Category Archives: Christmas

Holy Name

presentationofbabyjesusatthetempleYeshua (ישוע) – Deliverer

In Judaism names have meaning. A name does more than merely identify someone. It speaks to their character, to their calling, and to the blessing that God has placed upon them. Abram was renamed by God so that he became Abraham, the father of many nations. Jacob became Israel because he had wrestled with God and had prevailed. Simon became Peter, the rock upon whom God would build His church.

The Son of God was named Jesus or, in Hebrew, “Yeshua” – which means God saves. In today’s Gospel we read:

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  (Matthew:18-21)

It was customary in Judaism to dedicate each male child to God on the eighth day after his birth. This was the time that the make child was circumcised and was also given his name:

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  (Luke 2:21)

God the Father gave his Son the name Jesus. In a way of speaking, he wants to place that same name upon us Do we welcome his naming? Do we submit to him? Abram submitted. Jacob submitted. Simon submitted. Jesus, the Son of God submitted to the Father:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  (Philippians 2:5-8)

God has always desired to bless His people and place His name on them. During the time of Moses He instructed His priests how to do this:

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”

“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”  (Numbers 6:27-28)

There is power with the name of Jesus:

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”   (Mark 16:16-18)

Are we so blessed to have the name of our Lord placed upon us? We are called Christian because Jesus is making us into His image.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

When we receive the name of our Lord with humility and thanksgiving God deposits His seed for the new birth within us:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

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Holy Innocents

flight-into-egyptThe Protection of Children

Our children are so vulnerable on this earth, Jesus was no exception. The Christ Child was more than an inconvenience to Herod. After all, the wisemen had called the child “King of the Jews” and sought Him out to worship. This was just too much for Herod to comprehend. Not understanding Judaism and the prophecy concerning the child, Herod could take no chances. His very kingdom might be threatened.

Jesus would later sacrifice Himself for the sins of the world, but His time had not yet come. God the Father had to take steps to secure the safety of His Son:

When the wise men had departed, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”   (Matthew 2:13-15)

How do we protect our children today? Do we not abort our children up to nine months of pregnancy simply because they are an inconvenience to us? Are they a threat to our lifestyle? Perhaps we should change our lifestyle. We live in a day when there is little fear of God. Do we place our personal pleasure above the life and safety of others? Now is a time for confession and repentance.

There is only one solution for the evil that plagues the earth. The Apostle John on the Island of Patmos had a vision which contained the answer and promise of God to His people:

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”   (Revelation 21:1-4)

How do we live while we await the culmination of Christ’s ministry? We need to conduct ourselves in a more godly way while we are still on earth. We need to take responsibility for the care of our children. The Church has been largely silent about this issue. Now is the time to speak out against evil. Now is the time for each one of us to do all that we can, by the grace of God, to bare witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

saint-john-the-apostle-08Walk in the Light

When all the other disciples had deserted Jesus at the cross John was there with Mary the mother of Jesus. He was called the disciple that Jesus loved. He wrote a Gospel which has the simplest structure and words with regard to reading level, but which contains some of the deepest understandings of the nature of God and His purposes. John was probably the only Apostle who died of old age. John was exceptional in so many ways. His message was also exceptional. Many scholars want to write the authenticity and validity of John’s Gospel as well as his epistles. Others will say that his Book of Revelation was some sort of mystery code written only for its day. However, John cannot be ignored if we are to grasp the essence of the Christian Faith.

What is John’s message? Can we summarize what the Spirit of God was saying through his writings? Let us say that John was the messenger of Light in a dark world. Jesus is that Light and He draws us to Himself through a community of love:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:5-9)

For many people today Christianity is a self-help program. John teaches us that we must live in community, that we cannot have true fellowship with one another unless we are transparent. We must live in the Light of God if we are to have true fellowship. The only downside is that we will be exposed for who we really are. We are sinners. That is why we prefer the darkness of this world:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.   (John 3:18-20)

If we understand the Gospel of John then we will not stop at the edge of the Light. We must enter into the Light. Jesus is the Light of the world. We must enter into Jesus. When we do we have this promise from Him:

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John’s teachings are the culmination of the season of Advent message and an invitation to live in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Will that be our Christmas this year? If so, how long can we make it last? It will last for an eternity if we remain in the Light.

