tour guides, disguised as a shepherd, & as the village of Bethlehem came alive for me, I found Jesus.
One year I was shopping for Christmas music & found a CD by a singer named Kathleen Battle. The lyrics & the music combined in such a way that I found Jesus while listening to that Christmas album. Another time it was listening to a jazzy version of the song, “Rise Up Shepherd” as it was being sung during the Christmas Eve service in which I preached a sermon of the same title. And yet another year was docked by the pier, on board the submarine on Christmas Day. The El Nino storms that year took out the power lines to the island where we were homeported. We had no electricity, no heat, cold food & warm water for our meals. No friends, no family, no loved ones, yet I managed to find Jesus even there.
We can find Jesus in joyful & beautiful times. We can find Jesus in sorrowful & depressing times. Yet, in spite of the fact that the question is so blatantly obvious, it shouldn’t have to be asked, I’m pretty certain there actually is a need to preach a sermon titled, “Where Christ is Found at Christmas.”
So I need to explain what I mean when I ask the question “Was there a moment or two in the last month when you found Jesus?” I don’t literally mean did you find Jesus. It’s a rhetorical question meant to spur your mind to think, to question, to ponder.
I want you to dig deep into all that your brain has processed over the past 30 days, & I want you to identify an event or a moment when you realized that Jesus was there with you! It’s more like I’m asking was there a moment or two that you recognized Jesus. At meetings now, we ask people to share what we refer to as God stories. It’s the same concept.
If you’ve been a follower of Him for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard that He is always with you. He never leaves us. One of His most famous quotations is these parting words from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” Since that is true, the God stories are there even if you fail to recognize them.
If I, as your pastor, am unable to help you find Jesus in the sorrowful or depressing times, then I’m not really measuring up to the task of being an under-shepherd of the Great & Good Shepherd. You see, Jesus really is there, even amidst the frantic & chaotic pace of the modern American celebration of Christmas. But maybe 99.9% of the time we’re totally unaware of His presence. In some cases we’re just not paying attention. In others, we’re actually closing our eyes & plugging our ears. Some of the time, we are even hardening our heart so that we purposely do not find our Lord & Savior. That is sin at work.
That goes back to the idea in last Sunday’s sermon that we are very uncomfortable in relating to Jesus as our Lord, our Master & our King. If that is the problem you are struggling with you might need to hear words that convict you of your sin. Those are words that are never easy to hear. Trust me! I know that from experience, not just from a seminary education.
A lot of people like to state very forcefully that people need to hear more of the Law these days, until that Law is actually spoken to them. Suddenly, the pastor becomes a jerk who thinks he knows it all. “Who is he to tell me that I’m a sinner? Who is he to challenge me about my lifestyle? He’s never liked me from the moment he got here!”
You see, the Law, when applied from the outside, never changes anyone’s heart. It only reinforces their hopelessness & despair. The Law turns people in an ever more inward direction until it crushes them & kills them. The devil is a master at using the Law to destroy people. St. Paul recognizes that very clearly, since he once lived entirely under the Law.
By nature, sinful human beings gravitate to the Law. Your heart & mine resonates with it, because of the twisted nature of the human heart as corrupted by sin. Haven’t you heard of people who do not practice what they preach? Haven’t you fallen into that trap yourself? Only the promise of forgiveness can turn a heart back to its heavenly Father.
Yes, the gospel can be taken advantage of. The sinful heart does that exceedingly well, but the sinful heart is already lost. We have nothing to lose in spreading the gospel freely, because in some it will take root & produce as Jesus made clear with the parable of the sower: “Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, & they sprouted, grew, & produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, & even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Mark 4:8 NLT) That is what the Apostle Paul is aiming for when he writes the letter to the Colossians. They were struggling to live life as followers of Jesus, & that was before the celebration of Jesus’ birth had ever begun. That didn’t come until about 300 years later.
We can relate to the struggle to live life as followers of Jesus even today, almost 2000 years later. Being compassionate, kind, humble, meek & patient, while bearing with one another &, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; that’s a longer list than Santa Claus usually gets, & it’s almost impossible to shop for!
