The First Sunday after Christmas, Sermon 2016

Christmas 1 Sermon, 2017
Luke 2:(22-32)33-40
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Merry Christmas!

Have you noticed that we, as a nation, a community, and even in our own families, are very good at preparing for and counting down to Christmas Day?

For many families, watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade conclude with Jolly Old St. Nick—whether you do Santa or not—is a way to officially begin the annual Christmas count down.

We listen to the same five songs sung a thousand different ways. We “get out the Christmas decorations,” and that could mean either one box or fifty.

We send Christmas cards. We sing Christmas hymns (even when it’s still Advent!). And we wait with eager expectation Christmas Day, when we can open presents, relax, and go to church.

We’re good at counting down to Christmas Day.

But Christmas, the season, is more than one day.

How many days are in the season of Christmas? Twelve. We know that from the song.

But how many of you begin your Christmas celebrations before Christmas Day and end your Christmas celebrations after Christmas dinner, when you go into your Christmas coma?

Then, when you’ve slept enough, you wake up and begin the arduous process of taking down the Christmas decorations.

They’ve somehow multiplied since you put them up, you promise you’ll never do this again, and you begin to wonder why in the world you would ever do such a thing as put up all these decorations.

The joy of a manger scene, the cheerfulness of tiny reindeer, all that’s gone when you’re heaving them down the basement stairs or up into the attic.

And all the while, it’s still Christmas.

What do Christians observe on January 1st?

Not New Year’s Day but the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus. Did you know that?

Count the days: December 25th (the beginning of Christmas), December 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st, and January 1st—the eighth day.

Leviticus 12:3, the Law of Moses, required male children to be circumcised on the 8th day.

If you ever forget that Christmas is about God becoming flesh and dwelling with us, in order to die for us, to save us, if you forget all that, Christmas can end at Jesus’ birth, and you’re not missing anything.

But, if you remember that God became man to redeem man by shedding His own blood for man, then on the 8th day, you’ll remember and give thanks for the first time that Jesus’ blood is shed for us. He’s already fulfilling the Law.

The Law of Moses was summarized in the Ten Commandments, but the Ten Commandments were not the full extent of that law.

The Law of Moses contained regulations about worship, civil affairs, diet, health, and just about every aspect of life.

When a woman gave birth to a son, she was ritually unclean for forty days. February 2nd, forty days after December 25th, is the day in the Church Year set aside to remember the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus—those are the events covered in today’s Gospel lesson.

The Law of Moses covered everything. It had requirements for the new mother, and it also made claims regarding the firstborn son.

Every firstborn son was “holy to the Lord,” that is, he belonged to God and had to be redeemed by his parents.

This still goes on today in contemporary Judaism. The father of a firstborn son must pay a priest to redeem his son. There are ceremonial coins available to purchase that contain the requisite 100 to 117 grams of silver. And, of course, “Coins which do not contain the requisite amount of silver do not result in a valid redemption.”

Perhaps that’s why Peter says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors” (1 Peter 1:18, NIV).

Anyway, in Mary’s time, a wealthy family could pay in sheep or goats. A poor family could pay in turtledoves or pigeons.

And this all has a very specific reference in mind.

The offering of the firstborn to the Lord, redeeming him back from the Lord, reminded God’s people of the Exodus, specifically the plagues that got them on their way.

The miraculous Exodus—where the children of Israel crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground—was preceded by ten plagues against Egypt and Pharaoh’s hard heart.

The final and decisive plague was the Passover, where the Angel of Death killed the firstborn son of every Egyptian family, but spared the firstborn sons of Israel, passing over the homes whose doors were marked by the blood of the lamb.

Such a defining moment in the history of God’s people needs to be remembered.

We need to remember that we belong to God. That we’ve been purchased, not with gold or silver, but with the precious and holy body and blood of Jesus Christ.

We need to remember that God set us free. That our God forgives sins and destroys death in the same way—by the shedding of blood.

