2 Christmas Proper A2                  
Rev. Dr.  D. K. Schroeder
John 1:1-18 Sermon                                                   
January 2, 2011

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
114 "Jesus!  Name Of Wondrous Love"
123 "Our God, Our Help In Ages Past"
125 "The Old Year Now Hath Passed Away"
119 "Great God, We Sing That Mighty Hand" 


 TEXT:  (v. 16-17) “16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17Forthe law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.


            Today is the day after New Year's.  And as such, there are also a lot of questions I could be asking of people.  What did you do New Year's Eve?  Did you go to a party?  Did you throw a party?  Did you blow a horn or other noisemaker at midnight?  Did you kiss anybody at midnight?  Did you have too much to drink?  Did you make it home safely?  Did you get a DUI?  How many commandments did you break? 

            Now I'm certainly not pointing fingers at anybody; however it has been my experience that these activities frequently surround the celebration of the New Year. 

            But even if you did like I did and stayed home and watched Dick Clark on TV, there is still that one question that always comes up:  Did you make any New Year's resolutions?  Did you resolve to make some sort of improvement or change in your life?

            As I was pondering this subject, I came across an article dealing with New Year's resolutions that was written by a Christian pastor in Kansas City by the name of Matt Appling.  His take on this has its humorous points, but there's a definite note of seriousness about it too.  Please allow me to share some of it with you:

             I really dislike New Year’s Day.  [New Year's Eve] is just great.  I’ll be partying tonight.  Tomorrow, I’ll awaken in a groggy, crusty-eyed stupor, with the haunting realization that all the fun is over.  Which is fine.  I get to get the worst day of the year over with right off the bat.  I don’t know what it is that makes the day depressing.  Putting away the Christmas decorations is kind of a downer I guess.  January is a pretty bleak month.  I’ll try to console myself by going out and eating pancakes, and napping.

            But that’s not even the worst part of New Year’s Day....

Americans must have pretty low self-esteem, because we are all about self-improvement.  We just can’t ever be good enough, smart enough, and sexy enough.  Many of us will try to reshape our lumpy bodies and personalities through New Year’s resolutions. 

            Of course, it’s no secret that the thing Americans are worst at is keeping resolutions.  We are no better, smarter, sexier or less lumpy in any way than we were a year ago.  But do you know how much money we waste on our good intentions to lose weight with home gyms and health club memberships?  [It amounts to a whopping] twelve billion bucks a year.  That’s a whole industry thriving not what on we will do, but what we think we’ll do [or at least hope to do].

            ....Of course, there’s a lot of churches where you can go and get a self-improvement pep-talk every week.  If you can just harness the power of “positive thinking,” then you can be all you want to be!  Really?  ...So here’s a resolution: harness the power of negative thinking, and save the money you’re about to plunk down for that exercise bike.  You are now less poor because of my one step self-improvement plan, and being less poor feels better than being more poor and still out of shape.

            Second, if self-improvement is what Christianity is all about, then why couldn’t even Paul get his act together and stop, as he puts it, ”doing things he doesn’t want to do?”  Now, Paul isn’t specific about where he lacks willpower, but if you read between the lines, it’s pretty clear that Paul had a problem [with some sort of sinful behavior that was affecting his life]. [Maybe it was something like] gorging himself on pork rinds while watching Three’s Company marathons.  ...[We don't know exactly what it was] that held him back, but come on, if anyone should’ve been able to improve himself, it’s Paul.

            Sure, we all have room for improvement.  And being sincere in your faith can help you.  But if making yourself a better person is what church and Jesus is all about, (and a lot of [people] seem to think so), that’s the most self-centered religion I’ve ever heard of.  [When that happens,] our God isn’t Jesus, it’s ourselves…yet again.  What do you know, I’ve managed to make myself the center of the world again, through the completely innocent and humble sounding premise of “improving” myself.

            Besides that, Paul proves that...[most of] our “self-improvement” is out of our hands.  We have great intentions, [but] we just don’t follow through.  When Jesus says [in Matthew 5:48: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect," he isn't] telling us to do things that we have any ability to do....I’ve got to ask God to just make me a better man, because [I cannot do it] on my own.  I’ve got a lot to look forward to this coming year.  It’s just that very little of it has to do with what I will accomplish [by myself according to my own wisdom and strength]."

            Just the fact that people make resolutions or lists of things gives us a valuable insight into the basic human condition.  We come to the realization that we haven't been the people we ought to be.  We have flaws and weaknesses.  And to put it in perspective as God's children, we've been very naughty boys and girls, irrespective of our age.  So with this in mind, we look at the change in the calendar as an opportunity to "clean up our act," so-to-speak.

            Our text for today, which is our Gospel lesson appointed for this Sunday, has a couple verses that pertain well to this discussion.  Listen again to verses 16-17: 16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17Forthe law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

            The first few words "and from his fullness" give us a great starting point.  The pronoun "his" in this sentence refers to Jesus Christ himself.  And that's where our focus needs to be, right from the start.

            From him, we receive "grace upon grace," which basically means that we have received one blessing after another from the hand of God.  The word "grace" here refers to God's undeserved love for us; and he just keeps piling that love on us, time and time again.

