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First Sunday after Christmas December 31st 2006 at Old Zion Philadelphia

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First Sunday after Christmas December 31st 2006

1 Samuel 2:18-20,26 Psalm 148 Col 3:12-17 2-17 Luke 2:41-52


There are twelve days of Christmas, if we follow an old tradition. Today is the seventh day of Christmas: “seven swans a swimming, six geese a-laying, five gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtles doves, and a partridge in a pear tree,” as we sing in the song. So let’s also continue to sing Christmas carols.

When we reach Epiphany on January sixth, then we will celebrate little Christmas with the arrival of the Magi from the East, “die Weisen vom Morgenland” in German.

The same way the Fourth Advent overlapped with Christmas Eve last Sunday, this Sunday overlaps with New Year’s Eve. In Germany it is also called Sylvester after the saint’s day, St. Sylvester. “Wie feiert ihr Sylvester?” we would ask in German. “How do you celebrate New Year’s?” we’d ask in English.

We have freedom to celebrate traditions and ceremonies differently in the Lutheran Church. According to the Augsburg Confession, Article six:

It is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places.

We need to check out the traditions and ceremonies that we introduce, however, to be sure that they conform to the Gospel.

Getting inebriated or in other words, getting drunk, is no way to celebrate tonight. There are better ways to say “goodbye” to this old secular year and look forward to the new year. Let me illustrate by telling about the traditions my parents used in our very large family, because they were my mother and father’s way of bringing us up and helping us mature and grow in the favor of God and other people, as the scriptures put it.

On Sylvester, we had a party but at 11:30 we had worship that stopped right at midnight. Then we would go outside with our noisemakers and wish everyone a happy New Year at the top of our lungs. I would play “Auld Lang Syne” on my trumpet, unless the cold made the valves of my trumpet stick. Sometimes the night was cold and silent and our joy and exuberance could be heard lifting up the indifference that often settled around us.

Then we would go inside and starting at the youngest, all the way to the oldest, we would get on the great big family table, tell our New Year’s resolutions and our wishes, hopes, and dreams, and then jump from the table into the New Year. My sisters would usually say they were jumping into the arms of a man in a wonderful marriage: Ruth would say, “Dear, dear, bread and beer. If I’d be married I wouldn’t be here.” Others would hope to graduate and the like.

These kinds of family traditions are necessary, in whichever way a family does them to bring up the children so they grow and mature in divine and human favor as Luke says. And let the word of Christ dwell in them richly. We had to memorize the prophecies leading up to the birth of Christ and then one section after another of the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew. We had to memorize the Small Catechism and verses from the Bible and hymns. We all took turns getting up and reciting them.

Now that was not done in an austere way. My brother takes the word of God very seriously along with drilling it into the children. But on a road trip, a long drive, he’d shout, “Fire drill!” and all his eight children, would get out, run around the car, and get back in. He’d call it a Chinese fire drill! And by it meant no disrespect. My sons sometimes would be with his children and they would come home and tell how much fun it was. The new life in Christ is a joyful one.

I think church attendance and taking our faith seriously helps give us motivation in school and motivates us to find our real calling from God for our lives. But religious devotions are also necessary in the home. Saying grace, for example. If we forgot to say grace, my father would say. “Wir wollen doch nicht essen wie das liebe Vieh!” In English, “Surely, we do not want to eat like our dear livestock!” We had chickens, ducks, and geese.

Then after dinner, we had devotions, “Andacht,” in German. My father or another member of the family would read one or two chapters from the Bible and then my father would say a prayer, in which each child was named with the request for protection and blessings. My mother and father wore out one family bible after another reading them from cover to cover during Andacht.

On School nights, my father also gave “Unterricht” which means, “instructions”. Because the schools had no religious instruction, he would tell us about church history, teach us German, even the old German Script. I, of course, had to go further and taught my kids hieroglyphics. They drew the eagles, owls, lions, and chicks like cartoon figures and in no time we could put our names into a cartouche and read them. A cartouche is a circle in which the Pharaoh’s name was written.

After Andacht, i.e., devotions, my father took me into his study and taught me Greek and Hebrew, the languages of the New and Old Testaments, because he had set me apart to be a minister.

