Sundays:  Pastor's Class 9:00 AM (Ephesians)
               Divine Liturgy 10:30 AM

Wednesdays: Pastor's Class 10:00 AM (Psalm 119 deep dive)
                    Divine Liturgy 7:00 PM

Ash Wednesday:

Imposition of Ashes 11:00 AM
Divine Service with Imposition of Ashes 7:00 PM



Jesus Is The Firstborn

December 20, 2023 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross

Christmas Day
Romans 8:29-30

In the Christmas Gospel Jesus is called Mary’s Firstborn Son. That indicates that Mary and Joseph had other children. One was named James, who was an important leader in the church at Jerusalem. We know very little about the others. But Jesus was not only the Firstborn of Mary, He was also the Firstborn of the elect, the Firstborn of the new creation that God was making when He sent His Son into them world, and eventually the Firstborn from the dead. We can take comfort from this extended meaning of Firstborn because the apostolic promise includes jus as His brothers and sisters.

The Psalmist of old had written delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. While this Psalm is primarily and exhortation to prayer, it shows us the genuine difficulty we have with God. I fully sympathize with those who hear this verse and say, “Big deal! As long as the Lord Himself is what I really want, He’ll see to it that I get my heart’s desire.” But most of us have no ideas what it means to delight in the Lord. We delight in football, In parties, in music , but how do you delight in the Lord? Does that mean the big moment in every week is Bible class? Normal people can’t be that religious.

Funny thing you should mention it. During His earthly ministry Jesus did not spend mjuch time with religious people. He preferred normal people. Now don’t get me wrong, Jesus did not neglect His religious duties. He wasn’t less religious than most people, but He wasn’t any more religious either. The apostles delighted in His company, no matter what they were doing, at a wedding, traveling the back roads, or going fishing. So the follow their example, delighting in the Lord means being with Nhim everywhere. He is not just the Lord of religion, but of everything. Did not St. Paul bid us, Do not worry about anything, but in every concern thankfully make your requests known to God? Every concern! The apostles were not against religion. They read the Scriptures and kept the appointed feasts, as did Jesus. But Jesus was different because of His compassion for the poor, His total avoidance of sin, and His understanding of His mission as a sacrifice. He is not the only Person like that, He is the Firstborn. That means there are more,

Let’s read the text carefully here. Those whom God foreknew, He appointed long ago to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son. But notice here we have no demand to be like Him. We are appointed to be like Him. Jesus is the Firstborn and we are His brothers, which by all reasonable usage includes sisters as well. Doubts arise about this because we do not see ourselves as being like Jesus. We do not avoid sin, share His compassion, or have any intention of sacrificing ourselves. In fact that’s the last thing we want to do. While we earnestly desire to go to heaven, right now many other things are closer to center stage. We might imitate Jesus’ humility, we might be kind and generous. But which of us is capable of unmixed motives? Whicg of us seriously considers dying for another person?

Nothing in the passage indicates that God is asking you or me to do anything. He’s telling us nit has been done. Those whom He appointed, He called, those He called He justified, those He justified He glorified. All those verbs are in the past tense. The apostle is telling us it has all been done. Immanuel has appeared in the world. We had nothing to do with it. God established His kingdom through Jesus. Is our King and we are His subjects because God willed it so. Are you confused? Imagine how Mary felt when the angel told he what was going on. She found out before anyone else what Christmas was all about, She was no better than them other girls of Nazareth, but God appointed her in eternity to behold His face and live. Not only to behold Him but to nurse Him as an infant. She did not have to do these things herself, God did them. He did not come to her to judge her, but to blend Nis life with hers, to be her Immanuel above all. He did not cone ti give us a new law, but to fulfill the mold law. In the flesh HE condemned sin by suffering and dying. In the flesh He fulfilled all righteousness by rising from the dead. He did not come to demand that we be like Him, but to make us like Him.

God chose to conform us to that? How do we know He has appointed us? Because those He ;.appointed he also called. There can be no doubt that God has called us by the Gospel. His Providence made the Gospel available, His Spirit caused us to believe it. He separated us from the world by Holy Baptism, then dwells within us to make the impossible happen. Do we still delight in the vanities? We can talk to God about them, for He is present with judgment and grace. No, He isn’t like a genie to grant stupid wishes. He comes when we call, but He comes with judgment and grace. He doesn’t ask what we want Him to do, but tells us what will be. God matters more than we do. Jesus is the Firstborn, but He does transform His brothers and sisters into subjects of the Kingdom of God. He knows we will be better subjects if we let go n ot only of the vanities, but of all religious pretensions. He wants us to wait patiently for Him.

Every year as we read Dickens’ exquisite story of Ebenezer Scrooge, we might feel somewhat self-righteous as we hear of how the ghosts shook him into repentance.But look at the fruits of his repentance! His generosity and conviviality show how close to the Lord Scrooge had become. He was not any more religious, but he was a much better person. Jesus was always generous and convivial. Unlike Scrooge, Jesus is real. Because we are called to His likeness, we can also display the fruits of repentance in this very real world. AMEN.