God knows the world needs it. You know the world needs it, & the godly heart within us longs for it. What have you done personally, this past week, which demonstrated to another human being, where Christ can be found at Christmas?
The sermon hymn that we sung (at the first service) is actually written for the season of Easter, but the 3rd verse is based upon today’s Bible reading from Colossians:
“O fill us, Lord, with dauntless love; set heart & will on things above that we conquer through Your triumph; grant grace sufficient for life’s day that by our lives we truly say: ‘Christ has triumphed! He is living!’”
We celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but then, what do we do with that news? Do we simply give material things as gifts? Or, do we share the life-giving message that in Jesus’ life, death & resurrection He has triumphed over sin, death & the devil?
Each year, even among Christians, our celebration of Jesus’ birth is pretty much a one & done event. December 25th ends & we put away the decorations, clean the house, & thank God that the celebration is over. Yet Jesus never leaves us. We just don’t “see” Him anymore once we pack away the nativity scenes. Out of sight, out of mind! And that is even if we did find Jesus at this year’s Christmas celebration. In the events of my life, that I shared earlier, where I found Jesus at Christmas, every one of those was a humbling event. In each of them I came to a new realization of God’s grace, & of my heavenly Father’s mercy. Those events turned me back to my Savior because I recognized anew what Jesus had truly done for me.
And those events were not about the Law. I already knew my sins. I didn’t need someone to point them out to me, again & again & again. What I needed to “see” was our Lord’s forgiveness & mercy. It is that, & always that, which draws a sinner to Jesus. Turning back to God is one definition of repentance, & that is where Christ is truly found at Christmas.
As children of God we might truly find Jesus in the manger at this time of year, but where do non-believers find Christ at Christmas? They aren’t looking for Him at all, but almost all of them are searching for something. Are we willing to help them find what they need rather than what they want? What they need is a Savior who comes in forgiveness.
Our celebration of Advent & Christmas should encourage you & me to find Christ in our repentance. As we turn away from our sins, which is always by the power of the Holy Spirit, we turn back to Jesus, & then we “see” Him, we find Him, in His tender love & mercy.
If Christ could be found in the Law, He would not have come as an infant, tender & mild, no crib for a bed. Rather, He would have come as a mighty King & Judge & Ruler of the world. That is how Christ will be found on the Last Day of time.
Now, while there is still time, St. Paul encourages us to recognize that believers & non-believers alike will find Christ, at Christmas & year around, as we put on: “…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness & patience, bearing with one another &, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…”
Paul encourages us to “put on” those things as we would put on a coat. Putting on those
virtues is already an accomplished reality in our Baptism. There, we were made holy in the sight of our heavenly Father. At the same time, putting on those virtues is also a goal we strive for as children of a God who is eternally gracious & merciful to you & me. His love is what motivates & empowers us to help other people find Christ, at Christmas, or any other time of the year.
For most Christians, where Christ is typically found at Christmas is in the manger, but He’s no longer there. Where did you find Jesus THIS Christmas? If you have no answer for that question, don’t worry too much. No one ever ‘finds’ Jesus really. Jesus finds us, & at some point we actually recognize that, become aware of it, & finally believe it to be true.
Thank God for His mercy as it is so generously given to us through His Gospel. The reasons behind the chaos of the Christmas season probably have to do with our sinful brokenness & our flailing attempts to fill misunderstood & unmet needs within our heart & soul.
Jesus is the answer & if we can say that we “find Him” it is certainly through turning away from our sins. Having returned to our Savior we will find rest for our soul. And in that rest we can then serve Him, & our neighbor, in everlasting righteousness, innocence & blessedness, just as Jesus is risen from the dead, lives & reigns to all eternity. Amen.
Eternal is the gift He brings, therefore our heart with rapture sings: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!” Now still He comes to give us life & by His presence stills all strife. Christ has triumphed! He is living! O fill us, Lord, with dauntless love; set heart & will on things above that we conquer through Your triumph; grant grace sufficient for life’s day that by our lives we truly say: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!” Amen. (LSB 465:2-3)
Pastor Dean R. Poellet