Christ is born! Glorify Him!
I hope that you are having a Merry and Blessed Christmas. Having? Shouldn’t it be had? No, “having” is correct! The Christmas celebration only begins on Christmas Day, December 25th. The celebration actually lasts for twelve days, until the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, when we remember the coming of the Magi or Wise Men to see the Christ-child. As I write this it is the seventh day of Christmas and I am listening to Christmas music, drinking a hot cup of Celestial Seasons Candy Cane Lane decaffeinated Green Tea, and enjoying the sounds, smells and tastes of this holy season.
Christmas Day at Holy Cross parish was a joyful experience. As always, we kept the Mass in Christmas by celebrating a Mid-night Holy Communion (“commonly called the Mass” - 1549 BCP). Our new choir sang for the first time, leading us in worship. After the Liturgy on the Fourth Sunday in Advent our church family had decorated the church with a beautiful Christmas tree near the communion rail, a traditional Nativity Scene (thank you St. Francis!), wreaths hanging from pew ends and on a wall, the largest poinsettia that I have ever seen, and more. A traditional Anglican church decorated for Christmas gives one an overwhelming sense of peace on earth and good will towards men.
After our Mid-night celebration of the Holy Communion we enjoyed a wonderful birthday party in honour of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I have seldom seen so much delicious food and drink. The warm fellowship and holy day cheer went on into the wee hours of the morning and Cheri and I did not get home until after 4:00 AM. After about four hours of sleep we spent the rest of the day celebrating Christmas with family. Cheri and I want to thank our church family for the beautiful Christmas card and the thoughtful gift. Your love is felt and deeply appreciated!
Yesterday, on the First Sunday after Christmas, I preached on the Epistle lesson: Galatians 4:1-7. The Apostle Paul has such Good News for us: “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal. 4:4-7). Calling this merely Good News is almost an understatement! We have been redeemed and adopted into the family of God. We are no longer servants but sons! We address God not merely as Lord or King or Master like servants, but as Abba, Father, because we are His sons and daughters! How can this be?
In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes: “Therefore being [present tense] justified [declared righteous] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1). Our righteousness is “by faith” according to St. Paul, not by our works. If we could earn our salvation then Christ died in vain. Even the best of our good works are flawed and imperfect. As Isaiah the Prophet says, “All our righteousness are as filthy rags” (Is. 64:6). Our righteousness as relating to our justification is external to us. It is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith.
The Apostle Paul continues: “By whom also we have access by faith into his grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). We have access to God’s grace by faith, not by works. Do you mean that we cannot merit grace? No, we cannot. Grace means “unmerited favor” or “undeserved kindness.” You cannot merit unmerited favor, and you cannot deserve undeserved kindness. St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, writes “we have access by faith into his grace wherein we stand...” We have our right-standing with God by His grace (unmerited favor, undeserved kindness) through faith. Now thats Good News indeed! And because of that Good News the Apostle Paul says that we are to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Rejoice. Yes, rejoice! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
We all know that God loves the world in general, but many Christians do not live as though they believed that God loves them in particular. But the truth is far different. He knew you before the creation of the world! I have some more Good News for you. You can actually take the words “the world” out of John 3:16, and replace those words with your name without changing the meaning of the text. Yes, God loves each of His sons and daughters, as though there were only one of us!
St. Paul the Apostle continues: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Did you get that? We cannot merit God’s favor and we do not earn God’s love, or obey to gain His love. The Scripture says plainly, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This is indeed Good News, but St. Paul has even more Good News for us. “Much more then, being now [present tense] justified [declared righteous] by his blood [not by our works or personal righteousness, but by His shed blood], we shall [not may, but “shall”] be saved from wrath through him [Christ]” (Rom. 5:9). “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall [there is that word “shall” again!] be saved by his life [because Christ is Risen from the dead!]” (Rom. 5:10). “And not only so, but we also joy [we have good reason to be joyful!] in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now [present tense] received the atonement” (Rom. 5:11).
Atonement! Don’t let anyone ever tell you that the death of Christ upon the cross was not an atoning sacrifice. “[W]hile we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8)... “being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved” (Rom. 5:9)...”we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10)...”by whom we have now received the atonement” (Rom. 5:11). Christ died for our sins and rose for our salvation, but our redemption was assured in the Incarnation. Christmas is a blessed time to be merry and to rejoice, and that joy should carry us through every day of our lives because it reminds us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...” (John 3:16). Christians should be a people of joy and the Christian life a life of joy. As St. Catherine of Siena says, “All the way to Heaven is Heaven.”
It is so sad to see joyless Christians, Christians who live as though they had a perpetual toothache. They have little or no joy in their relationship with our Lord, with their pastor or with their brothers and sisters in Christ, and have no Good News to share with others. Such people have no feeling of assurance in their relationship with Christ and no sense of security in the love of God. In fact, they often condemn the ideas of assurance and security as presumption. But is it presumption to believe the sure Word of God written? St. Teresa of Avila used to pray to God, “From sour-faced saints, deliver us.” Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit named by the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Galatians; and even while under arrest in Rome he could write: ”Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).
We have received Glad Tidings, Good News, the Gospel, and have good reason to be a people of joy in the Lord. God is our dear Father and we are His beloved children. As St. John the Divine has said, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the Name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life” (I John 5:13). Now that’s Good News!
My prayer this Christmas season is that my Christian readers will begin to see themselves as sons and daughters of God, rather than merely His servants (as wonderful as even that would be!); and that they will begin to truly see God as their dear Father, and to have the assurance and security that comes from knowing that they are the beloved sons and daughters of a loving Father, are secure in His love, and heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. My prayer is, “that ye may know that ye have eternal life” (I John 5:13), that you will be a people of joy, and understand that “All the way to Heaven is Heaven.” We have received Good News, and have Good News to share to a lost, dark and hurting world. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words.”
This Coming Sunday, January 6th, is the Feast of the Epiphany. If you are anywhere near the Greater Omaha area I hope that you will join us for worship as we commemorate the coming of the Magi. Morning Prayer is at 9:30 AM, followed by the Holy Communion at 10:00 AM. Wise Men still seek Him!
Holy Cross Anglican Church is a local church with a local, national and global outreach. I would like to invite my readers to help us in our ministry. Please prayerfully consider going to our Holy Cross Media Site, www.holycrossmedia.com , and making a donation to the work of Holy Cross Anglican Church. You can do so by following the “Make a Donation” link, and using the Donate button. The Donate button is now working and we have just begun taking online donations. Your gift will be safe and secure with Pay Pal, and we will make good use of it. Thank you!
I wish all of my readers a Merry and Blessed Christmas. “Alleluia. Unto us a child is born; O Come let us adore Him. Alleluia” (Morning Prayer, 1928 BCP).