Christmas Joy

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 1:18-25

Dear people with the promise of eternal joy: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christmas doesn’t always feel so joyful. We may be able to remember past Christmases which were filled with joy, but times change. For some, this will be the first Christmas spent in a nursing home and they are unable to celebrate with family as in the past. Some are spending this Christmas in the hospital, reeling over a scary diagnosis. Many are spending this Christmas as widows or widowers, and Christmas just isn’t the same anymore.

The first Christmas wasn’t all joy and happiness, either. Joseph’s life was unravelling. Everything had been going well. Joseph had found the girl he wanted to marry. In fact, Joseph and Mary were betrothed, so they had already promised themselves to each other. They were already in a legally binding relationship, the first stage of marriage. They were living chaste, pious lives – not living together or sleeping together, but waiting for marriage.

Then Mary came back from visiting her relative Elizabeth for three months, and she was “found to be with child.” Joseph knew the child wasn’t his, so he assumed Mary had been unfaithful to him. What other possibility is there? Sure, she had some story about being pregnant by the Holy Spirit, but that sounded about as believable to Joseph as it would seem to a husband-to-be today.

Scripture doesn’t tell us much about what Joseph was thinking, but it does tell us that he resolved to divorce her quietly. He obviously didn’t believe Mary’s story. He must have been upset. He must have felt let down and betrayed. How could Mary do this to him? He loved Mary, but what was he supposed to do now? If Joseph kept quiet and just took Mary as his wife, then everyone would think he was guilty. The small community in which they lived would ridicule and shame him. Back then it was not as it is today, with fornication and children born out of wedlock as the norms of society. Back then, there was still a sense of shame over such sin, and the law prescribed penalty for a betrothed virgin fornicating was the death penalty by stoning (Dt. 22:23-24).

Therein lay the other problem. Joseph didn’t want Mary to be executed, either. He thought if he could quietly divorce her, then she could escape the death penalty. Yes, he thought she had acted very wickedly towards him, but he loved her and didn’t want her to die, and he didn’t want the community to shame or ridicule her.

As Joseph wrestled with these decisions, he was not joyful. There was no happiness in his life as it seemingly crumbled apart and as he thought of what the future would be. Joseph was not full of Christmas joy and cheer.

A messenger from God changed everything for Joseph. The messenger told him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

That’s great news! Mary was telling the truth! She hadn’t betrayed him or been unfaithful to him! And on top of it all, this child is the promised Saviour who will save people from their sins!

That’s the thing about messages from God. They show us that in the middle of what seems like crisis and disaster, God is there with His people. God gives good news in the midst of sadness. In the midst of loneliness, sickness, death, and betrayal, God sends His good news through His messengers.

Even if Christmas will not be the same this year for you; even if Christmas will never again be the same as it once was, know that the Christ child came to save His people from their sins.

This is such good news that it is bound to bring joy. This good news means that the nursing home isn’t your final home – you have an eternal home in the heavens. This good news means that your stay in the hospital and your diagnosis isn’t permanent – even if God doesn’t heal you in this life, He will heal you in the life to come. This good news means that your sadness and loneliness won’t last forever – you have the promised reunion with your loved ones who have died in the faith.

Thus, we will have joy this Christmas no matter what we have to face in this life – no matter how much our lives might seem to be crumbling, no matter how bleak and sad things look, no matter how little this year’s Christmas will remind us of Christmases past.

We have the good news that God fulfilled His promise and sent us His only Son. The virgin Isaiah prophesied about did conceive and bear a Son, and His name is Immanuel, which means God with us. Immanuel died for our sins and He is still with us. He is with us in His Word, He is with us in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He is with us in His body and blood which He gives us to eat and drink.

Jesus is the bringer of joy, because He has saved us from our sins. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is with us through the heart-breaks and betrayals; He is with us through the illnesses and diseases; He is with us at our death beds. When our last hour comes, He will take us to be with Himself in eternal joy and happiness. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and we will never again be sad or sorrowful.

Thus, Christmas is joyful. Even amidst the sadness of this life, we have the joy of Christmas, that God sent Jesus, our Saviour, who died for us, saving us from our sins. Having the promise of eternal life, we have the joy of the promise of eternal joy. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Christmas Joy!

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas based on Luke 2:22-40

Dear rejoicing Christians: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We try so hard to have a joyful Christmas. We gather with as much family as we can get together. We buy presents for our children and other loved ones in the hopes that receiving such a gift will brighten their Christmas. We may even buy ourselves something which we’ve been eyeing for a while. We cook and bake the best foods, preparing ourselves feasts. We may even help out those less fortunate, because then we think we can really feel good about Christmas.

We can have a good Christmas when our family is around and when we have money for presents and elaborate dinners. How good would our Christmas be if we were all alone and broke? How good would our Christmas be if we just received a diagnosis of terminal illness or if a loved one passed away? Some of us have such situations in our future. Some of us are living through them right now.

