Sermon delivered on December 25, 2016 at First Reformed Church in Edgerton, MN.
There is much that is to love about the traditions of Christmas. Time with family, Christmas programs, gifts, and it is the one time a year that we really seem to enjoy that there is snow on the ground. At the same time there are some other traditions surrounding Christmas that are not quite as heartwarming. We often hear vocal laments of the consumerism that surrounds the holiday. It just wouldn’t be Christmas if our social media streams weren’t blowing up with posts regarding the Christmas music that is in the stores on the day after Halloween or complaints of consumerism as Black Friday approaches. I have witnessed much of what we lament about the Christmas season first hand. Working as a manager at Toys R Us in three cities and four different stores helped me to see that these distractions away from the meaning of Christmas are found everywhere. Nothing has put a damper on my Christmas spirits more than working through the Tickle Me Elmo Christmas season many years ago.
The question I continually ponder is why are we so obsessed with consumerism and all of the other distractions that we encounter during this season? While we lament it we also seem to thrive on it. Why is that? As I ponder this question I am drawn to a text that is traditionally not used as a passage regarding Christmas. John 1:14 & 16 tell us that “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (ESV) The first chapter of John tells us who this baby we celebrate in the manger is. He is not just an ordinary child born in a backwater part of Palestine who just happened to become famous. He is the incarnate Word of God; the second person of the Trinity. That is not an ordinary baby held by Mary. It is God in human flesh.
That fact should make us a little bit uncomfortable. Could it be we don’t really want to face what Christmas really means? God came down not for a site seeing tour of the first century Middle East. He came down to reconcile you and me to himself. When the sound of the baby crying as he took his first breath reached the ears of those in Bethlehem, on that first Christmas night, they did not know who they were hearing. As the shepherds came to visit him they didn’t know that this was the beginning of a life that would end hanging from a device of Roman execution. They were completely unaware that this little one came to save us from our sin and unbelief by voluntarily giving his life.
At a Christmas program a few years a small stable was constructed at the front of the church. It was just the right height that when viewed from the pews it was as if the backlit cross at the front of the sanctuary was resting on top of it. I was struck by the fact that in all of the Christmas hustle and bustle I nearly missed it. I was so focused on everything else that was going on that I almost missed the real meaning of Christmas; the God who shows us grace upon grace by appearing in human flesh and living that he may die for our sin. Without the manger we do not have the cross. Without the cross Christmas cannot bring us the peace with God that it promises.
Sermon delivered on December 18, 2016 at First Reformed Church in Edgerton, MN.
Sermon given on December 11, 2016 in Edgerton, MN at First Reformed Church.
Article 3: The Written Word of God
We confess that this Word of God
was not sent nor delivered by "human will,"
but that "men and women moved by the Holy Spirit,
spoke from God," as Saint Peter says. (2 Peter 1:21)
Afterward our God--because of a special care
for us and our salvation--commanded the prophets and apostles, God's servants,
to commit this revealed Word to writing. The two tables of the law were written with God's own finger.
Therefore we call such writings
holy and divine Scriptures.
At some point in our lives, all of us have sent someone to do an errand for us. Whether it was to purchase something for us at the store or get us something from the other room, we have all found out how important it is to give very specific instructions and descriptions. It isn't until we get something that we didn't think that we were asking for that we realize this. It might be that we assumed that the person getting us groceries knew we used a particular brand of peanut butter or it could be that the person running the errand thought that everyone drinks skim milk. These types of confusions can show us why it is important to be really specific. This not only applies for errands but also is important for Christian doctrine.
In Article 2 of the Belgic Confession we saw that there were two ways in which God reveals himself to us. Those two means were general revelation (we see God in the design of creation) and special revelation (scripture). With those two categories defined, the Belgic Confession goes on to narrow down how we can understand special revelation. This Word of God was not sent nor delivered by "human will". Instead it is the work of God. The confession is deliberate to help us understand that what we call special revelation is not a human invention. It was the will of God, not the will of people. Scripture has a divine origin, not a human one. It comes from God himself through men and women who were "moved by the Holy Spirit". It is because this word that comes by the work of the Holy Spirit is so important that God had his servants "prophets and apostles" record this word from God down so that we would have it in writing. This record of the work of God is what we call "holy and divine Scriptures".
This is the important first step in understanding God's revealed word to us. We do not come across random ancient writings and call them scripture. What we have as scripture is there for a very specific reason. We want to make sure that we get the right information. We want the right books in our Bible. Why? As the confession says because scripture is "for us and our salvation". The story that we see unfolding in scripture points us to Jesus Christ. He is how we are saved and he is how we have peace with God. There may seem to be parts of the Bible that don't point us to this such as the book of Esther. Even though that book is in the Bible it doesn't mention God. As we look at the unfolding drama of God saving his people through Jesus though we see that Esther plays an important role of preserving the promised line to the Messiah. She prevented her people, the Hebrew people, from being wiped out. By reading the story of Esther we are reminded that God works all things together for the salvation of his people and that God keeps his promises. If the Hebrew people would have been wiped out then God's promise in Genesis 3:15 that one day the seed of the woman would destroy the work of the serpent would have failed to come to pass and God would have been a liar.
Instead, what we see is that God keeps his promises and that he does not lie. The books that we have in our Bible are for the purpose of pointing us to the saving work of Christ for us. The Bible isn't just some random ancient writings. It matters what is in our Bible. The Bible is made up of history, poetry, and prophecy that point us to the work of Jesus for us and show us the amazing, loving, merciful, and powerful God we serve.
This sermon was given on December 4, 2016 at First Reformed Church in Edgerton, MN.