First Sunday after Christmas
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This Child, hunted by Herod, rejected by the innkeeper, will never be a popular hero. Many will fall on account of Him. They will refuse this Stone which is set to be the Chief Stone. He will fall upon them and crush them on their pride. Many are called, but few are chosen. Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. But narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. The thoughts out of many hearts will be revealed, and it will not be pretty.
The thoughts of men are fraught with greed, lust, and pride. The lie of Satan in the garden was that men did not need God. They could make their own way in this creation, see for themselves what was good for food, desirable, and capable of making one wise. He seduced us into trying to be god for ourselves. Our vanity was quick to follow. It has told us that the thoughts of our hearts are good, decent, and pure, at least as good, decent, and pure as anybody else’s, and maybe just a little bit better.
So, take a look, O Sinner, into your heart, if you dare. What secret thoughts are there to be revealed? Fantasying about the death of a loved one? Lust for a co-worker or a friend’s spouse? What shameful, hidden things are there in your heart? What things do you hide even from yourself? You are not better than other people. You are not smarter, having more common sense, or harder working. The constant problem of fallen man is imagined self-righteousness. Repent. These thoughts need to be revealed. They need to be exposed.
David writes: “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer” – when I was silent, when I tried to hide my sins. But, when “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered.” (Psalm 32)
This Child, hunted by Herod, rejected by the innkeeper, is set for the falling and rising again of many in Israel. Everything will be measured by this standard. He is all that matters. Many will reject Him. They will not fall upon Him and be broken, so He will fall upon them and crush them on their pride. But you, by God’s Grace, will be broken, crushed by the Law, slain, cut to the heart. Your old nature has been drowned with Him and buried in Holy Baptism. You have risen from that watery grave by the power of the Holy Spirit to life! If you live, you live in that Baptism, or not at all. The Old Man in you is again and again, day by day, constantly, drowned by contrition and repentance. And the New Man continually arises by Grace, heard in the Absolution, tasted in the Holy Communion, seen in the Word, and felt in the heart. You are broken, but mended; fallen, but risen; dead, but alive. The old thoughts are purged from your hot, black heart and the thoughts of His pure heart placed there. Those thoughts, those perfect thoughts of God’s own Son, are your thoughts in Him who gave His life for you. You are righteous for He is righteous. You bear His Name. You belong to Him.
Thus the life of faith is lived like that model of Faith, Lady Israel, Holy Mother Church, St. Mary herself, with a sword-pierced, broken heart. For the Child we adore, the Beloved of the Father, will be a sign that is spoken against. The suffering He endured to purify and cleanse you, He asks you to also endure in some measure. It is not to cleanse you, for that has already been done. It is not punishment for sins, for He has borne the full brunt of that. It is not to work years off an imagined purgatory or in anyway to appease God. He places the cross upon you to discipline you, His disciples. You are to put your hand to the plow and not look back. You are to pick up your cross, to suffer the loss of friends and family, the shame and scorn of righteousness, and count it all as nothing for the Salvation that is in you. His life, death, and rising is the cause of your own life, death, and rising and nothing else matters. Holy discipline comes from heaven upon those whom He loves. You will learn through the cross, through suffering, that He is all that matters. He takes away your hiding places, your excuses, exposes the thoughts of your heart. And there you learn that there is no other place to turn, no other consolation, no other hope. Then you are cleansed. Crushing and painful though it is, in this way your evil thoughts will be expunged, taken away, forgiven. You will confess and be absolved, kneel and be united in Him who is perfect in His Body and Blood. You will hear His Voice in His Word, know the Truth, and be free. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He loves you.
“Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he who trusts in the LORD, mercy shall surround him. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32)
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Ft. Wayne, Indiana