Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Eve 2011

         We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son. For in these last days you sent him to be incarnate from the Virgin Mary, to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In him, you have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.

       This is the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving, the prayer over the bread and wine which we pray will be for us the sacramental body and blood of our Lord Jesus as we participate this evening in the great banquet of heaven. It is in the red Prayer Book on page 367, and I invite you to join me in unpacking its meaning.

       Christians believe that God is good and that God is love, that God chose to create us and the world in which we live to share the goodness and love of God throughout the whole world. From the beginning the whole creation was filled with goodness and love.  God’s love gave all people free will to choose for good or against good. Our choices include choosing an unlimited good for all or choosing a limited good for one at the expense of others. 

       God is eternal and knows all things. We are limited in time and space and knowledge. Some of our decisions are wrong because we are ignorant. But God has shown us his will in the laws of nature and in his moral law given through Moses on Mount Sinai. And all people have by desire and by action done what God has shown us to be wrong. As St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “All have sinned” (3:3, 5:12).  Our sin brings us guilt, shame, and isolation, isolation from other people and from God that leads us eventually to spiritual death.

       God’s will for us is goodness and love, and God showed that goodness and love in the world through Abraham and Abraham’s dysfunctional family. The Patriarchs and their wives experienced the goodness and love of God: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and their 12 sons. God chose Moses, a murderer, to lead the people from slavery in Egypt through 40 years wandering in the wilderness to the promised land. God called Israel to be his people and gave them his Law.

          And when the people again and again failed to obey the Law and worshipped false idols God sent the prophets to call them back to him. When King David committed adultery and tried to cover it up by murder, Prophet Nathan called him on it, “You are the man!” When the people began to worship the idol of money Amos (5:21-24) spoke the word of God, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies . . .your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept . . . Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, God made known goodness and love through his word, spoken through the prophets. Sometimes the word was encouragement, preparing the people for God’s further self-revelation, like tonight, the prophecy of Isaiah, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Our God made goodness and love known to us in the Word spoken through the prophets.

       Above all God made goodness and love known to us “in the Word made flesh, Jesus, the Son. For in these last days you sent him to be incarnate from the Virgin Mary, to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world.”  Creation began when “God said ‘Let there be light.’”  God has chosen to be present in the world by the natural processes he created, but when it is necessary to do so to accomplish his purposes he moves in ways we do not fully understand. We believe that the one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that the Son through whom all things were created chose to be born as a human baby, to grow and live as a man, to redeem and save all ncreation from the consequences of human sin.

       We celebrate that birth tonight. As someone said, “It’s Jesus’ birthday, and we get the presents.”  In Jesus God delivered us from evil. The Holy Spirit of God lives in us to guide and direct our spirit in God’s ways so we don’t have continually to do the same thing over and over again looking for a different result. We are freed from guilt and shame and empowered to do the right thing. In Jesus God takes away our anxiety and fear, washes us spiritually clean and makes us worthy to stand before God.  In Jesus God brings out of the errors of thinking and action that come from our limited and sinful understanding into the fullness of his truth. In Jesus God forgives our sins and makes us righteous. By Jesus’ death for our sins on the cross and by Jesus’ resurrection Easter Day God has set us free from eternal death and given us new life in Jesus.   And for that we give thanks tonight.  Amen.

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