24 December 2012

Christmas Eve Catechesis


Sing for joy, O earth, and lift up your voice in song, all you people of the world.  For Christ your Savior has come to dispel the darkness of despair and death.  In His Love for you, He has come to shine His Light of the Gospel upon you, in order to give you His Life.

In this, beloved of the Lord, He gives you nothing less than Himself — in flesh and blood just like yours, save only without sin and no longer subject to death.  For He has become Flesh, true Man, a human being like you, in order to unite Himself to you — and you to Him — so that, by His grace, you may become like Him.

He has come in the flesh, conceived and born of Mary, in order to bear your sins and carry all your sorrows in His Body to the Cross, thereby to conquer death and shatter all the power of the enemy.

He takes upon Himself — and He removes from you — all your guilt and shame, all your doubt and fear, all your frailty, flaws and weaknesses.  In place of sin and death, He gives you Life and Salvation in both body and soul, already now in His Church on earth, and in heaven forever.

For He is Immanuel, "God with us," in order that you may be with Him, where He is, and live with Him in His Kingdom in the glorious Light of His presence, abiding in His Love forever.

That is why the angels sing and glorify God in the highest, even as they proclaim His glory and salvation on earth.  They praise His holy Name and give Him thanks for His grace toward all mankind, for His Incarnation and His holy Nativity, and even now for His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.  They rejoice with us and for us — for you — because they delight in the good and gracious will of God, in His forgiveness and salvation of all of us poor sinners.  That is His glory, that He freely chooses in love, in His divine grace, to rescue His fallen creatures and reconcile the world to Himself.

If the holy angels thus praise and magnify the Name of our Lord, how much more shall we rejoice, give thanks, and sing; for He is not the Savior of angels, but of all the children of men.  He Himself has become true Man, not only to save us from sin and death, but in order to share His divine nature and eternal Life with us, in our flesh.

It is truly meet, right and salutary that you should sing for joy on this night, with all the holy angels and with the whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth.  And you are able to sing, even in the midst of deep darkness and under the shadow of death, because the Lord has spoken to you and sings His Gospel to you, here and now.

True, the shadow of death does lie heavy and thick upon the world, and it presses hard upon you, upon your loved ones and upon your own mortal flesh and blood.  All the bright lights and colors of the season cannot stave it off nor keep it at bay.  Wars may or may not cease fire for holy days, but the hospitals and morgues cannot shut down, not even for twenty-four hours.  Remember those who serve in those places, as well as the police and firefighters, paramedics and rescue workers, who keep working while the rest of the world parties, because death continue day and night.

Not only the world, but Christians likewise suffer and die and are buried, even at Christmas and at any given time in this poor life of labor.  Sometimes in a classroom, at the mall, or in a movie theater.  At the wheel of your car, or asleep in your own bed.  Perhaps this very night.

In the face of that, the joyous singing and celebration of the Lord’s Incarnation and holy Nativity may seem a pretense, perhaps insensitive to the pain, or inappropriate.  And it is fair to ask: Are we only fooling ourselves?  Crafting smiles on corpses in the hopes that no one will notice?  But who are we kidding?  There are ups and downs, highs and lows, good days and bad days, sure, but all of your days will finally end in death — maybe sooner, maybe later, but unavoidably.

The problem is not that you are a finite creature, but that you are sinful.  You are mortal and die because you are sinful and you sin, from the inside-out.  You exist and live at all by the gracious Word of God, and yet your sinful heart still doubts, denies, disbelieves, and despises His life-giving Word.  This is the darkness in which you grope.  And that is why you die.

Sin leads to death because it is a turning away from God and His Word.  And as such, it leads away from love to selfishness and greed and desperation.  For having turned your back on your Creator, on the Author and Giver of life, you spend all your days in a frantic pursuit of a life you presume to make for yourself.  In a thousand different ways, by all manner of tactics, you grasp for it, and you horde whatever you find, but still you cannot hold onto it or keep it for long.

