Christmas Vigil 2011 – Luke 2:1-14

24. December 2011
Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
Luke 2:1-14

We have arrived. The festival of our Lord’s nativity is here. For weeks the church has anxiously awaited this most joyous occasion. We have restrained ourselves from sumptuous meals. We have held back from singing the Gloria with the angels. We have contemplated the Lord as judge and king. We have heard his forerunner John the Baptist call us to repent for the kingdom of heaven is now at hand. Our eyes followed his scrawny finger towards the manger as he pointed and declared “He is the Christ!”

This brings us again to end of a long and exhausting journey. We have been traveling this road since that fateful day, when our mother and father ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree, we have longed for salvation. We have hoped for redemption. We have waited for the desire of nations. The serpent deceived us and we ate. The doors were barred to paradise. Yet, our merciful God promised a brother who would crush that miserable enemy’s head. He would open that door and enter. His train of witnesses will follow Him.

We knew what was needed. The Lord will provide for himself the lamb for the offering, my son. The only-begotten son of Abraham is spared. The only-begotten of God is given. The Lord will provide. He will sacrifice and be the sacrifice. The light of this burnt offering will pierce even the darkest recesses of the heart. The hike up that mountain was shrouded in darkness. The wandering the wilderness had only the twinkling stars and dim moon to guide. Even the so-called Promised Land shone only for a moment and then was eclipsed by our great wickedness. Yet, this was not forever. We have seen a great light. The darkness is overcome.

This great light has caused the nation of God to multiply. It is a kingdom of rejoicing and harvest. The bonds that once held us fast are broken. The yoke and staff destroyed. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. He is our king. This altar is his throne. He established his reign and upholds it with his righteousness. It is finished, from this time and forevermore.

He is the shoot that sprouted from this rocky soil. He is the tree and He is the fruit. Under the shelter of his boughs children play. Animals graze. Snakes and adders neither hurt nor destroy. All are fed with wisdom and understanding. Counsel and might. Knowledge and fear. Righteousness and faithfulness are the sap that nourishes His branches. His branches bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

This tree is ever glorious. Its shines like the sun, rising upon the hill. All nations have come to this light. Kings and princes have watched and followed its rising. Its radiant beams shine upon our faces, warm our dreary souls, and cause our heart to thrill and exult. Lift up your eyes and see, all around. Your Lord is the everlasting glory. Even the heavens are rent open. Angels and light stream forth. The way is clear. The light has come.

Those Angel hosts announce the birth. His name is Emmanuel. He is God with us. He is Jesus for He saves us from our sins. Born of Mary to redeem Mary. Adopted by Joseph to redeem to Joseph. Conceived of the Holy Spirit, just as all fellow brothers and sisters are born through Word, womb, water, and Spirit. He is born to redeem. We are born again with him, redeemed.

How can we know unless we hear? How can this good news be heard unless a messenger is sent? As we huddle outside, wondering, wandering, and waiting, we need to hear. We need to know. And the herald angel of the Lord calls out: Fear not! Why? I have for you good news, of great joy, for you and all people. For unto you is born a savior. It happened. We have arrived in the city of David. We have heard and we know where to find Him.

He is wrapped here in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. He is covered with linen and pall and lying on a wooden altar. This is a sign for you. God the Father has provided the lamb. God the Father has given you His only-begotten son. The name of this place is “the Lord will provide.”

Humble? Yes. Meek? Absolutely. Lowly? No question. Here are our Savior sits, enthroned on his manger, his mercy seat. Here angels break forth in song. Here the heavens are opened and light and glory of the only Lord shines around you. Our voices ring out “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among among those with whom he is pleased.”

Let us come, shepherds, angels, magi, and all to the stable and find salvation lying upon this manger. We come and worship Him, Christ the newborn king. We offer Him gifts rare, treasures of voice, of song, and lives. We have heard his voice, called by the shepherd, called to be His people Israel. His wayward sheep are gathered. His lost coin is found. His prodigal has returned. The feast is prepared. Let us eat and be satisfied.

Let us once again go to Bethlehem, the house of bread. Let us eat and be satisfied. This is love, sending His only Son into the world, so that we would live in Him and He in us. Love is not from us but from God. First God offered His son for you, to atone for you, to feed you with righteousness. First, the unblemished lamb is sacrificed and then we are redeemed.

