January 3, 2016: 2nd Sunday after Christmas

Let us pray: Dear Savior, through Your blessed gift of faith put into our hearts by the Spirit’s power and the Holy Father’s will, we literally have it all as we begin a new year. Through faith You have made us members of Your eternal family, heirs of heaven, and blessed children upon this earth. May we always value our Godly parentage above all else in life. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, IN WHOM WE HAVE EVERY BLESSING!

TEXT: Luke 1: 68-75

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

Have you ever wondered about your ethnic heritage? How much of you is: German, or Norwegian, or Italian? What is your genetic make-up? I saw one of those ads on TV a few nights ago in which they will send you a swab for a genetic test. Once they have it they will run it through their data base and send you the results. I’m tempted to do so at some point in time. Think of the questions it will answer! How Scottish am I? How much old English do I have running through my veins? On my mom’s side, I’m a little bit Austrian. Did someone “way back when” come over the Alps from Italy? What Germanic tribes am I descended from? Did my Great grandmother Fox really have any Cherokee Indian blood in her—something she always denied but still the tale lingered? It would be fun to know these things.

All of our lessons today treat of the same issue: what defines a person as a “child of Abraham.” Is it genetics, or is it faith? Considering the promises God made to Abraham and to his generational descendants this is very important. In our OT lesson from Genesis 17 God makes this promise: “For I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” In short, if you really want to be blest by the only God there is, you need to be a child of Abraham. Are you?

Next comes our epistle from Galatians written by St. Paul. He outlines the work of Jesus Christ who has made us God’s children through faith. Then he adds: “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (A term of loving endearment.) So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Slaves don’t own property. Slaves don’t inherit whatever belongs to their Father and Master. But true children do! So, are you really God’s child? What makes it so—faith or genetics? Belief or some kind of family lineage?

I

And now we come to our Gospel lesson. Zechariah was John the Baptist’s earthly father. Recall how when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and announced his wife, Elizabeth’s, pregnancy, Zechariah didn’t believe it. So, Gabriel then said that Zechariah would be struck dumb, unable to speak, until John was actually born. Luke now picks up on all that. John has been born! The Messiah’s forerunner lies in his mother’s arms. Zechariah is overjoyed. And then, through the Spirit’s power, he is given his speech back. And the first thing this new father does is to praise God for this blessing! Listen to how this priest weaves together those OT promises of God with their newly established fulfillment: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn (a symbol of peaceful strength) a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

To this very day, January 3, 2016 most people miss the big picture in this lesson because they’re too busy looking at minutia. These fail to see the macro because they focus on the micro. This has been going on since the time of Abraham, 3700 years ago. It was the common problem faced by the Jewish people of Christ’s time, too. And it still limps along even today. The issue is: genetics or faith. What makes you a child of Abraham and God’s promises: genetic make-up, or faith in Jesus Christ? In common terms, are the ethnic Jewish people of today God’s chosen people, or are you?

II

Note well, already in Genesis God calls Abraham the “father of many nations.” Additionally, He adds: “I will make nations of you.” Nations is plural. He’s not referring to one specific ethnic group of people, or those of Jewish heritage. He’s referring to something far bigger—All believers of every genetic make-up and background.—Including you and me!

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for the Jews’ acceptance of Christ as their Messiah was and still is this very point. Exactly who are Abraham’s children? Today a similar issue comes down to us in distinctive clothing: does the simple act of being born to Christian parents and raised in a Christian church automatically insure my adoption as a child of God? I’ve seen and heard people say that it does—even in this congregation during my ministry. I’ve seen and heard people proudly confess their Christian lineage—not on the basis of being saved by God’s grace alone in Christ, but on the fact that their grandparents founded the church! They made the same mistake so many did at Jesus’ time, they elevated genetics over and above humble faith.—Something Zechariah doesn’t do!

Your salvation isn’t something you automatically inherit from your parents. It is something lovingly given to you by Jesus Christ. He earned it for you with His death in your place on a cross and with His glorious resurrection. “Abraham believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” That’s what the Bible says. Faith is what makes Godly children—humble, repentant, focus-on-God-alone faith. King David is mentioned here. He had such a faith. Certainly David sinned—greatly at times—and yet faith pulled him back and caused him to say to God: “I’m sorry,” and to mean it. People like Zechariah had such a faith, weak as it might sometimes be—even doubting an archangel when he appeared before him. Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph had such a faith, too. By God’s grace alone they trusted and were saved. That trust made them Abraham’s children and God’s family. And so it is and must be for all of you.

Our genetic heritage is always interesting. But it never can save our souls. Grace alone, God’s undeserved love in Christ alone, that is what saves us. As I’ve said many times: faith is thicker than blood. That’s because our faith is grounded in God’s blood, shed by His Son for us! So, as the new year dawns, don’t get hung up on the emotional baggage of your human past—embrace what matters! Embrace Christ, God’s gift to you. And then re-learn the age-old lessons of your real family heroes—who lived repentant lives and never forgot to praise God and give Him daily thanks for every single blessing that came their way. Amen