This is your darkness, and you cannot see your way clear or find your way out of it.  You cannot save yourself.  You were conceived and born in this dark valley, and whatever else you have gotten from your parents, you have received from them and share with them the inheritance of sin and death.  That is the legacy of sinful man, from Adam & Eve to the end of the world.

The problem is within you, as well as all around you.  It is not only your parents but you, also, are sinful and unclean.  You do not fear, love and trust in the Holy Triune God as you must, and you do not love your neighbor as the Lord has commanded.  Therefore, the harder you scheme and strive to elude the darkness and escape your fate, the worse it all gets.  Because you do not love, neither God nor man, you do not and cannot know God, who is Love.

Such ignorance of the one true God is deadly and damnable.  What you believe to be true is false.  What you consider good is evil.  What you perceive to be light is only a deeper and more sinister darkness.  Your heart and mind are clouded as darkly as your mortal body is overshadowed by the certainty of death.

And yet, despite all of that, we sing; and we are neither foolish nor ignorant to do so.

For into the darkness shines the great Light of God our Savior.  Into the valley of the shadow of death strides the Lord — the beloved and only-begotten Son of the Father; the Christ, anointed by the Holy Spirit; the incarnate God, who is true Man with us and for us, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, blood of our blood.

He strides into the arena, a greater Gladiator than this world has ever seen, and He joins the battle against all your foes.  He sets Himself against all your enemies, as your own Champion against sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He scatters the darkness and disperses the gloom, because He is the Light, and the darkness cannot overcome Him.  Death and the grave will swallow Him up in time, because He lets them; He actually gives Himself over to them in our place.  But having entered into the deep dark depths of Sheol, He shatters that grim dungeon from the inside-out, breaks all its bars and blows its doors off their hinges.

This Lord Jesus Christ has conquered in the fight, and He sets you free, because He has given Himself for your sins.  He has died your death, and He has destroyed its power over you by His dying.  He has atoned for all your sins by the shedding of His blood, so that no charge remains against you.  The devil has no legitimate claim on you, nor any valid accusation to level at you, because the Lord Himself has redeemed you, exonerated you, justified and vindicated you.

When God the Father raised this same Jesus, the Son of Mary, bodily from the dead, who bore your sins in His body of flesh and blood and suffered and died in your place, He raised you up out of darkness into His marvelous Light.

That Light of His Redemption, His Cross and Resurrection, His Righteousness and Reconciliation with God the Father, shines upon you in the preaching and ministry of His Gospel.

That is where and how you “see” Him and know Him, by faith, by the hearing of His Voice.  He speaks and sings forgiveness of all your sins, and with His Word He gives you Life.

This Voice of the Gospel is the way and the means by which He loves you — with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, with His body and His blood, with His whole self, with all that He is and has.  He loves you, that is where His Life and Light begin for you. He first loves you, and so, by the light and warmth of His love, you see the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God in His face, and you truly begin to live — in Him and with Him.  He loves you, and so you learn to know His love, to know Him, to love Him, and to love your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves you.

His Voice of the Gospel sounds forth in the darkness; it permeates and prevails over the darkness, which can neither comprehend nor overcome it.  He speaks, and there is Light, as His Word called forth the Light out of the darkness in the beginning of His Creation.

Once more He speaks to you from heaven, through His messengers on earth: “Here is your Savior. Your sins are forgiven.  You shall not die, but live.” And with this Word of His, He raises you from death to life.

Do not be afraid.  Do not retreat into the darkness of despair and death, from which the Lord Jesus sets you free.  Do not run away and hide from the bright Light of His Voice, but hear and believe what He preaches: By Himself He has sworn to bless you and keep you, to give you life and grant you perfect peace and rest.  As He has spoken, so is it done.

And as He speaks and sings so sweetly to you, so are you able to confess His Word and praise His Name, to pray and give thanks, to rejoice and sing — by the Light of His Gospel.

Oh, come, let us sing unto the Lord and raise a joyful song to the Rock of our salvation.  For He who is our Life and Light, who loves us with a neverending Love, has done great things for us.  Holy, holy, holy is the Name of this Lord, Jesus, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is one God, now and forever. Amen.

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