This sermon was preached by Rev. Chaplain (CPT) Graham Glover on December 22nd, 2013. Rev. Glover is a member of Redeemer and is currently stationed at Ft. Benning, GA.
IN NOMINE JESU
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, because my son laughed at me when I told him I was going to sing during this morning’s sermon, I’ll forgo the melody and simply recite the jingle that I know many parents use to their disciplinary advantage during this time of year: “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town…He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice, Santa Claus is coming to town…He sees you when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. Oh, you better watch out…” Although sung countless times every year, I share the sentiments of parents everywhere when I lament the inability for these words to actually work! Santa, your disciplinary tactics need some help!
Nonetheless, I mention this popular Christmas song because I think it speaks volumes about where many of our hearts and minds are on this 4th Sunday in Advent. Don’t worry, I’m not reciting its lyrics because Pastor Estes and I have been making lists to check on you. Nor do I mention it because it assists in focusing our hearts and minds on our Lord’s return and celebrating His birth. It doesn’t. At all. Rather, I reference this song because I’m a little concerned that the things I want – the things I’m asking for and looking forward to this Christmas season won’t show up under my tree or take place over the days that follow. And I suspect that my concerns are shared by many of you as well.
What is it that I want for Christmas? Well, the list is long, so get ready. But as I’m reciting it I want to make it clear that I do so based on scriptural authority. Not only am I allowed to do so, I’m encouraged to make such requests. Don’t believe me? Just refer to our Epistle lesson from St. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. “…in everything” Paul says “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” So, heeding the great apostle’s words, I’m making my requests known to God.
On Christmas morning I’d like some of the books I’ve had on my Amazon.com wish list, a new pair of running shoes, and a selection of fine cigars to get me through the holiday season. For the New Year, I’d like what so many want: to shed a few pounds, improve my financial situation, and be able to spend more time with my wife and children. As for work, when we come down on orders next, I’d like to stay in the Southeast – no northern or western posts for my family. And that whole deployment thing, it’s not really what we have in mind in the near future. We’d actually like to stay in Columbus a little while longer. We love Redeemer. And we’re as close to the Promised Land, I mean, Gainesville, as the Army will send us. Speaking of Redeemer and the LCMS, continue to give her orthodox pastors who shepherd Your people with the Holy Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions, immersing them with the grace of Your blessed Sacraments in the Divine Service. On the civil side of things, an end to our nation’s financial woes and a solution to the health care issue that continues to polarize us would be great, along with a lasting peace among those who wish the cause of liberty harm. Oh, and one more thing, no more controversies over TV shows about ducks.
A little much? Am I asking for more than I should? At what point do I lose patience if these requests aren’t answered? Should my perspective be a little different on some of them? If so, why? Doesn’t St. Paul tell us to make our requests known to God? The text seems pretty clear on this and I think it’s exactly what I’m doing.
By now I hope you realize that the bulk of my requests are spoken in jest. That my list is, on so many levels, absurd – presuming that the One whose 2nd Advent we await and whose Incarnation we are soon to celebrate has running shoes, PCS orders, health insurance policies, and programs about ducks as those things that concern Him most about His Church. But I wonder, are these requests any different than what most of us regularly ask of God? Are our prayers, as well as our focus during Advent and Christmas, more often about what we want and what we think we need, rather than about God and what His Church offers? Consider your prayers, your daily desires, and those things that define your faith. And as you do, consider how many of them begin with “I” and how often they focus on you. Sadly, even we Lutherans are guilty of understanding our faith by looking to our wants and our desires. During this penitential season of Advent we find ourselves occupied almost exclusively with worldly requests – things we think need to be fixed, which are, more often than we care to admit – things that have nothing to do with the manger in Bethlehem or the petition, “Thy kingdom come”. Instead, they are things – requests – that we bring to God in an effort to make our lives “better”.
All of which leads me to ask, what is it that makes our lives better? Do books, shoes, and cigars make for a happy man? How about a thinner waist, more coin in the bank, or even more free time with family? Does an ideal work environment, a more confessional congregation and Synod, or an end to political squabbles constitute a better life? St. Paul clearly tells us to let our requests be made known to God and on this we do well. But Paul also instructs us to be reasonable, and even more, he reminds us that it is the peace of God that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Do you see the problem here? These requests – our requests – are often far from reasonable. They have in mind worldly things instead of godly ones. As we pray to our Advent Lord, our requests are laden with things we think will improve our lives, making them better by a standard the world has enshrined. Moreover, how often will we hear and proclaim in the days ahead that this Christmas season is about family, about spending time with them and rejoicing in what they mean to us? Not the Holy Family. Not a carpenter and blessed woman. Not the family that was faithful in all things and had next to nothing by way of worldly possessions. This family could care less about body fat percentages, financial gain, or free time. As this young couple traveled throughout the Judean countryside, workplace and political issues were as trivial to them as they should be to us. But our focus remains on these things, even as we prepare to celebrate the birth of this couple’s child in Bethlehem and confess that we are eager for His return. Our focus remains on our lists, our wants, and our perceived needs – failing to acknowledge that Paul’s words to the Philippians, which inform our remaining days Advent and the Christmas season that awaits us, are not about us – they are about Jesus. They are words about the One born to this Holy Family. And they are words that acknowledge our faith begins and ends with one thing – Jesus.
So how should we prepare our hearts and minds to focus on the Christ-child’s Incarnation and his Second Advent? Obviously jingles about Santa Claus, Christmas wish lists, and New Year’s resolutions are far from useful. To rejoice in the Lord as St. Paul commends us, recognizing that He is at hand and that we truly need not be anxious about anything, we turn to some of the most glorious words contained in the Scriptures. They are the words of the Mother of God. They are her song of praise – her Magnificat. In them we see the Blessed One giving thanks for the child she carries in her womb. Remember, this young woman, likely in her early-mid teens, was recently told that she was with child – not the news she was expecting, especially considering she was only betrothed to be married (say nothing of the fact that she was given this news by an angel of God and that the child she now carried was the Son of the Most High!). Yet having come to the house of Zechariah, Mary greets her relative Elizabeth, and after being proclaimed “Blessed among women”, says these mighty words. As you listen to them again, consider how they give each of us a wonderful example in preparing our hearts and minds during the days ahead. They are words that begin, end, and remain focused on Jesus. They are our words too, give to all the faithful for our benefit.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown the strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” In the name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Rev. Graham B. Glover