These are the situations of the characters in our Gospel reading. This first Christmas, Mary and Joseph were far from their family. We know they’re not well off. The Old Testament Law required a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering (Lev. 12:6). Those who were too poor to afford the sacrifices could instead offer just two pigeons or two turtledoves (Lev. 12:8), and that is what was offered by Joseph and Mary. They could not even afford the normal offerings for purification, indicating that they were quite poor. Does this make for a good Christmas?

Anna was very old. She might have been eighty-four years old, or a widow for eighty-four years after being married for seven, making her over one hundred years old. Surely she was suffering the aches and pains of old age, especially at a time when they didn’t have the advances in medicine we have today to at least help with some relief. She had been a widow for many decades and was spending Christmas by herself in the Temple. Does this make for a good Christmas?

What about Simeon? The Bible doesn’t tell us how old he was even though he is always pictured as an old man and that is what the text certainly seems to indicate. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He was waiting for the double comfort Isaiah prophesied and we heard about during Advent. He had been told by God that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Lord’s anointed. Well, he saw the Lord’s anointed, so he knew death was coming. It’s about the same as getting a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Does this make for a good Christmas?

And then Simeon speaks a prophecy by the Holy Spirit to Mary, saying that her Son will be opposed and that a sword will pierce through her soul. Add to that why it would not pierce Joseph’s soul also – because by all accounts Joseph died before Mary’s soul was pierced at the foot of the cross of her Son.

Where is the Christmas cheer? Where’s the festive gathering and the feasting? Where are the gifts that brighten Christmas?

Well, they are all actually there. If you listen to Simeon’s song of praise, it is full of Christmas cheer and joy. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon said that he’s ready to die. He’s got everything so there’s no point hanging around anymore. He has peace with God through the baby Jesus. He sees His salvation in the face of this infant. He knows Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promises ever since man’s fall into sin.

And Anna begins to thank and praise God. She, despite her age, starts running around telling everyone who this baby is. She’s as excited as a little girl who just unwrapped the Christmas present she’s been waiting to open for so long. Anna also is filled with Christmas joy.

And Joseph and Mary just returned with the baby Jesus to their home in Nazareth, and go back to regular, everyday life. They marvelled at what was said about Jesus and they witnessed the praises of Simeon and Anna. Joyful about the birth of Jesus, and witnessing the joy of Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph could return joyfully back to their regular lives.

So why would we allow poverty to ruin our joy of Christmas? There’s no reason to have a bad Christmas even if family isn’t around, if you can’t have the great feast you’d like to have, or if old age is catching up with you. You can have joy at Christmastime even if you have been a widow or widower for decades like Anna or have just recently lost your spouse. You can have joy at Christmastime even if you have just received a diagnosis that you will soon die.

Because poverty isn’t the problem. Sickness isn’t the problem. Loneliness and sadness aren’t the problem. Even death is not the problem. The problem is sin.

Some families struggle to meet daily needs because there is sin in the world. There is sickness, loneliness, and sadness in the world because there is sin in the world. The only reason why there is death in the world is because of sin, because the wages of sin is death. The problem is sin.

That’s why Anna and Simeon were so joyful. They knew that Jesus was the solution to sin. God had promised that He would send a Saviour to rescue us from sin, the root cause of every problem in the world. Simeon could sing that he has been saved from sin, that he himself had seen God’s salvation. Anna could run around telling everyone that the redemption of Jerusalem had arrived, the Saviour who would redeem us from our sin.

Because with our sin forgiven, what is illness or sickness or loneliness? What is death but the doorway to heaven and a reunion with our loved ones who have died in the faith? Our Christmas joy doesn’t need to be crushed even if we don’t receive a single present, are near death’s door in a nursing home, long since widowed, without family around to even visit us for Christmas. All of this is the result of sin, and yes, we suffer in this world because of sin.

But sin is conquered. All of your sins are forgiven. The devil can’t accuse you of anything. Your guilty conscience can take a hike. You may suffer in this life because of your sin and you cannot undo those things that you regret, but Jesus paid for those sins with His holy blood. Your sins are not on your slate; they’ve been wiped away. All the sins on your account have been paid by Jesus.

We can continue to sing the joyful Christmas hymns throughout the Christmas season. We don’t have to stop just because our relatives have gone home and there are no more presents under our trees. Our Christmas joy continues. We don’t have to throw out our Christmas joy with our used wrapping paper just because the world has moved on to look toward the next holiday.

In fact, we can celebrate the joy of Christmas every day of the year, no matter what is going on in our lives. We can sing with Simeon. We can run around with Anna. We can return to our regular lives with Joseph and Mary because we have the joy that Jesus has defeated sin. We can be ready to depart this life in peace because we have received the joy of our sins forgiven. We can have joy all the way to death’s door, where we will enter our eternal joy forever. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.