Zeal for This Christmas

December 24, 2021; Pastor Kurt A. Lantz
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Zeal for this Christmas

 

Rev. Kurt Lantz Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Midnight Titus 2:11-14

December 24, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON

 

 

Dear children in a common faith,

 

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

 

 

God is a zealot and He wants you to be one too. In our day there are zealots for all kinds of causes. Today we call them justice warriors. I think that the internet inflames people’s passions for a cause. The search algorithms are designed to give you more of the same, rather than present you with a balanced amount of information on any given topic. So you end up being reinforced in the arguments that glorify one side of an issue and demonize the other, and you are left with the impression that there is nothing to support any opposing viewpoint.

 

We have all seen it as people develop their stance on wearing masks, or vaccine mandates, or abortion, or same-sex marriage, or climate change... or perhaps communion practices, or which carols make it into the Christmas Eve service. Zeal is a high level of enthusiasm for a cause. Greta Thunberg has shown great zeal for ending climate change. She is a teenager who has become known around the world for her passion and enthusiasm when she addresses the topic. People get involved in movements like Black Lives Matter because of their zeal for equality. People become Lutheran because they are drawn by the zeal of Martin Luther for the proclamation of the pure Gospel.

 

Zeal can be a good thing, but often in this present time it is not such a good thing. It has caused people to be offensive in the way they present their case. It can lead to violence as people take unrestrained action in support of their beliefs. It can lead to rifts between friends, divisions between churches, separations in the family, and even murder in the streets. Religious zealots have always been especially dangerous, particularly when they don’t quite have their religion right.

 

Tonight, from the prophet Isaiah we heard that the zeal of the Lord of hosts would do something (Isaiah 9:7), and that is, that He would bring a Child to birth who would reign in peace forever. That is not good news for most of the zealots that we see around today. They don’t really operate in the realm of peace. So you see, God’s kind of zealots are different from what we see in the justice warriors around us.

 

The LORD said He will break the rod of the oppressor (Isaiah 9:4). He will burn the warrior’s garb in fire (v.5). “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end... from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (vv. 6-7).

 

And He did it. In Bethlehem, the city of David, the Child was born. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14). God’s kind of zeal, His enthusiasm, is peace and goodwill to save all people. And now that He has acted zealously for you, He hopes you will do the same for others, with the same kind of zeal.

 

The first step is to realize that the world can be saved that way. When we think that something is necessary to save the world, we seem to be either hopelessly inactive, or void of all peace and goodwill in our action. But God’s grace shown to us in the birth of Jesus does accomplish everything necessary to save all people, and it trains us to be zealous in such a godly way. St. Paul wrote to Pastor Titus about what that looks like. It is for us as older men and women, husbands, wives, and children, young people, workers, and employers “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).

 

That means that as we live as zealots for God, it will look a lot differently than what we usually see in the zealots around us. We will do it in a godly manner, peacefully, with goodwill toward one another, the same kind of peace and goodwill that we celebrate at Christmas in the birth of the Child who is our Saviour, an act of the zeal of the LORD of hosts. This is the peace and goodwill of which the angels sang to the shepherds. It is only His peace and goodwill toward us in forgiving our sins of hatred, offenses, self-justification, and violence, that can bring forth godly peace in our lives toward others—toward our family and friends, our co-workers and fellow students, out in the shopping malls and in the streets.

 

Worldly passions kindle hatred and violence as we see all too often. Godly zeal is governed by God’s zeal for peace and goodwill. That requires self-control on our part because our sinful nature will impel us the other way, to be offensive and hurtful as we proclaim our message and wage our war for whatever social issues we think we ought to be fighting for. That sinful nature leads us to justify ourselves to do whatever we feel is necessary in order to get our point across.

 

We need the grace of God in Jesus both to forgive us for this and to show us the way to be zealous in a godly fashion, such that will actually work toward the salvation of the people with whom we interact, that will draw them to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. This is the way people act who are waiting for God’s zeal to complete everything that He has promised. We have a blessed hope that He will continue to bring to fruition, through means of peace and goodwill, that eternal reign of His Son, the Child who was born to us, and whom we celebrate at Christmas.

 

The glorious coming of Jesus to reign as promised will put an end to all ungodly zeal, and while we wait for our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, He will continue to purify us through the forgiveness of our sins. The one who gave Himself to redeem us in an act of zealous love, will have us as His own in eternal peace. “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

 

This is the passion of God the Almighty Father, in sending His Son into the world for the purpose of saving sinners. This is the passion of Jesus Christ the only-begotten Son, our Lord, in becoming a man of humble estate, born where the animals were stabled, laid in a manger. This is the zeal of the Prince of Peace, going to suffering and death upon the cross, submitting to the will of the Father, placing Himself into the hands of sinful men, praying for God to forgive them as they mocked and ridiculed and insulted and killed Him with such violent outburst.

 

Jesus came in peace and He was killed at the hands of such evil and violent men. He came in peace in order to be killed by such violence. He came in peace to forgive and to save such violent sinners. He came promising a peace that the world cannot give, and this is it: the Almighty coming in peace not just to confront His enemies, but to save them, not through arguments but through a peaceful love, a zealous love for His passionate cause to bring salvation to sinners.

 

You have forgiveness in the zealous love of Christ Jesus. You have salvation in this Prince of Peace. The zeal of the Lord of hosts has done this. He did it in His zealous love for you.

 

 

Grace be with you all.