Because he had also been a steel worker, he also believed in the labor of the hands, not only of the mind and the heart. He would make the six of us boys into a working crew and we would build chicken coops, extensions to the garage, a bridge, and what not all. The boys from the neighborhood would even help us. They would ask, “When is fire hydrant?” That was how they understood “Feierabend!” “Our work is done!” My father would always shout “Feierabend”. And then we could go and play. The only thing our friends could associate with Feierabend was “fire hydrant”. We did plumbing, mixed cement, and banged in nails. It was part of the up-bringing that children need.

Letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly helped us get dressed in the compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience St. Paul presents as undergarments of our personalities. Our wonderful Christian faith, my Father was also a Lutheran minister, then covered us with the garment of love, which binds all the ingredients of our characters together in perfect harmony, as St. Paul says. It also places the quality of forgiveness into our relationships so that they endure and we can keep on supporting each other. Throw away children and cold uncaring relationships become unthinkable in such a Christian life, and in our case, Evangelical Lutheran life.

Samuel wore a linen Ephod, a garment that set him apart to be a priest, who interceded for the people before God. Jesus wore a seamless garment, that the soldiers did not want to tear up under the cross and threw lots for it. We wear a wedding garment of faith when we live the Christian life, so that in it we grow and mature in the stature of Christ to live our lives in the favor of God and our neighbors. I watched a bride and groom being photographed in front of the Banana Republic store downtown. Can you imagine that our faith can tailor a wedding gown for our soul and fill it with more love than contained in a happy marriage?

The favor of God is like living under a smiling heaven; like the feeling you get when Curley is singing, “Oh what a beautiful morning” in Oklahoma. There are hard times of course, when we hurt each other and do a great deal of wrong. But when we wear the garment of love that faith throws over us, then it is a cloud that forgiveness chases out of the sky allowing the sunshine of God’s favor to smile upon us and upon our blessed tie, our relationship, that binds us together once again.

It is amazing that the educated priesthood in the temple asked the boy Jesus questions and were astonished by his answers. Usually it would be the other way around. A boy would be overwhelmed by knowledge and wisdom of these educated leaders of the people. Perhaps Jesus became completely absorbed in the conversation and perhaps the priests did too, because they never thought to ask, “Does you mother and father know you are with us here?” They were finding out wonderful things and they may have been sorry after Mary and Joseph took Jesus away. Imagine. They had the boy in their midst for three days. Of course, Samuel was always with the High Priest Eli, but Eli had grown old and weak and he could not control the corruption of his own sons. Samuel overtook him and became a judge in Israel. Jesus left the priesthood of the temple in the dust and became the savior of the whole world, as indeed God sent him to us to be.

Thus we all need to grow up in the maturity of the stature of Christ, letting the Word of God dwell in us richly, being thankful, forgiving one another, because none of us are perfect. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God and only through forgiveness can our relationships endure. The point of our lessons today is that we need to pass this heritage on to our children.

I’ll just say a few more words in German. “Oft sagt man auf Deutsch, “Kleider machen Leute.” Das stimmt aber nicht. Es stimmt nur wenn wir von seelischen Kleidern sprechen, wo unser Glaube ein Hochzeitsgewand aus Liebe gewebt hat. Dabei haben wir Christus angezogen und vergeben einander von Herzensgrund, sind dankbar für das uns geschenkte Leben, für unsere Gesundheit, für die Weisheit die vom Wort Christi zu uns kommt, dass wir Gottes Stimme in uns hören können, wenn das Evangelium echt gepredigt wird und wir den Leib Christi empfangen. Dabei gewinnen wir mehr als adeliges Blut. Durch unsere Adern fliesst das göttliche Blut von Jesus Christus. Wenn wir von innerlicher Bekleidung sprechen, dann meinen wir das wir Jesus Christus angezogen haben, und jetzt leben nicht wir, sondern Christus lebt in uns und durch uns verbreitet er seinen Frieden. Daher wollen wir alles was wir tun mit Worten oder Werken, im Namen des Herrn Jesus tun, und Gott dem Vater weiter danken durch unseren lieben Heiland.

I continued with the lesson in German. We are speaking about internal clothes, which really do make the person, where external clothing does no such thing. We put on Christ, like a wedding garment for our soul and continue the Christian life, where it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Then we spread the peace that passes understanding, because we do all things in the name of our Lord Jesus, thanking the Father in heaven for all his gifts through Jesus Christ. Amen


Written by peterkrey

March 6, 2007 at 6:22 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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