            Jesus is the living example of grace.  Every time we sin, we know that we can go to Christ and find forgiveness.  That's why he came in the first place.  In John chapter 10 verse 10 Jesus says:  "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." 

            We have the absolute guarantee that we can go to Jesus time and time again, and find forgiveness through faith alone.  Because Jesus paid for every sin on the cross, we are told that we are God's adopted children through faith alone in him.  God wants us to keep that relationship between our Saviour and ourselves very close, very strong, and very much alive and active.  We desperately need what Jesus has to offer us.

            Our focus for the New Year can't be self-centered upon how bad we have been and what we can do to improve ourselves in some sort of self-righteous fashion.  Rather, we need to look at how good God has been.  He's given us "grace upon grace," which means that he has blessed us way beyond what we deserve or could even hope for.  Even though things may look bleak in our future, we're still God's children and he still blesses us, with one blessing after the other.

            Looking at our Gospel lesson for this morning, verse 17 sets things up in a nice law and gospel fashion.  The first part of the verse reads, "For the law was given through Moses."  Ah yes, there is that nasty word that keeps haunting us all the time.  The law.  There's no grace in the law, no comfort, and no hope.  When we look at ourselves according to God's law, we find that we haven't even come close to doing what God requires in the law. 

            And when we sit down and write out those New Year's Resolutions, that's the mindset we have.  All of the "do's" and "dont's" we establish for our goals are all law-oriented.  Think of the things that people put on their list.  Lose weight, exercise, eat healthier foods, drink more water, quit smoking, quit chewing, quit drinking alcohol, phone home more often, remember birthdays....you could put a million things on that list if you really thought about it. 

            So what would happen if we kept all of those resolutions perfectly?  We'd probably be sinless.  But remember what Pastor Matt Appling said in his article I read at the beginning.  He made reference to what the Apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 7 verse 19:  "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing."  If Paul had made a list of New Year's resolutions, I'd say that he would have been very frustrated.  Even with all of those good intentions, he still was powerless to make himself holy.

            That's what drove him to the cross and to his Saviour, Jesus Christ.  In verse 17 of our Gospel lesson for this morning, John concludes his sentence with a Gospel message:  "...grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  In Romans chapter 5 verse 8, the Apostle Paul carries through with this thought: "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  That's God's grace in action, and that's the truth of the matter we can carry with us throughout our lives.

            When we focus our thoughts upon God's blessings in the Gospel, then the threat of the law is completely gone.  And when we sin, we come to God through faith alone in Jesus our Saviour.  It's through him that we see just how much we are blessed.  And he keeps picking us up, loving us, and forgiving us time after time after time, grace upon grace upon grace.

            As we embark upon 2011, we can indeed look back through 2010 and see God's hand at work in our lives.  This is first of all a time of personal reflection.  How has God blessed you?  Only you can fully answer that question.  Certainly he's given you many spiritual blessings, but I believe there are many personal blessings there as well.  You may have experienced heartache, and tragedy, and frustrations, and various other things you'd maybe like to forget about.  But in looking back, you will be able to see the greater picture.  Our Lord has been there for you, in both the good times and the difficult times.  He's been there for you, giving you one blessing after another, or as our Gospel lesson for today says, "grace upon grace."

            I can't talk about one blessing after another without mentioning the life of our congregation.  Even a year ago, we were feeling a certain amount of frustration.  We planned things and proposed things, and God closed doors in front of us.  But we kept moving forward.  And we know that God had something much better in store for us.

            The year 2011 is going to be a building year for our congregation.  We're tempted to look at the future with a certain amount of fear and trepidation.  We own a piece of real estate.  We've got utilities, maintenance, upkeep, and a mortgage.  How are we ever going to make it work?

            The answer to that lies in the one who has given us one blessing after another.  We know that our God is not going to desert us.  And as we build our congregation upon the truth of God's Word and go forth to build Christ's kingdom upon earth, we know that we're walking down the path of blessing, one blessing after the other, grace upon grace.

            When Pastor Matt Appling wrote his little article about New Year's resolutions, he brought out very clearly that we cannot do anything to make ourselves perfect.  Every year people waste tons of money on failed resolutions.  The Apostle Paul had to continually deal with his sinful flesh, and so do we. 

            However, Paul writes to the Philippians, chapter 4 verse 13:  "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me."  That's the source of our strength and our blessing.  The Gospel of peace that forgives and restores us through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord is what makes us righteous and holy in God's eyes, and not some list of imperfections we try to correct according to what we try to do ourselves.

            In consideration of all this, I'm not suggesting that we quit trying to make those little improvements in our life, so please don't get me wrong here.  We still need to recognize our sin, and be repentant sinners.  And we still need to take care of the other things that will improve our lives and the lives of those around us.  We just can't develop a holier-than-thou attitude like the Pharisees did, and go around bragging what good people we are.

            What we can do is give God the credit for blessing us and preserving us far beyond what we can understand; one blessing after the other, grace upon grace.  And instead of breaking our arms by patting ourselves on the back, we can say with the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 57:  "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."