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"The Verdict"

Luke 1:26-38

Rev. Alan Taylor

Advent 4, series B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Dec 18, 2011 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

High profile court cases peak our interest, particularly when it comes time for the jury to render a verdict.  Some verdicts give us satisfaction, knowing that justice has been done.  Others leave us wondering how 12 people of supposed sound mind could come to a conclusion completely contrary to the general consensus at the proverbial "water cooler." 

A little town in North Texas has been embroiled in a legal battle over the last few weeks over a manger scene in front of the Henderson County Courthouse in the city of Athens.  The case was in the news quite a bit this past week.  A group out of Wisconsin, called the "Freedom from Religion Foundation," has identified 12 municipalities around the country that they are taking to task for what they consider attacks on the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  They maintain that a manger scene, when displayed on public property violates their right to be free from religion.

One of the people protesting the display of the manger scene in Athens said, "not everyone believes in the myth of Christmas, you know!" True as that statement may be, it struck me that Christmas and Easter are the two "myths," if you will, that bring out the ire of people every year. 

Try as he may to deny the existence of God, the atheist has to contend with his own conscience that relentlessly testifies to God's existence.  Remember, God wrote His law on the human heart before He wrote it on tablets of stone.  The Apostle Paul, referring to the conscience, which is part of the natural knowledge of God, wrote, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them."

When it comes to Christmas and its central meaning, the Incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God taking on human flesh, the atheist calls it a myth, that is "a non-reality," and yet, he protests its display.  That's a bit odd, don't you think!?  I mean, the atheist never protests displays of that jolly old man, St. Nick, or the plump little Easter Bunny, nor does he have any problem with displays of gules and goblins at Halloween.  No doubt, reflecting on the same issue, a resident of the little town in North Texas said, "What is so offensive about a baby in a manger?  If it doesn't mean anything to you, why does it offend you?"

Babies generally aren't offensive, are they?  Sure, some babies are cuter than others and babies do things that wouldn't really be appropriate for an adult to do, but, they're babies!  What is so offensive about a baby in a manger?  Well, in all fairness to the atheist, babies generally aren't born as Kings.  Nor do they bring with them power over life and death.  Nor do they call the rest of us to repentance.  Nor do they ultimately die to reconcile the world to God.  Nor do they turn the world upside down in terms of what is good, right and holy.  Nor are they generally born of a virgin in fulfillment of prophecy!

Our conscience testifies to the existence of God and the Scriptures are written in such a way that we aren't afforded the luxury of making up our own confession about Jesus.  That is, we aren't entitled to our own verdict regarding the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Certainly some have tried to render their own verdict!  Some, for instance, insist that Jesus was a prophet, even a good man, but, not the Son of God.  Their position is supposedly taken from God's Word.  After-all, Jesus did many good things.  He talked about loving your neighbor as you would yourself.  He demonstrated a humble, selfless lifestyle.  He wasn't enamored by things, nor did He seek to advance Himself at the expense of others.  In that sense, Scripture portrays Him as a "good man."  At the same time, the Bible portrays Him as a prophet.  As such, He proclaimed God's Word and He foretold things that were yet to take place.  He preached in Synagogs and He sought to purify God's House, keeping it a House of Prayer.

But, He also healed the sick.  He gave sight to the blind.  He drove out demons and He raised the dead.  These things too are recorded in the Scriptures.  In addition, He said "I and the Father are One."  "If you have seen Me you have seen the Father." 

Here in Luke 1, the circumstances of Jesus' birth are recorded.  The virgin would conceive and bear a child and He would be called "Jesus" because He would save His people from their sins.  "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  To borrow a phrase from the Christian apologist Josh McDowell, "Scripture demands a verdict."  Either Jesus is who He claimed to be, God in the flesh, the fulfillment of the promises God made to David and his descendants, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," or He is a liar and a deceiver. 

Since Jesus came into the world to call sinners to Himself, to save them from their sin, the celebration of Christmas cannot be without controversy, for, as John said in His Gospel, "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him."  "This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil."

Contrary to popular opinion, the Scriptures are not given for our interpretation, nor are they given for us to render a verdict concerning their veracity.  Rather, they are given to interpret us, our hearts, our minds, our bodies and our souls.  As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews would later say, "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

To stand in awe at the birth of God's Christ, is to be pierced by the two edged sword of God.  On the one hand, our sins are laid bare, the thoughts and intentions of our hearts are exposed.  Our guilt is made manifest and our answers, our excuses, are proven useless and void.  God verdict is rendered.  Guilty!  Guilty as charged! 

On the other hand, that same Scripture sets Christ before our troubled hearts and our weary eyes.  As the Angel Gabriel assured Mary that she had found favor with God, so, we are assured of the same favor, the same grace.  Christ was born for us, to render a different verdict, one of which we could only dream of before He inhabited the manger and the cross. 

"Why lie He in such mean estate

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christian, fear; for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,

The cross be borne for me, for you;

Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

The babe, the son of Mary!"

None of us knows what the outcome of the legal battle is going to be in Athens, Texas.  I'm not sure, though, that it really matters.  Governments and activist groups can't Legislate Jesus out of Christmas anymore than they can Legislate Him out of existence.  I also don't consider the battle that's going on in East Texas and elsewhere around the world to necessarily be a bad thing for the Church.  History proves that the Church is strengthened in the face of persecution.  God, even the child of our homage and praise, is truly the "King of kings, and the Lord of lords."  His enemies are many, as are ours, but, in the end, He, we will prevail.  The Verdict has already been given.  Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus God has reconciled the world to Himself, and you, my friends, have been declared "not guilty!" In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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