Our common answer to that question I think would be something of a snoozer. We have dime store epiphanies. This sermon looks at what a real epiphany is. And then it looks at what an Epiphany demands of us. If we see the star, are we willing to follow? Openness to that answer makes all the difference.
The texts in “year C” of the lectionary and when Epiphany proper falls on a Sunday make for a wonderful series. Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a good look at how the light enters and grows in the Christian life.
The text for the Sunday after Christmas this year was the Purification and the Presentation of Jesus at the temple. These are actually two separate things. The Old Testament laws that are being fulfilled are from two separate places. The OT text of the day is the basis of the Presentation of Jesus. The Purification is from Leviticus. The Sermon is an attempt to ponder what odd ceremonial laws have to do with us today. I think they might mean more than we would give them credit for.
My Christmas Day sermons are a little more contemplative. This one is from the texts of the day, primarily Isaiah 52:7-10 and John 1:1-14, but it also leans heavily on the hymn A Great and Mighty Wonder – LSB 383. It is a contemplation of the Holy set against the normal wisdom of the middle way. Merry Christmas
Our Christmas Eve service is the popular lessons and carols. I’ve included almost all of it in the recording, so the sermon part is about 30 mins in. That part encourages us to think about the parts of Christmas we hear most keenly. Do we hear the cultural detritus that is now passing away, or do we hear the evermore and evermore?
The curse and blessing of a liturgical church. When everybody else has already moved on to Christmas, maybe they’ve been on it for a month, we are still in Advent. The day is often given over to Mary and the magnificat. There is a great recording of our choir singing one of those here. But I’ve been spending time with the minor prophets this season. We’ve been taking them in bible class, and I felt I had to bring one into the pulpit. One more day of blue and purple. One more day of the penitential and the hopeful. Grant me 15 minutes of Advent on this 4 Sunday of the season. We’ve got a bakers dozen for Christmas starting tomorrow.
Advent 3 at St. Mark’s is the Children’s pageant. On the old calendar it would be Guadete Sunday meaning rejoice. It would after be a mini-Christmas or feel like it. You light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. If you were at the Cathedral they might even have rose altar cloths and stoles. Not being the Cathedral we have a pink candle. And given societal changes, like an entire family not being in one congregation any more whether due to moves or disruptions, things that put demands on families need to be done outside of prime time. So while my childhood pageants were on Christmas Eve, ours are on Advent 3. My message before the children does some of that reflecting – a bit of nostalgia – before hopefully putting a good frame on the kids presentation. What Child is This was the theme. The answer is king and savior, but also ours. We can proclaim Christ, but it does no good if we don’t welcome him in our hearts.
Advent 2 is John the Baptist week. (Advent 3 would be as well, but that week typically gets taken up by the Children’s program.) And I think that both the Baptist and his message are a little tough for us to understand, although I think we are probably approaching the time and place where they shouldn’t be. They used to require imagination, but the sermon will attempt such imagination is becoming reality. My opening question for you would be: What might make you listen to a street preacher? For I think that is akin to what John is, except that he is wildly popular. That is the space you have to get into to understand the Baptist – where a street preacher is popular. This sermon attempts to paint that picture. It also attempts help us grasp that it isn’t the street preacher antics that make John unique, but the place and the message. Come ponder just what it might the way straight, to raise up the valleys and level the hills, to do so from the desert, to do so with a Word.
Recording Note: The Choice sounded great this morning and I got a good recording, so their piece is in the recording between the OT lesson and the Epistle.
The image and the reality is all over the new and old testaments. We pray for it constantly in the Lord’s prayer. But moderns have no idea what the world King means. We don’t have a good concept what it means to receive one. And even the examples that we have, like the Queen/King of England, are not what we are talking about. When those places use the world or the thought King they don’t mean a statutory figurehead. They mean a real one. One like a lion, however nice they might be at play, all you can think is “those claws, those claws”. This sermon is an attempt to recover some of that meaning. It is also an attempt to understand how this King is still different that all the others. And finally it is an attempt to understand how we receive a king – here in time and their in eternity as Luther would explain the Lord’s prayer petition.
I hope this sermon was not a snore. It is one of those that I think is operating at a very simple level, but also I hope operating at a much deeper level. The very simple level is: a problem, a solution, and a wait. This world wears away. Good news, it will end. Until then we watch, never becoming too attached. The deeper level is the juxtaposition the title. Today, this world is an impermanent dwelling that holds within it the permanent. The core of many of the temptations of the devil, the world and our own flesh is that we trade that eternal element for some promise of immortality. I will give you all the kingdoms of the world if you worship me. The glory and fame of all the world can be yours, if you give up eternity, seeing the true God. The sermon attempts to think about this in our vampire stories – the literary example of immortal characters who are caused pain by the eternal or things that contain hints of the eternal. I think there is a great and fruitful contemplation in that juxtaposition of eternity and immortality. We watch because we are looking for eternity while spurning the flimsy offers of immortality.
This sermon is a meditation on how and what we assign meaning to. Luther in assigning meaning to the first commandment said whatever we fear, love and trust the most is our God. We all have “wonderful stones”, things we have assigned meaning, things we expect to last, that have or are often in danger of becoming our idols. We trust those stones more than anything else. Jesus’ words to all such stones – even ones that once contained the glory of the living God – is that they must come down.
For me the strongest competition to the cornerstone of Jesus Christ might be labeled an anti-stone. We’ve learned the lesson that all such temples made with hands come down. But what we then trust most is absurdity. It is a fool’s game fearing, loving or trusting anything. So we trust nothing. That likewise is a false path. Jesus says “watch lest someone lead you astray.”
But living based on trust – based on faith in Christ – in the middle of a world that is hostile to such a life is not an easy walk. As our opening hymn, the hymn I left in the recording at the end puts it, “I Walk in Danger all the Way“. The Apocalyptic accounts remind us who has it all in his hands. Yes, we walk in danger all the way, but our walk is also heavenward all the way. And along that walk we have help – like the Angel Michael from the OT lesson. We also have the examples of our Lord and the great cloud of witnesses. The Christian life is not the easy one. It is an examined life for wonderful stones that have become idols. It is assailed by temptations of shelter that are not. But it is a true life. The one who perseveres will be saved.