Passage: John 1:1–1:14
†††In the Name of Jesus†††
Pastor Murray Keith
Text: Luke 2:1-7
Date: December 24th, 2016; Christmas Eve
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Three men die on Christmas and go to heaven, where they're met by St. Peter.
“In order to get in to heaven,” he tells them, “you must each produce something representative of the holidays.”
The first man digs into his pockets and pulls out a match and lights it. “This represents a Christmas candle of hope.”
Impressed, St. Peter lets him in.
The second man pulls out a tangle of keys and shakes them. “These are Christmas bells.”
St. Peter lets him into heaven too.
“So,” St. Peter says to the third man, “What do you have?”
The third man proudly shows him a pair of red panty hose.
“What do these have to do with Christmas?” asks Peter.
The man replies, “They’re Carol’s!”
Dear friends, I came across this joke in a copy of Coffee Perks while I was enjoying a sandwich in a restaurant the other night and I had a good chuckle and I thought I would share it with you.
Please forgive me if you find it to be a bit risqué coming from the pulpit, especially on this Christmas Eve.
But I don’t just share this joke simply because I found it a bit funny and I’m just looking for a cheap laugh.
No, I share it it because I think it illustrates very well a common misunderstanding about God, about Christianity, about salvation.
And that part isn’t funny at all.
There are a lot of versions of this joke - where we find people before St. Peter at the gates of heaven after their death.
Although these jokes differ in their content, they all have one thing in common.
The people standing before St. Peter need to have done something during their lifetimes, or they need to do something for Peter (say the right thing or do a good trick), in order to be granted access to heaven.
In other words, these jokes reflect the very common misunderstanding and teaching that we must do something to satisfy God so that we can earn our way into his good book and gain salvation.
Really, these jokes turn Christianity into being the same as all of the other religions and philosophies of the world that teach that we need to follow certain pillars, or certain rules, or earn our forgiveness through penance, or somehow become enlightened enough.
These jokes reflect the error that we need to climb a spiritual ladder to heaven and God by what we think and do.
And although these jokes are meant to be taken in a light-hearted manner, and I actually do usually have a bit of a chuckle at them - this error that they represent is no laughing matter.
This misunderstanding of God, and even Christianity, completely misses the essence and truth of what is revealed to us in the Bible about God and his act of mercy and grace toward us.
The Bible doesn't teach us that we have to perform special tricks for St. Peter or anyone else, to receive God’s favour. We are not like a dog trying to make our master happy by rolling over or shaking a paw.
The Bible doesn't teach that we need to somehow ascend to God through our actions.
We learn from the Gospel of St. John what is the true essence of Biblical Christianity, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
We don’t (and quite frankly can’t) climb our way up to God to be saved. Rather, God came down to us in order to save us.
He became one of us, he became flesh, to live the perfect life that we are unable to live and to take upon himself the punishment that our sin deserves.
Christ Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and did everything that was necessary for you so that when you die - you will go to heaven.
There will be no last stops before the gates of heaven, before St. Peter, before anything or anyone else where you will have to do or say something to become worthy.
Because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us - you are worthy and you will enter heaven.
Because you have been washed clean in the waters of your Baptism - you and God are reconciled and you belong to him.
Because God continues to dwell in our lives through his living Word, through his true body and true blood in Holy Communion - your faith is stirred up and strengthened, your sins are forgiven, and salvation is yours.
Dear friends, you don’t have to do anything.
Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh, has already done it all for you.
And you simply receive what he has done for you as a gift.
This is the essence of Christmas. This is the essence of Christianity.
To be sure, that doesn't mean that we then just get to ignore God’s Law, his will for our lives.
But the fact that God’s salvation is a gift that we simply receive changes everything.
It changes God’s Law from being something that we must follow into something that we get to follow.
We don’t have to keep God first in our lives. We get to. We have the privilege to. It’s a blessing!
We don’t have to love and serve and build up each other. We get to. We have the privilege to. It’s a blessing!
Because we have received from God the greatest gifts of all - namely the forgiveness of our sins, salvation, and eternal life - we have the privilege of sharing those gifts with the world around us in what we say and do!
Dear friends, when you hear jokes like the one I told earlier, when you encounter the world’s religions and philosophies that have the underlying message that you must do something to get through the gates of heaven - remember that, “The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
This one sentence captures the heart and essence of Christmas, of Christianity.
This is what endures of Christmas long after the gifts are opened, the decorations are gone and packed away, and the holiday joy gives way to the routines of the new year.
Christ Jesus has done everything necessary for your salvation! You are forgiven! You have God’s peace! Eternal life is yours!
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the Son of Mary! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.