The people of God need to remember that God redeems them. And that’s what Christmas is all about.

If you ever forget that Christmas is about God becoming flesh and dwelling with us, in order to die for us, to save us, if you forget all that, Christmas can end at Jesus’ birth, and you’re not missing anything.

But, if you remember that God became man to redeem man by shedding His own blood for man, then you’ll take a look at the sacrifices Mary and Joseph make and you’ll ask why one sacrifice is missing.

There were three sacrifices that would be made around the birth of a firstborn son.

The circumcision, described in verse twenty-one of today’s Gospel lesson and required in Genesis chapter seventeen.

The purification of the mother, described in verse twenty-four of the Gospel lesson and required in Leviticus chapter twelve.

And the third sacrifice, which is missing.

It’s what should be offered for the redemption of the firstborn son who’s holy to the Lord.

The doves offered are for Mary’s purification, not Jesus’ redemption as a firstborn son.

So, Mary and Joseph don’t redeem Jesus.

The only comparison I’m aware of to Jesus not being redeemed is Samuel. Hannah prays to God for a child, receives him, and gives him to the service of God.

She didn’t redeem him, so he belongs to God.

So, for Jesus, no sacrifice is made. He’s not redeemed.

It’s certainly true that He didn’t need to be redeemed, that there was no sin in Him, that all of this is for our benefit and not His own. That’s true.

But more than that, you can’t redeem the Redeemer.

He redeems you.

Nothing is added to the work of Jesus, nothing can be added, nothing need be added.

Again, divine monergism, that God alone saves, means that we trust in the mercy of God to earn and give forgiveness.

That is the ongoing theme of Christmas.

The Divine Word became flesh and dwelt among us and for us.

He’s called Immanuel, which means God with us, because God didn’t abandon us to our sinful condition but became man to redeem man.

And He’s called Jesus, which means God saves, because this Jesus will save His people from their sins.

And so, every day of the Christmas season is a remembrance of Jesus’ work. His earning of our salvation. And His giving of our salvation.

Here’s another “for example…”

December 26th, the second day of the Christmas season, is the day in the Church Year set aside for St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church.

In his martyrdom, Stephen confesses that he can’t redeem himself, that God must save or else there is no salvation.

He says, “’Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. [That is, forgive me.]’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them. [That is, forgive them.]’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59-60).

If you ever forget that Christmas is about God becoming flesh and dwelling with us to forgive our sins and to teach us to forgive the sins of others, if you forget all that, Christmas can end at Jesus’ birth, and you’re not missing anything.

But, if you remember that God forgives you in Christ and now calls you to forgive others as you have been forgiven, then you’ll hear and remember St. Stephen’s prayer and go and do likewise.

We can learn a lot by observing our own Christmas traditions.

I’m not surprised that we do a good job preparing for Christmas Day and celebrating Christmas Day.

And I’m not surprised that as soon as Christmas Day is over that we’re done with Christmas.

Because this is also true:

We do a good job of making disciples. The Lutheran Church is one of the few churches that routinely requires intense study and preparation prior to membership in a congregation.

But once we make disciples, we go into our Christian coma.

We don’t talk about how to live as Christians. We can’t easily describe what a Christian worldview is or what one would even look like.

I’m not surprised that we skip Advent, jump right to Christmas, forget about St. Stephen, ignore Mary and Joseph, the sacrifices they make and the ones they don’t, and I’m not surprised that we just count down until next year.

But I’ve got news for you.

It’s still Christmas.

And during Christmas we remember and celebrate the Word become flesh.

The Christ who became man to redeem man.

The child who saves us, sets us free, and makes us new so that we can help and serve all those He’s put next to us.

St. Stephen had it right: Lord Jesus, forgive me. Lord Jesus, forgive them.

Then, with all this in mind, we can truly understand what Simeon’s song is all about:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

Merry Christmas!

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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