25 December 2013

His Manger Is Your Paradise

Working at night is a different experience.  Those who have done it know what I mean.  There’s a reason they call it “the graveyard shift.”  Even nighttime carousers and the glare of neon lights can’t really hold back the darkness; nor, behind the darkness, are they able to hold back death.  Which is why there are those who must labor through the night to watch out for their neighbors.

Cheers to those who are keeping watch tonight, that we might be gathered here in safety.  It is a lonely occupation: too quiet of comforting sounds, yet, too loud with chaos and confusion.  The night and the darkness are ominous and threatening, a constant reminder of danger close at hand.  For the truth is, that we are dependent on the light, which originates and comes from the Lord our God.  Even the sun is but a creature of His, which derives its light from Him, by way of His Word.

It is the same Lord God who provides the people who serve and protect their neighbors, by night as by day.  So, not only cheers to them, but thanks be to God.  And thank you, also, for your work and efforts in this poor life of labor.

Whatever your shift may be, you also work in the dark.  That’s not an insult, but a fact.  For your whole life, and all of creation, is now shrouded in deep darkness under the shadow of death.  The nighttime simply reminds you, and makes it more obvious, what is also true during the day.

The nations and the rulers of this world have it all wrong in their raging, in their quest for power, and in their aspirations.  All of their grand schemes are futile, and they will end in ruin; for even the heavens and the earth will pass away.  Rage on.  Win your wars.  Build your empires.  Then watch it all fall apart and crumble into the dirt.  It’ll be folded up as quickly as a game of Risk, when it’s all said and done, whether you imagine that you’ve won the game or lost it decisively.

What about your own plots and best laid plans?  What raging or scheming does the little tyrant in your own heart and mind concoct?  Not only with malicious intent; though, by all means, repent of that wickedness, which is deep darkness indeed.  But, what is probably more common in your case: Where and how do you conspire against the Lord and His Anointed, perhaps with the best of motives, simply by disregarding His clear Word and charting your own path and progress?

What is this thing that you have done?  What anxiety now grips you?

Living unto yourself, apart from the Word of the Lord, this too is darkness, the long nighttime of sin and death.  It will not end well.  Not even if you are very nice, hard working, and successful.

Yet, even now, in the midst of that dark night, the almighty Word leaps down from heaven to earth.  He enters the too quiet silence, as well as the too noisy chaos, with His speaking of the Gospel: Which is the Father’s speaking of His Son, not only “in Person,” but in the Flesh of His Word.

This is the Truth that is truer than true, which we celebrate tonight and tomorrow and for the next twelve days: That God the Creator has become the central Part of His own Creation, in order to save the work of His own hands; to rescue His creatures from sin and death, from the evil serpent, and from all their mortal enemies; to preserve the Man and the Woman and their children in peace; and to perfect them in His own divine holiness, forever and ever, in and with His own holy flesh.

The almighty Word, by whom all things are made, has not only entered into His own Creation and become the central and defining Part of it; He also gathers all things up into Himself, into His Body of flesh and blood.  For so it is, that all things find their Life, their Light, and their Salvation, their meaning and their purpose, their today and their tomorrow, and forevermore, in Him.

This is what it means for Jesus Christ to be the Light of the world, the Light that no darkness at all can overcome.  And He is the Light that now shines upon you in His preaching of the Gospel.  This is your future and your hope, both day and night; whether you are keeping watch or sleeping, in your grave or in your bed: Even the darkness is Light to Him, the night is as bright as the day.

The Father has not hidden this Light of Christ under a bushel, no.  He has set this incarnate Word, this Son of His in the flesh — this Christ, the Lord’s Anointed — upon the holy hill of Zion, that is, within the City of David which is called the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Therefore, He sends His messengers to all the nations, even to the ends of the earth, and also now to you, to find you out in your field, in the midst of all your labors, and to call you and send you to His Manger in His Church.  His Word sends you to find and feast upon the Word-made-Flesh.

It’s not that you must now spend all your time, your every waking moment, day and night, at the Lord’s Altar.  Although, I dare say, you do invest a lot of time and energy into many others things which do not matter as much, which will not last and cannot give you life.

But, like the shepherds then, come and go from this Manger, that is to say, to and from the Lord’s Altar in the Lord’s House.  Find Him cradled in the arms of holy Mother Church.  Come and go from His Manger, not once, but often.  And realize that this is the Center, the beating Heart of Life itself: It is the Center of your own life in body and soul, and of the whole universe, all of creation.

For as surely as all things depend upon the divine Word, by whom and for whom they were made, so surely do the heavens and the earth, and all things visible and invisible, find their Heart and Home in Him, who has become Flesh and dwells among us in His Church, in the preaching of His Gospel, and in His Holy Sacrament.

Here is Life and Salvation, for you, and for all people, in this City of David, which is rightly called the House of Bread; in the sacred Feeding Trough of the Holy Communion.  For here the Word, who is both God and Flesh, is given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Here is Paradise found: Creation as it was meant to be, God’s very good gift, freely given to you.

Come, then, and feast upon the Word-made-Flesh.  And go back to your flocks, to your office and your desk, to your classroom or your kitchen, and live like it matters; because it surely does.  Live as though it made a difference; because His flesh and blood make all the difference in the world.

In the Body and Blood of Christ the Lord, the Son of God, your Savior, creation is rescued and redeemed from sin, death, and destruction; and not simply restored and renewed, but it is realized in its true perfection.  Not only is the darkness driven back and held at bay, but the true Light now shines eternally upon the New Creation, and so also upon you, in the living flesh of Jesus Christ.

He is not merely a means to some other end, but His Incarnation and your fellowship in His flesh are the meaning of Life, the point and purpose for which you have been created and are here at all: To live and abide in Christ, and Christ in you, in both body and soul, both now and forevermore.

Thus, to and from His Manger, to and from this Paradise on earth: Live, love, and work in the Light of Christ.  Don’t quit your day job (nor the night shift, if that is when you are given to work).  But do now go about your labors in a whole new way.  For it is so, beloved, born of God the Word, that you now live in the never-ending Day of His crucified and risen Body.  And as He lives and reigns to all eternity, which is most certainly true, you also live forever and ever in His Peace.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Susan said...

I left church last night singing not "Silent Night" or "Joy to the World," but the Phos Hilaron. And now I see that you were on the same wavelength.

Maybe it's just a silly little thing, but that makes me happy, ... like some itty-bitty evidence that the Church is one, though scattered in many places.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

That makes me happy, too. Thanks for sharing the thought. And a merry Christmas to you and yours.