Sermon for II Christmas, Year B
Based on Eph. 1:3-14
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
In today's second lesson, we see what great lengths God went for our sake and our salvation. We are reminded repeatedly in this passage That God Not Us, Has Taken The Initiative To Save Us. Only because of God's Power, God's Freedom, God's Will, God's Predestined Activity, and God's Grace Are We Given The Gift Of Life And Salvation.
The author of Ephesians, in a state of heavenly ecstasy, speaks in superlative fashion of blessings upon blessings, all of which are initiated by God in Christ. It Is God: "Who Has Blessed Us In Christ With Every Spiritual Blessing." It Is God who: "Chose Us In Christ." It Is God who: "Destined Us For Adoption As His Children Through Jesus Christ, According To The Good Pleasure Of His Will." It Is God who has: "Freely Bestowed On Us In The Beloved…His Glorious Grace."
The Revised English Bible renders it this way: "Before the foundation of the world he chose us in Christ to be his people, to be without blemish in his sight, to be full of love; and he predestined us to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ. This was his will and pleasure in order that the glory of his gracious gift, so graciously conferred on us in his Beloved, might redound to his praise."
Thus, our passage emphasizes over and again that: through no merit or initiative of our own, God loves us and accepts us as the children of God. Do we truly know and believe that God loves and accepts us unconditionally? The season of Christmas; the event of the Incarnation; of the Christ-child coming into the world in the flesh to be our Emmanuel is a resounding affirmation of God's unconditional love and acceptance towards us. He is The One who has brought heaven down to earth, through the Incarnation; through his birth, life, teachings, sufferings, death and resurrection; through his Spirit of Holiness dwelling within us and bestowing on us Every Spiritual Blessing.
If we truly believe and know that God loves and accepts us with "no strings attached," then life can and does make a difference to us. The result of what God has done for us makes us, says the author of our passage: "holy and blameless before him in love." Or as the Revised English Bible puts it, we are: "to be without blemish in his sight, to be full of love."
Because God Love And Accepts Us, We Are Free And Responsible To Love And Accept Others; To Spread The Love Of Christmas Around The World, Every Day Of The Year. Because God Loves And Accepts Us, Our Christian Faith Will Guide, Direct And Control The Manner In Which We Live Each Day.
Donald L. Deffner tells the following story: "Missionary "Hector" Ottemoeller often spoke of the first time he took the steamer up the river into the interior of Nigeria back in the late forties. En route he met the venerable missionaries and their families who had labored for 30 years and more in the interior. He says he'll never forget how as he spoke to them one could tell that "their eyes had seen the king."
What about us? This Christmas; in all of our celebrations; in our fellowship with family and friends; in our carols of praise to the King of kings; in our feasting; in our spreading of the Good News Of Great Joy; in our generous deeds of loving-kindness; in our worship times; in our place of work or home or school; can others tell that "our eyes have seen the king?"
According to Dan Benuska: "The Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem uses a special kind of incense for its worship services. As worshippers leave the church and mingle with people in the crowded streets, heads turn. Everyone can tell where they've been. The sweet incense of Nativity clings to their clothing and hangs all about them. In spite of themselves they become walking advertisements for the One they've worshipped. It's like that with everyone who's been with Jesus."
If our lives are "without blemish in his sight," and "full of love," then we can certainly make a difference to other people and to our world. Then our lives can be as a sweet smelling incense to others and our world. Then others shall be able to see Jesus working in and through us.
"In Norway," Donald L. Deffner points out, "the great ships cruise ceaselessly offshore from the southernmost tip of the nation to its northernmost coastlands. The ships are not only the pride of the country but also bind it together commercially. When a ship goes down, the entire nation watches in stunned silence. A large vessel did go down in a fjord one night. But those listening to the radio were shocked to hear that a smaller vessel sank soon afterwards in exactly the same spot! Everyone wondered how such a strange coincidence could take place. Upon investigation it was learned that the smaller vessel had not been using its navigational gear. It simply followed the larger ship, thinking nothing could happen to it."
Sometimes our Christian faith is like these two ships that sank. Our faith needs to be cultivated and nurtured just as a sea-going vessel needs to utilize its navigational gear. If we fail to cultivate and nurture our faith, we can sink into a tragic death, just as the ship sunk because it failed to use its navigational gear. If we fail to live our faith by utilizing it and putting it into action, then we are leading others as well as ourselves astray, and word will soon get around about what we're doing or failing to do.
Compare this with the words of our passage, which point out the appropriate response to what God has done for us in Christ. We instructed to: "set our hope on Christ," and "live for the praise of his glory." Is that what other people outside of this congregation are saying about us? Is our Christian faith and love; is the Good News of Christmas reaching out to others in our wider community and world? Is our congregation an example for others to be nurtured, to grow in Christian faith and love? Our attitude toward one another reflect our attitudes toward Jesus himself. The way in which we treat others is the same way in which we treat our God and Saviour.
This Christmas season, because of what God has done for us in Christ; because we are the recipients of the Greatest Gift Ever Given; we are exhorted respond to God in Christ: "to be without blemish in his sight, to be full of love." Is our Christian faith and love contagious? If it isn't, may it become contagious! May we become so excited about the Good News Of Great Joy That We Cannot Keep It To Ourselves; Our Greatest Desire Is To Share It With All People!
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