We have seen Him face to face. We have received Him in the chalice upon our lips or the wafer upon our tongue. God abides in us and we in God. So, we have come to know and believe the love God has for us. We have arrived. The festival of our Lord’s nativity is here. Christ your redeemer is born. The feast has begun.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Easter Vigil 2011 – Genesis 1-2

23. April 2011
Easter Vigil
Genesis 1-2

Tonight the Holy Three Days, the Triduum, ends. We began at in the upper room, proceeded to the Garden and to the judgment seat, escalated to the place of the skull, and was finally laid in the tomb. A bittersweet meal, proceeded to exhaustion, then to condemnation, the dying breath, and the final resting place.

But that’s not the end of the three days. The sign of Jonah doesn’t end with the sealed tomb. Just as the fish could not contain God’s man, so also the grave could not contain the Son of God. He burst the chains of death’s prison, destroying its captive hold forever.

Our Christian celebration of Christ’s bloody triumph is not just three days. It is also seven. Just seven days ago, we rejoiced with our Lord as the multitude declared Jesus the Son of David, King, and Messiah. Hosanna to the highest.

For six days our Lord labored for your salvation. On Sunday, he entered triumphant. Monday, he cleansed the temple. Tuesday, debated in the temple, leading to the condemning charge of blasphemy.  Wednesday, he prepared his disciples through discourse. Thursday, he held his final Passover and his first Supper. Friday, he dies. And now, Saturday, he rests in the tomb from his labor.

Sound familiar? It should. Its not the first time our Lord has labored for a week. The last time began in darkness with nothing. Then, on the first day of the week, there was light and it was good. The next day, the heavens and the earth were separated. The next day, the earth and sea were separated with the blessing of all plants and trees. The next day, the earth was blessed with stars and planets. On the fifth day, the living creatures of the sea and air were made. On the sixth day, the living creatures were made upon the earth and it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…

And God saw everything that he made, and behold, it was very good… Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Then, through the sin of Adam, death entered the world. Mankind tasted of the prohibited fruit, violating God’s command. He ignored God and received the due penalty for his violation. He was cast from the garden. His life became a living hell, struggling against thorns and thistles, against shame and guilt. His wife labors in pain for the good fruit of marriage.

Suffering, pain, and anguish were bad enough. But even worse, their grievous error opened the gates of Hades. Satan and his legions would torment them night and day. The tempter’s charm would drag them further into lawlessness and the despair it brings.

And worst of all, through Adam death entered into the world. Through this one man, all mankind dies. We are the inheritors of the curse. We are cursed to disobedience, to lawlessness, to shame, to death.

Even in the midst of this death, our Lord has not forgotten us. What he made, and we corrupted, he wants to redeem. So great is his love that he promises to restore the world to its former goodness. What took six days to make, and one shameful sin to destroy, our Lord Jesus Christ the crucified restored in six days. This day, we receive the blessings of this week’s recreation.

Tonight is the seventh day. Just as our God rested on the seventh day, the founder of the world, rests from this week. The labor is long but the work is complete. When he declared from the cross tetelestai, which means “it is finished,” he is declaring that the work is done. Our Lord looks down from the cross at those three days, at that week, at the three years of ministry, at the thirty years of life—all lived for your salvation—and he sees that is very good.

So it is each week, each Sabbath, that we rest from our labors, considering all God’s work for us. We consider his baptism, his fasting, his temptation, his teaching, his preaching, his agony, suffering, and bloody sweat. We consider his condemnation and crucifixion. We consider his three day rest in the tomb.

When the dawn rises upon us in the morning, Holy Week will be but a vivid memory and the new week of the new creation will begin. It is our triumph over sin, our victory over death, our everlasting life in paradise. It is our rebirth in Christ in Holy Baptism. It is our conscience renewed in the declaration “you are forgiven!”  It is your body and soul kept in the steadfast faith through Christ’s body and blood.

These precious gifts are ours because we are in Christ and he is in us. Easter is the eighth day, the beginning of our new life with Christ. The work is done, the victory won. Let us enter into the blessed rest that is our Lord.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana