Monday, December 30, 2013

“The Advent Tree!” (Matthew 1:1, 16-17)

S-1398 2MIA/A 12/11/2013 Hymns: (O) #272; (S) #370 LSB; (C) #338 LSB

Texts: Daniel 7:13-14; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 1:1-17

Theme: “The Advent Tree!” (Matthew 1:1, 16-17)

Question: “Do you know your family tree?” Armour, SD 2nd in sermon series on: “The Three T’s of Advent”

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! The text for our 2nd Midweek is from the Gospel lesson: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:1, 16-17).


Beloved in the Lord, I share with you tonight a true and shocking story that happened at Zion Lutheran Church in Cleveland Ohio on Christmas Eve, 1851. I don’t know if it is proper to share this story during the joyous Advent season, but they did something so scandalous at that church that evening that it was reported in the local newspapers. What they did was called, “a nonsensical, asinine, moronic absurdity” in one local paper. What did the good people of Zion do that it drew such a negative public response? Their pastor, Henry Schwan, had placed a candlelit tree in the church, topped with a silver star he had brought from Germany. His parishioners loved it and the beautiful memories it brought back to them of the “old country.” But they were ridiculed for “worshipping a tree” and “groveling before a shrub.” The businesses of some members even suffered because others in the community wouldn’t trade with people who would engage in such “heathenish and idolatrous” practices in their church. Can you believe this happened only 162 years ago?

But, but, Pastor Schwan didn’t stop there. At the urging of his good wife, Emma, he continued the practice. He researched the history of the Christmas tree and was confirmed in his belief that it wasn’t a sacrilege but a good Christian custom that celebrated the joy of Christ’s birth. After writing many letters and receiving many replies, he again put up a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve in 1852. The difference was that decorated trees began to appear all over town, and within five years, Christmas trees began to appear in homes and churches all over America. Today a historical marker in Cleveland still marks the spot where what was once considered a scandalous action became a commonly accepted Christmas tradition in America. PAUSE.

The “scandal” of the first Christmas tree used in a church in our country is nothing compared to the scandals mentioned in the family tree of the heaven-sent Savior—Jesus as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. These two gospel writers give us a different perspective of the genealogies—Matthew traces the line back from Joseph, the “legal father” of Jesus to Abraham and Luke traces it back from Mary’s line; all the way back to Adam and Eve. Thus we see the family tree from both father and mother and a double descendant of King David.

However, if you study the list of Christ’s family Tree you will be shocked at what you discover. Abraham is highly revered as the “father of all believers” and we like to sing songs about “Father Abraham” having many sons, “and I am one of them, and so are you.” Yet, the father of the faithful in fear for his life, lied about his wife Sarah and almost brought shame on her by saying to Pharaoh and Abimelech that she was his sister. Thankfully, God intervened and a worse scandal of dishonoring her was averted.

Things continue to deteriorate. Judah, the great-grandson of Abraham, slept with his daughter-in-law—Tamar and fathered a child through her. The son born of Judah and Tamar is in the family Tree of Christ. You may read this story in Genesis chapter 38.

Up and down Christ’s family Tree there are suspicious characters! Rahab, a prostitute; Ruth a Moabite; and even, Bathsheba that entered into the line because of the infidelity of King David. Solomon took hundreds of wives and concubines. Names like Rehaboam, Abijah and Manassah litter the branches of this family Tree of our Savior. One might well think that this Tree should have been cut down and thrown in the fire long before Jesus was born!

But our Lord was not seeking a perfect tree. No, He grafted perfection into an imperfect tree. In doing this He shows that Christ’s family Tree is no different than ours! All of us have secrets in our family tree and some of the information is very scandalous indeed. But what this also shows is that in Christ’s State of humiliation, He takes upon Himself the whole human race to be like us, yet without sin. In the family Tree of Christ we see the famous and the infamous. Jesus is not that aloof. He stoops low enough to be among the human race. Even Luther once said, “Christ is the kind of person who is not ashamed of sinners-in fact He even puts them in His family tree. If the Lord does that here, so ought we to despise no one… but put ourselves in the middle of the fight for sinners and help them.” PAUSE.

His family Tree demonstrates to us that Christ is not ashamed to call us His very own or be numbered among sinners like us. In Luke chapter 15, the Pharisees and Scribes accused Him of eating and spending time with sinners (15:1-2). How right they were! Jesus did come for the purpose of spending time with sinners so that He may forgive them their sins and make them saints.

In His perfect obedience to the will of the Father Christ lived the perfect life in our stead. Yet, there were those who mocked His family Tree saying, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Mt. 13:54) and in the Gospel of John the Pharisees mock Jesus after healing a blind man saying, “…We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He comes from (John 9:29-31). These Jewish leaders were mocking Him and questioning His authority and His family Tree.

Though these Synagogue leaders claimed they didn’t know where Jesus comes from, yet the Author to the Hebrews stated: “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy Him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way to become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the people. Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:14-18). If Jesus had only perfect people and no sinners in His family Tree, there would have been no reason to come to earth to rescue us from our sins. If Jesus had not come to suffer like us, we wouldn’t believe Him when He invites us to come to Him when we are weak and heavy laden with problems. Certainly, Jesus knows what we need and He fulfilled that need by dying in our place and rising again on the third day to give us life eternal with Him.

But Jesus did more than just that. Christ’s work at the cross and empty tomb makes HIS family Tree OUR family tree. We were adopted in the waters of Holy Baptism. In that watery work, we were grafted into Christ’s family Tree. We become part of Him and He part of us. Our line is forever linked by grace! He is among us so that we will always be with Him: in life, in death and for eternity!

When we trace Christ’s Tree, it is not some exercise in futility. It is tracing OUR tree. He makes the tree and us, despite our shame and scandal, holy and acceptable in the Father’s sight! This is our Tree. It is a Tree that beams with light. And it is catching on, not unlike Pastor Schwann’s tree! The scandal of that tree died down. The scandal of the Tree of the cross never will because it is that very scandal that gives us life! Father, make this Tree our tree! Amen

Now the peace of God…


No comments: