the FIRST SUNDAY of CHRISTMAS

December 30, 2018

the Sacrament of the Altar, Small Catechism
Just like Christmas, the Word becomes flesh, again!

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I’m sure you’ve heard those words, before. At least, if you’re forty-something and above! It’s the title of book that was a best seller, thirty-or-so years ago. But the title gives the impression that knowledge is a quantity. Something that can be weighted and counted and measured. And when you’ve acquired enough, you move on to the next level. Obtain just the right amount and you graduate.

There was a time I thought that’s how it worked here in the church. Sunday school. Confirmation. Even seminary. Two years of classes. A year of internship. A final year of classes. Written exam. Orals. And you receive a piece of paper that says, “Voilà! You, now, know everything you need!” You become a pastor.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take all that long to find out I really didn’t know everything. Like a lot of jobs, what you, more often than not, need to know most, you learn only on the job, only with experience. And ordination is one more act of faith! Faith in god’s guidance! Faith in a pastor’s curiosity! And, maybe most importantly, faith in the patience and long-suffering of a congregation! So, truth is, everything we need to know, we didn’t learn in seminary. But much of it comes later. Sometimes months. Sometimes years. Sometimes, even, decades.

One piece of the puzzle that has haunted me, right from the start, has been the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion. I’ve known it well enough to celebrate it, each week. Well enough to teach our kids. Well enough to explain it to strangers. But what I didn’t “get” was all the stuff about the “real presence” of Christ in, with, and under the bread and the wine. What the first section of the explanation is about in the Catechism. . .

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.

Let me repeat that. . .

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.

I understood the eating and drinking part. And the part about being instituted by Christ. And the bread and wine. But it was that first mouthful I couldn’t wrap my mind around. The true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It would be simple if we were Roman Catholics. The bread becoming the body. The wine becoming the blood. It might look like bread and wine, but it’s not. And it would be even simpler if we were the typical American protestant. The bread and wine just bread and wine. Bread and wine and nothing more. The meal nothing more than a postcard, a souvenir, from god. “Wish you were here!” Everything up to us! Believing! Remembering! But we’re not. We’re not Roman Catholics. We’re not the typical generic Christians. And that’s what makes it so confusing. For us, bread is bread and wine is wine. But the bread and the wine is so much more. And somehow, Christ is in the middle of it all, truly present!

Well, maybe a half dozen or so Christmases ago, something happened. It all clicked. It made sense. I was reading John. Chapter one, verse fourteen. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us. . .” “And the Word became flesh and lived among us. . .” For some reason, we believe faith is all about leaving this world and going to heaven. But Christmas is just the opposite. It’s heaven coming to earth. It’s the divine becoming human. The spiritual become flesh and blood. It’s not us going to god. It’s god coming to us. And that’s because we’re creatures, made out of earth and ashes and dust.

This is where god means for us to live! We’re not angels! Not cherubim! Not seraphim! We’re people! And on Christmas, god becomes a person, just like us! Becomes a person so we can hear god speak and see god act, feel god touch us. So we can smell and taste. Because of Christmas, god, no longer, is up high and far away. Something, someone, above, beyond. God is something near to us. Something close by. As near and as close as a baby born in a stable.

God isn’t a thought or an idea. God isn’t a feeling or an emotion. God is a person. And the farther we go from the manger and the farther away we go from the cross, the father we go from this creation, the farther and farther and farther and farther we get from god. On this day, in this season, god is no longer in heaven. God is right here. Asleep on the hay. Cradled in his mother’s arms. And that is what makes Holy Communion so difficult to understand. Because we just can’t imagine someone – especially god – loving anything enough to give it all away! To be here! With us!

“Though Christ Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality to God as something to be exploited. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave being born in human likeness!” That’s how it’s said in Philippians.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us! Became flesh and becomes one of us! Believing doesn’t begin with biblical principles. Faith doesn’t start with godly ideals. It begins and it starts with god! God setting eternity aside! To be with us! Right here! Right now! God’s not a philosophy. Or an ideology. Or, for that matter, even a theology. God is a person. Conceived by the Spirit. Born of a virgin. And that’s what happens at this very table, as well. Each and every time we are gathered together.

Christ is born! Again and again! Over and over! Time after time after time! The Word becomes flesh and blood! The Word becomes, in the same way, the bread and the wine! “And the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is placed in our outstretched hands.” God isn’t hidden, but made known, revealed. Becoming something we can hear and see and touch, something we can smell and taste. Something – someone – we can trust. Something – someone – we can believe in.

God is present. God is real. So present and so real we can hold god in the palm of our hand! So present and so real we can hold god in our fingertips! A god we can sink our teeth into! God hidden in plain sight! God invisible in the obvious! Not abstract or vague, but concrete and down to earth!

So, my friends, “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.” For us Christians to eat. . . to drink. . . and to stake our lives on. . .

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