God’s grace be with you.
The Lutheran Study Bible quotes Martin Luther from Luther’s Works 35: 119-120 “A Brief Introduction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels” stating: “The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you…recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you….This is the great fire of the love of God for us, whereby the heart and conscience become happy, secure, and content…Now when you have Christ as the foundation and chief blessing of your salvation, then the other part follows: that you take him as your example, giving yourself in service to your neighbor just as you see that Christ has given himself for you…Therefore make note of this, that Christ as a gift nourishes your faith and makes you a Christian. But Christ as an example exercises your works. These do not make you a Christian. Actually, they come forth from you because you have already been made a Christian.”
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the one whom the angels proclaimed saying, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord…”(Luke 2:11), we are reminded in these words of Martin Luther that in order to know and be like Christ, we must first receive him as a gift. The foundation of being found in Christ, getting something out of worship, getting something out of scripture, seeing Christ among us, and being Christ in the world is predicated on our being able in faith to receive and to claim Christ as both Lord and Savior, completely, whole-heartedly, and without reservation…that is, nothing comes before Christ in our lives. As a husband who truly and actively loves and honors his wife will do anything to protect her from harm and will remain dutifully faithful to her “until death do us part,” claiming her as his number one gift in life “forsaking all others,” so we are claimed and called by God to actively receive and honor the gift of Jesus as number one “Lord and Savior” in our lives.
Lord means to receive Christ as sovereign king of the universe who creates, and who commands weal (i.e. well-being) and woe…the One whom we allow to teach us how to live our lives in godly ways regardless of what the rest of society says. Savior means to receive the gift of Christ who died for our sins on the cross and who rose to eternal life, opening the door to the kingdom for all who believe. These are not just theological concepts to tease the mind, or just another description of a man or great rabbi who walked the earth years ago. NO! Lord and Savior enact an ongoing two-way relationship of love. This is first a personal relationship rooted in an active and life-long journey of prayer and worship and meditation on the Word of God. Receiving the gift of Christ also means opening the gift, getting to know the gift, interacting with the gift, and sharing the gift. When we do not in faith open the gift, i.e. doing the work to get to know who Jesus is in and through the Gospel, then we miss out on the joy that is found in that very gift (life and salvation in Jesus). This all goes into what Martin Luther means when he says that “this is what makes you a Christian.”
What flows then from this dynamic (active and engaging and joy-filled) relationship with Christ as your personal gift is a public “liturgy” (which means “work of the people”). Liturgy, or worship, honors the gift of Lord and Savior through song, prayer, and being sent forth to do the good works of Christ in the world. Worship is the recognition and exercise of our freedom to be the salt and light in the world, actively (which is the opposite of passively receiving) making a difference. Worship is living righteously, seeking justice, showing mercy, and actively engaging God’s Word and living God’s Word in our relationships with those around us. In this, Martin Luther says that Jesus…the gift we have gotten to know through our active engagement with the Gospel…is now our example of, and source of strength, to be servants of love to and for others.
Without a personal and growing relationship with Christ (the Word of God made flesh) as we learn of him and from him in the Bible, and in worship, and in the study of God’s Word together…forming a solid bond of love between the Savior and the saved (YOU and ME!)….then a public life of worship (liturgy – work of the people, honoring Christ in our relationships with others in mercy and justice and love) becomes/can become dull and meaningless and long-suffering as WE wait for/expect God or the church to do something for us. Could this be the reason why the church is becoming more irrelevant in society…that God’s people (YOU personally perhaps?) have given up on the work of liturgy because we (YOU?) do not truly believe Christ has been given and is Lord and Savior in our (YOUR?) lives? Is it your “No” to Christ’s “Yes” because life has gotten too busy, or you are just tired of waiting, or whatever other excuse/self-justification you come up with to not be involved, that has rendered Christ powerless in your life and church life? Tough questions to ask, I know, but they must be asked…even I ask them of myself.
Martin Luther would say, and I would agree with him, that God has already done something for us (YOU!) by giving us Christmas – Jesus! Lord and Savior! But in faith (trusting in God by the power of the Holy Spirit who lays open the gift of Christ before us), it is up to YOU to receive and truly believe that Christ is God’s gift to you. Your pastor cannot do it for you. Your Sunday School teacher cannot do it for you. Your parents or friends in church cannot do it for you. It is up to YOU…Christ, as gift, is present for you to receive…and perhaps the many people around you are still waiting for you to take that fruit of love and share it. Perhaps God, in sadness, is waiting for you to seek him while he may be found.
If you believe your faith in Christ is secure and strong, GREAT! If this is not your experience, I pray you hear the call of God to remember the child born in Bethlehem as Lord and Savior for YOU, and find yourself in Christ’s house of prayer again and again on a regular basis, in worship… and maybe just as importantly, in other activities of fellowship and sharing and questioning and discussing and finding answers to life’s hard questions together (which is also worship). And if all of this remains a struggle for you, your pastor is only a phone call away.
May Christmas be the renewal of Lord and Savior for each of us, and challenge us to be even more so the body of Christ in the world.
Blessings to you and peace in Christ,
COME WORSHIP — GO AND SERVE