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Saint Stephen

Vittore_Carpaccio_circaXXThe_Sermon_of_St._Stephen_in_Jerusalem_circa_1514First Martyr for the Faith

For those who refuse to change the truth of God is unbearable. This has always been true and is still true today. Let us look at some examples. God sent Jeremiah to King Jehoiakim to warn the nation of impending doom if the people did not repent. This is how the people in authority responded to his prophecy:

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, `This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.   (Jeremiah 26:7-9)

The messenger of God is often rejected because the message of God is rejected. It is not just that the message of the prophet was rejected because God was rejected.

Jesus lamented over Jerusalem:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”   (Matthew 23:37-39)

Jesus was crucified because the Jewish leaders could not bear His message. They rejected Him because they also rejected God the Father. They rejected His plan for their nation and the whole world. They wanted a different message and a different Messiah.

In today’s Epistle lesson we have the example of Stephen:

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.   (Acts 6:8-11)

Stephen was not only a servant of the Church as a deacon, he was a powerful purveyor of the Gospel. The leaders could not withstand the message of Stephen which was by the Holy Spirit. Thus they rejected Stephen. Stephen became the first martyr for the Faith. He was an innocent man full of God’s grace and power, yet he was stoned to death in the name of religion.

People have a certain concept of God. When challenged by God’s truth they often will do anything , including destroying the messenger of God, to keep from hearing and complying with His Word. How far are we willing to go today to reject the Word of God. The Word was made flesh for us and died on the cross as payment for our sins. Are we to reject such a great salvation? Are we to reject healings? Are we to reject prophecy in our day? Some of our religions do not allow for these things and that is because these religions do not allow for God’s truth. Church doctrine does not take the place of the truths of God.

Where do we stand today? Are we open to God. Are we seeking his revelation in our lives. Is His Word all important to us? If it is then we will be persecuted for it, even within the Church. When that occurs will we still hold on to the truth at all costs? Lastly, will we follow the example of Stephen and forgive our persecutors? We will if we have received the implanted Word which is able to save our souls.

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Christmas Evening

john1_1-newgalleryThe Word Was Made Flesh

These readings are traditionally used during the evening service on Christmas Day in many liturgical churches. The may be used for the principle service as well.

The Gospel of John does not have an Infancy narrative as does the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Rather, John has a narrative that speaks of a time before the birth of the Christ Child. He writes of the One who pre-existed the world and was the very agent of all creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

The reading from Hebrews echoes this same theme:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.  (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Do we know Jesus beyond the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes? Many of His own Jewish people did not comprehend who Jesus was and is:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  (John 1:10-11)

The remarkable thing is that the creator God entered His own the world of His own creation on our behalf. God exposed himself in Jesus and demonstrated his true nature and heart:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

As prophesied by Isaiah God made himself visible through demonstrations of his power and might. Lastly, he demonstrated his victory of the power of sin and death through the resurrection of his Son which brought the opportunity of salvation for the whole world:

The Lord has made bare His holy arm
In the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see
The salvation of our God.   (Isaiah 52:10)

God made himself visible that all the world might see his glory. Now, however, we are now living in an ever darkening world. It has become incorrect to celebrate the birth of Christ. We are not to pray. We are told not to give testimony. Jesus must be folded into other religions in order to be acceptable. Why is that? The world wants us to hide the glory of God and his plan for salvation.

This world will soon pass away. God’s WORD will never pass away. As Christian believers. our responsibility is to walk in the light of Christ that all the world might see him. We know that worldly people are hiding from God because they do not understand that he died for them. Are we to hide from God too?

Now is the time for what may be the greatest missionary work of all. Are we up to the task? We are not alone in carrying out this mission. God is Emmanuel. He is with us in our struggles. God became flesh for us so that we might become part of his flesh. In the Incarnation, God took us our flesh. Now we are to take up his flesh. John reminds us again:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

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