Text: Luke 2: 22-40
I don’t know what to say about this one. Just looking at the word picture above in comparison to almost any of the other sermons shows something is different. And that something different could be a very bad thing. The job from that pulpit is point at Christ as our salvation in as many verbal images as scripture allows. Jesus, Christ or God don’t appear in big words anywhere there. Probably the best thing that could be said is it is pietistic (and if you aren’t in the know on that word within Lutheranism it is one of those ill-defined put downs akin to calling someone a liberal in politics – it substitutes for argument). The pietist wears the heart on the sleeve and has a tendency to let the head go fuzzy. In the 17th – 19th centuries, to the hard headed Lutherans, the pietists were all law. They put the demands of piety upon you. This sermon does some of that – probably too much. Prayerfully the gospel was present.
Christmas. One of the two days of the year that you have to have a good message. (The other is mother’s day by the way. On Easter you are preaching to the congregation anymore. On Christmas and mother’s day you still get a chance to preach to the unconverted.) On top of being good, it has to be short. On top of being short it has to carry off a tone. Film makers do this by shooting specific places and then blurring or making crisp the picture. For example, if they want to paint a tragically romantic scene they might take a picture of a late autumn forest and blur it a bit. The same spot made crisp might convey instead of tragic romance a lurking dread. 10 seconds of such a picture sets the tone.
The audience is probably coming into the service either exhausted, angry, nervous, lonely, or annoyed. That is what we do to ourselves around Christmas. And the service in that frame of mind is one more thing to get through. The goal of the Christmas sermon (and the entire service) is to take people from that negative place, and to move them to a much different view of Christmas. To admit that this state I’m feeling right now is a result of how messed up the world actually is because of sin, and to rest in the fact that God has provided a savior. The tone should be one of a giant exhale.
This sermon didn’t pull punches. That is usually what the Christmas sermon does. It forgets the law. It goes along with the culture and the charade of a perfect Christmas. It talks of love and warm fuzzies, but without acknowledging the real state of people’s minds and why they are that way. That sermon fuzzes out the bad stuff and because of that can satisfy at the moment but is without merit. It is complicit is painting the Christ out of Christmas. This one didn’t pull those punches, but hopefully balanced it out with the gospel.
In defining ourselves, there are some things that we choose poorly on. The magnificat or Mary’s song is one of those things that gets overlooked by Protestants because we have a problem with Mary. Not specifically with Mary, but with where certain groups in the Roman church have taken her. Going back to Mary’s words in Luke hopefully helps us recover an important saint.
Text: Luke 7:18-28
The middle two weeks of advent are the weeks of John the Baptist. He’s a forgotten figure in modern Christianity. He doesn’t seem to have much meaning or purpose. We continue to read the stories of the patriarchs. We will talk about the OT prophets. We will give due to the apotles. The later church fathers will also be discusses. John the Baptist, who Jesus declares to be the greatest born of woman, gets left out.
One really good reason is that he more or less gets subsumed under Christ. The life and mission of Jesus overwhelm John who doesn’t leave any writings outside of the voice captured in the gospels. But that doesn’t account for it alone. I think it has more to do with the baptist’s message. It is a sparse and clear proclamation -repent, be baptized and bring forth the fruits of repentance. It is a message that Jesus picks up (Mark 1:14-15).
So much of life is spent finding the middle way. And that is usually the course of wisdom. Stay away from the extremes. Find the middle path through the mess. Just that in regards to truth, finding the middle way leaves you with nothing. God’s grace is not found by splitting the difference with the Baptist. I’ll admit I sin, but living the life or repentance seems extreme. Why this thing called baptism? Isn’t there something grander or more meaningful? The middle way would seem to ask for more than baptism as a sign and seal. In Luke even John seems to have questions. John has not followed the middle way, but things aren’t looking like he expected. He asks Jesus, “are you the one?”
And Jesus doesn’t apologize for the form of grace or the proclamation one bit. In fact he turns to the crowds and asks what did they come to see? They all came to see a prophet. They recognized a truth in John (and in Jesus) that was not just natural wisdom. And that recognition requires more than a middle way response. If you came to see a prophet, and the prophet says God’s grace is here, in water and word, in a crucified peasant, then we should align ourselves with that grace.
It is a great question to many people who come to churches. What did you come to see? If you came to see anything other than the presant grace of God, you’ve got the wrong purpose. Ask youself, what did you come to see? Does the answer require you to make changes?