A Message from Pastor Hale

A Message from Pastor Hale

Christmas is always good news, never bad news. But this world is not full of good news for us. It is cursed, including those around us and our own heart. We cannot love and be faithful to God’s Law as we should. We see the evidence of this all around us. But the Christmas story – Jesus, the birth of our God come to save us – we easily put aside. We don’t want good news, but when something bad happens to others we are like rubberneckers on the highway, slowing down to soak it up.

Christ was born for the world. He was born under the Law for all sinners. This was God’s eternal plan. The cross is our redemption, but this forgiveness is offered in time – right now, in fact. It is part of the Christmas Gospel, which is for the whole year, not just a designated season. This is the only true good news for you, or anyone in the world. But false gospels go out continually, through which Satan tries to win our hearts. They promise better feelings, easier times, more convenient acceptance. Christ, though, had to die for deadly sinners. Nothing else would do for us.

In Schaumburg, Illinois, a mother killed her own adopted disabled daughter, who was 28 years old. After caring for her for years, she thought she would show “mercy” by murdering her. It was justified in her own mind by her daughter’s suffering. But a judge did not agree, imposing a prison sentence on the mother: “The choice you made that morning was not an act of love. It was a crime.” The mother then continued on her murderous path by murdering herself, to avoid prison. Why do sinners love death? Without the Gospel we know nothing else. Death is all we know, separated from the living God.

The worst crime in all this is excusing all sins and thinking that this murderer is a loving, caring Christian: “She's at peace now, in heaven with her daughter,” the grandmother said. “That's all she ever wanted, was to be with [her daughter].” Is everyone going to heaven? No, sinners do not deserve it. We have earned only death by acting against our God. We are only saved by the mercy of Christ Jesus and His righteous life. Apart from Him we have no hope or life.

People who live in sin and do not repent of a godless lifestyle, do not believe. They do not have the forgiveness of Christ. Unbelief is a rejection of the Gospel. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). Daily we must turn from these. But what do we turn to? The good news of God for us in Christ. In the weak, suffering Jesus we find God’s abundant mercy. We cannot love sin and salvation from sin at the same time.

Yes, Christ died for murders. But He did not die for us to embrace murderous thoughts and live by our own hearts. Christ won us back to the Father, to live for Him, according to His life- giving Spirit. And live we do, but not in order to sin. Though the Lord places tough crosses on us, we are not to hurt others or destroy life. Suffering is not evil – our Lord suffered for us, winning us life eternal. Our Lord wants us to care for others and be a neighbor to them. Love is not defined by the world, American laws, or our feelings. God is love and only He has the right to end life.

The Gospel is not a “get out of jail free card.” Through it, the Spirit turns our hearts from violent, sinful thoughts to the living God. We must first be made right with Him before we are alive. In Christ’s strength we are strong enough to deal with suffering in hope. We can care for those who are weak, those who need our real, tangible love. But not without Christ’s love and righteousness.

While the world talks of Christmas for a short while, and then moves on to the next celebration, the Gospel of Christ’s birth does not end for you. It is God’s grace that is being poured out for you continually. None of it would be possible without the Lord’s birth in our world.

Thankfully, Mary and Joseph cared for our God as a baby, so Jesus could die in our place as  the perfect sacrifice for sin. Look for good in Jesus and know the light of His love will never die, just as all who live by this Gospel have overcome death. Heaven is not a right or a guarantee. It is a hope, because we know and love the true God – the one born to suffer for us, the same one coming back again for us. Amen.

Rev. Philip W. Hale is a pastor of  Zion Lutheran Church in Omaha, NE.