A Needed Gift
Rev. Kurt Lantz Midweek Advent 1 Christian Questions 1-2
December 01, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Christmas gifts in our household have always been governed by what is needed. That means that quite often everyone pulled off the wrapping paper to reveal a collection of socks, included among other things. Such a governing principle does not have to mean that Christmas gifts in our household cannot be appreciated. Rather, some of them are all the more meaningful. The gift of a winter kit for an automobile is not merely a necessity for winter driving, but it also recognizes and celebrates the effort and care and accomplishment of one who has worked hard to obtain a Driver’s License and also purchased their first car.
We ought to remember that the gift of God which is behind all of our celebration at Christmas is a gift that is very much needed. It is not just something to play with. It is not just a beautiful item to adorn our dwellings, or an item to enhance one of our leisure hobbies. God’s gift to you in giving His own Son is very much a needed gift.
Yes, that baby in a manger is needed by you. The swaddling cloths, the song of the angels, they do not enclose something frivolous or indulgent. They cover a very needed gift. And this does not make the gift unwanted or anything to be despised. In fact, when we stop to consider our very great need, the gift becomes all the more precious to us.
That is a little bit what the season of Advent is all about. It is our preparation to receive a very great and wondrous gift from God, and such preparation must mean contemplating our very great need. But so much of our preparation leading up to Christmas is not about considering need, rather, it seems to be founded on how much we have in abundance. How much money do we have to spend? What special dishes and desserts can we have ready to serve? How elaborate will our outdoor light display be, or our indoor Christmas tree. How much abundance do we have to put into this celebration?
It may be a bit of an odd choice to title our Advent Midweek Service with the theme: The Gift of Justification. It is not very catchy. It is not one that I have confidence will increase attendance here in person or add to the number of hits on the Facebook video. That word “Justification” sounds more institutional than homey, more like legal jargon than what is usually written in a Christmas card. But that is kind of the point that needs to be made. This Gift of God was not selected for you because it is warm, cute, and cozy. You have been selected for it, because of your need for it.
And so we begin our Advent meditations by calling to mind God’s holy Law in its summary, the Ten Commandments. It is included in our catechism and we are advised to commit it to memory. It is that important. Why? Because it points out our need for the gift of Justification, a gift we may not otherwise pick out for ourselves. The Law shows us our sin.
You may not think you need socks. You may be content to walk around with a gaping hole in the heel. You may not even notice it. But your mother might have something else to say about that. Likewise, God our heavenly Father might have something to say about those sins that you are content to walk around in. You may not think that sin is having any ill effect on you or on others, but God’s holy Law reveals your need for a gift to fix that hole with His holiness.
His Law speaks “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19b). Don’t even start to object. Don’t pull out the excuses why you would like something else for Christmas instead. God’s holy Law has spoken and it is not about what you feel you might want or even what you feel you might need. It is what His Law shows you need.
There is a great deal of legal language here declaring the facts of the case. According to Law you are accountable for what you have done. It doesn’t matter how you perceive the damage or the effects of your sins. According to the Law you must answer for them. You must give an account of everything that you have done or failed to do against the Law of God.
And in more legal language: “By works of the Law no human being will be justified before Him” (Romans 3:20). There is no way out according to the Law. There are no loopholes. There are no extenuating circumstances. The Law says that you are guilty. You are a sinner. There is nothing you can do to change it. No matter how many good things you do legally, they cannot undo your felonies and misdemeanours. The Law that declares you guilty will not justify you. It will not declare you just, one who keeps justice.
In the Christmas Gospel from Matthew, we hear that when Joseph found out his fiancee, Mary, was pregnant before they had slept together, “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, he resolved to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). That was Joseph following the justice of the Law. And although we commend him for trying to do so without any added act of revenge, without causing Mary any more harm than the Law would demand, we know that Mary would have had a real rough life if the public believed that she had been sleeping around before marrying Joseph.
God knew that Mary was not guilty and He intervened by sending an angel to testify to Joseph saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). God knew that Mary had not sinned in this way and in justice was unwilling to have her suffer the punishment for what she had not done.
But that also means that God knows that you have sinned in many and countless ways and in justice each and every one of those sins has a penalty that must be served. The Law demands justice and it reveals that you have not been just. As you stand before God, the Almighty Eternal Judge, nothing you could ever do will make you justified in His sight.
To be justified is to have justice served fully and completely so that nothing more hangs over your head. It means to have every sin punished to the full extent of the Law, all time served, every penalty accepted and carried out for each and every one of your sins. Has God’s Law done its job on you? Has it stopped your mouth from its feeble protest? Has it opened your eyes to see that you are standing before the Divine Judge and you cannot make it right. There is no way for you to justify yourself before Him.
You need a gift. Not a gift that will necessarily cheer your spirits or fill up your leisure time, but a gift to take care of a very real need; your need to be right with God, to be justified before Him. Since there is no way for you to do this for yourself. You need it as a gift. The good news is that God has given just such a gift for you.
Although we picture it as a baby in a manger, and indeed it truly was (He truly was), the gift is not entirely that. There are a lot of poor babies every Christmas, but only this One could be the gift to save us from our sins, to justify us before God the Father. The gift is not a baby, but this baby, and only as this baby grows to become the One through whom we are justified.
He alone is righteous according to God’s holy Law. He has the righteousness that we need to be justified before God. We need His righteousness, because we cannot be justified by our works of the Law. Righteousness is not something we have or anything we can make for ourselves. And often it is something we don’t even feel we need. But it is God’s gift to us, as He revealed it must be in His holy Law and as He promised to send to us in the words of the Prophets.
Here is a gift that you need, that you will use, that you will wear. It covers you completely. There will be no holes showing. The gift is justification before God, all penalties paid in full, all time served, for each and every one of your sins. It is the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus covering up all of the sinful holes of your life. It is why God gave us Jesus for Christmas.