Community Memorial Service
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 2:8-14 Sermon
December 21, 2009
NOTE: This was a service conducted entirely by the congregation of Mighty Fortress, to which the community was invited. It was held at the Seward Cemetery, and was especially intended for those who had experienced the death of someone special within the last year, although anybody could attend. These words of comfort are especially meaningful for the family of a Christian who has died in the faith.
AN ETERNAL VIEW OF CHRISTMAS
TEXT: "8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, '14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
Christmas is only a few days away. All we need to do is walk outside our door to fully realize that fact. Many people have their homes decorated outside, so even just a drive down the street lets us know that there is something different going on, something beautiful, and something worth celebrating.
Every year at this time, we also encounter special activities in the church as well. This is the time that children are organized into a variety of different Christmas programs and pageants. And if you attend these, you could probably expect to find shepherds dressed in bathrobes, wise men wearing crowns from Burger King, and angels with cardboard wings and coat-hanger halos decorated in glitter. Something beautiful is going on, and it's something worth celebrating.
But for many people, Christmas will be different this year. From all visible appearances, it's still the same grand celebration; however for those experiencing the loss of a loved one in their lives, the celebration threatens to be jaded. Even though the message hasn't changed, still the feeling of a loss and a sense of emptiness seems to over-ride the festive nature.
This evening, I've chosen to share with you a section of the Christmas story, that I read just a few moments ago. It's the part that talks about what the shepherds experienced that night of Jesus' birth. All of a sudden, the night sky opened up and was illuminated with a light brighter than the sun itself. And there was the angel of the Lord, telling the shepherds about the good news--the Saviour of the world had been born in a stable in Bethlehem.
We capture this scene in many Christmas carols. One familiar one goes, "Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the new-born king; peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled." This is the good news the angels shared with the shepherds, and it's the same message of good news we come here to celebrate this evening.
It's no secret that we live in a sinful world. Ever since the fall into sin, humanity has had to suffer the effects. We have sickness, pain, violence, sorrow, and sadness that we experience in our lives because of it. Each and every one of us, along with those who have passed from this life are sinful human beings. This is something that none of us can escape. We're sinners in need of a Saviour.
That's why Jesus came. That's why the angels sing praises, because Jesus came so that the entire human race could be saved and experience the eternal joys God has for them in heaven.
The way of heaven is open for all true believers in Christ. Those who have come to faith in Jesus and know him as their Saviour and Lord are guaranteed a mansion in heaven for all eternity. This happens not because of anything we have done for God, but only because of what God has done for us through faith in Jesus, this new-born Saviour and King.
The Christian has the absolute assurance of heaven as a reward of nothing more than faith alone. Christ came to open up those gates so his children could enter in. Heaven is a place where there will be no more pain or sadness. So when a believer enters into paradise, no greater happiness could ever be experienced.
Four Christmases ago, our family sat together in the living room of my parents' home. My father was suffering the advanced effects of pancreatic cancer. We all knew that this would be his last Christmas with us on earth. Certainly there was an air of sadness surrounding everything; but with that came the air of hope, because we also knew what God had waiting for him. Every Christmas after that would be spent with his Saviour that loved him so much, that he came to this earth so that not only my father, but every believer would know eternal joy and happiness.
On that hillside outside of Bethlehem on that first Christmas, the shepherds got a small glimpse of that eternal heavenly glory. The shepherds saw God's glory surrounding the angel, and they heard the sound of the heavenly choir. What an overwhelming sight that must have been!
That heavenly glory is what every believer who has gone to be with the Lord is experiencing right now. Even though our lives might have an empty feeling without that special someone being here with us, we can be comforted with the fact that they are experiencing a joyous celebration beyond what we could ever imagine. We can therefore be thankful that God has delivered our loved one into that eternal heavenly mansion he has prepared for them, for us, and for all true believers in Christ their Saviour.
It would do us well to remember a verse from an old Christmas hymn which goes like this: "Remember thou, what glory now, the Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness. The angel host, can never boast, of greater glory, greater bliss or gladness." (TLH 81:5)
And so, regardless of how dark and gloomy things may appear, we know that God's love has come shining through with an eternal hope and strength to sustain us. We can therefore proclaim with the hymn writer: "Joy, O joy, beyond all gladness, Christ has done away with sadness! Hence all sorrow and repining, for the Sun of Grace is shining!" (TLH 96)
May God grant us a blessed and peaceful Christmas this year and every year for the sake of our new-born Saviour and King, Jesus Christ. Amen.