Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas I Year B 2017

Fr. Dale Matson

Jesus Christ A Savior Is Born. He is Lord Of All.

As I reviewed and meditated on the readings for Christmas Eve, a phrase caught my attention that was repeated in both our reading from St. Paul’s letter to Titus and our passage from Luke.
In Luke we hear, “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.’” The Messiah was born for all of us.
In Titus we hear, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.” Yes, of course, He came upon this earth to offer salvation to all humankind. The invitation to the Kingdom of God is intended for everyone. Sinners are especially welcome. I love the verse from 1st Timothy (1:15) from our Rite I service following the Priest’s absolution. “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
Our passage from Isaiah begins, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Our passage from Luke states, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Why were they terrified, it was night and the glory of the Lord lit up the sky as if it was day.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light isn’t just a physical reality; it is a spiritual one also. Haven’t we all been caught up in the power of sin at one time or another? Haven’t our minds become darkened as we have attempted to hold onto those things we have hidden in our hearts? Chronic sins have a way of darkening our minds like gradually turning down a dimmer switch on a light.
I can actually remember when I said my first swear word, I was upset with a friend on the way home from school in the 10th grade and swore. I was a late bloomer. Don’t worry, I made up for lost time and after two years in the Army and 17 years of construction, my conversation was only suitable for speaking into a garbage disposal. I remember asking my son’s baby sitter if I could smoke in her house and was indignant when she replied, “No.” What was her problem? This is a true saying a worthy of all men to be received. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
I also became a professional level drinker along the way. How do you know you are at the professional level? There is a string of destroyed relationships and jobs along your path. I didn’t think twice about driving drunk. I used the one eye trick to keep from seeing double and opened both eyes periodically to judge distance. Thank God I never got into an accident or even got a ticket yet most professional drunks will tell you when they get a ticket for DUI that that is the first time they drove drunk. Baloney! If you believe that, I’ve got a good deal for you on the Brooklyn Bridge. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
And yet Satan will tell you that if you give your life to Christ that you are throwing it away. Right! You love all the drama and anxiety and lies that go with this kind of a life don’t you. Well, for a long time I did like it that way. I liked being angry and not talking to folks for days on end. In short, it was the rest of the world that was screwed up. I was in total denial. As the great Philosopher POGO would say, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” When an airplane crashes most of the time it is pilot error. In our own lives when we crash it is operator error also. I was convinced that normal, whatever that was, was boring. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
I had a close friend that I had known since high school. He was given enormous intellectual and physical gifts. He had so much that he didn’t need God. To the day that he died suddenly and unexpectedly, he claimed to be an atheist and chose to remain in the living hell of alcoholism and cigarette addiction. He did not believe in God and his mind had become darkened. He was estranged from his two sons. I had to call him early in the day to talk. If I called him in the evening, he was too drunk already to make any sense. I continued to pray for him because I know that I would already be dead, if I continued living the way I did over 30 years ago now. He was there to remind me where I would be without a Savior Jesus Christ. Lord have mercy on him. In his final days, he seemed to be softening toward God. He was a Geologist and wrote the introduction to a book I wrote on the Sierra Nevada Mountain Basins in the last year of his life. “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will be a great joy to all people.”
So, if we belong to Christ, this Christ who came to save us, how do we conduct ourselves? First, we stop killing ourselves on the installment plan. We stop these evil ruminations about imagined hurts caused by others. When are you going to move on? When are you going leave your gift by the altar and make peace with your daughter, your father? Listen to the words of St. Paul in our Epistle today.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” We live a self-controlled life. Did you know that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit? Because the Holy Spirit dwells within Christians, positive qualities like self-control, kindness and self-control grow in us as we mature in Christ.
Do you find yourself wanting to help the less fortunate? Do you find yourself quickly asking for forgiveness when you have made a careless comment to someone? Have you simply said to someone, “Can I get you anything while I am up?” Do you find yourself giving things to others? Are you more patient with others?
Jesus did not just come to save sinners. He came to purify us for Himself. He came to make us eager to do what is good. He came to give us self-control, to lead disciplined and productive lives. He helps us live godly lives in a culture that rewards outlandish and outrageous behavior. When we speak out against this notorious kind of living, we are called haters and bigots. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! (Luke 6:22).
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).
Think about this verse for a moment. Look at the names for Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This is the Trinity in action as we speak about Christ. All of the titles for the Trinity apply to this new baby.
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things, which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” On this night our Lord was born in Bethlehem. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life and He is our Hope.  On this night may he be reborn in our hearts.    


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