We recently celebrated Christmas. You gave each other gifts. You’ll think next Christmas about the last gifts husband, dad, grampa, gave you for Christmas. You’ll remember Christmases past with him and wish he was still with you. But he wants you to remember this: the most important Christmas gift, the only gift that truly matters, is the gift God gave us that first Christmas, the gift He still gives us wherever His Word is heard: Jesus Christ, God’s Only-begotten Son.
This Gift, God’s Gift, is the most important thing in life. Nothing you give Him can compare. Our love for Him can only pale in comparison to His love for us. Our love for each other is small beans compared to His love for us. For He gave unto death His Only-begotten Son. God The Son died for sinners. From His Conception to His Death He lived for us and gave Himself up for us. He cared nothing for earthly pleasures and delights. He cared only to devote His entire self to our salvation from sin, death, and Satan.
He devoted Himself to Keith’s salvation. The word St. John uses for love is no mere love among family and friends. It’s a self-sacrificing total devotion, not unlike what you showed Keith, Pat. What you did for him these last few years was a shadow, a reflection, a joyful confession of what Christ has done for us. He loved us so much He gave up His throne and then gave up His life.
He loved us. He loves us. Yet we are unlovable. We are not unlovable because of our diseases, diseases like the one that took Keith from us or the wounds he suffered throughout his life. No, we are unlovable because of the sin that corrupts us. Our wounds remind us of this. Our diseases remind us that something is not right with us. Sin infects us. Sin chains us. Sin fights us.
Adam’s sin is at work in us. God told him if he ate the forbidden fruit, he would die. He ate it, and we were infected. Death entered the world. Disease, sickness, anguish, trouble at home and at work, all these things entered the world. We cannot escape it on our own. We cannot rescue ourselves. We cannot work out a way to save ourselves. We cannot play a part in it or help Him out. After all, who of us can stop sinning or stop getting sick? We are saved by grace alone through faith alone which is proclaimed to us by Scripture alone.
That’s the message of this time called Pre-Lent. Last Sunday’s Gospel was the parable of the sower. Our Savior tells us about a man who went sowing seed. Some of it fell on a road and was eaten. Some of it fell on a rock or among thornbushes and couldn’t grow. Some of it fell on good pasture and grew. What was sown was God’s Word. The sower is Christ, who sows through both His believers and His ministers.
Keith was blessed by God to serve in this preaching office for a time. God used him. He put him to work. He put him to work to tell sinners they are forgiven. He put him to work to tell them Jesus died and rose for them. He was sowing the seed, God’s Word. The Spirit used that word to bring people to faith and to strengthen them in their faith.
The Spirit brought that word to Keith too, in his sorrows and joys, and as he lay on his deathbed. The Spirit worked. He loved his Lord. He believed his sins were washed away and forgiven, just like Bartimæus believed Jesus would give him sight, as we heard yesterday. He believed he will live again. Now he awaits that day when God’s promises will be fulfilled. Now he waits in Jesus’ nearer presence for Him to keep His final promise: resurrection from the dead.
This is proclaimed by Sacred Scripture. This message has its source nowhere else. All preachers get it there. The Apostles received it from The Lord and showed they were preaching the fulfillment of Scripture. All faithful pastors take their message from the prophetic and apostolic Word. This is what we preach. This is what Keith preached. This is what he believed. These Scripture were read to him daily at the end. This kept him in the true faith, this and The Sacrament he received. For he knew his loving Lord could never lie to Him there, but is the Way, Truth, and Life, Who died and rose for Him.
That is His grace which saves. Grace is His loving-kindness. Grace is Him giving us gifts we don’t deserve. 3 Sundays ago we heard the Lord of the vineyard give people who barely worked an hour what he paid people who worked all day. They didn’t deserve that money. They might not have deserved a cent. But he gave them everything. This is the grace the Blessed Trinity has for sinners.
We are sinners. That we’re here proves Keith was. But he is saved by God’s grace. Jesus didn’t have to die and rise for him. Jesus didn’t have to baptize him at Elk Branch. He didn’t have to make use of him. But He did. He chose Keith. He loved Keith. He still loves Keith. He still chooses Keith. Keith may not have wanted to be a burden, but to Christ he is no burden. It was His joy to pick him up and put him on His shoulders and carry him to life everlasting. That’s God’s grace in action. God picks us up and carries us to eternal salvation. He does all the work. He carries us and keeps us in His loving arms pierced for us.
Later we’ll go to Shepherdstown. The Good Shepherd will be with us. He will watch over us. He will watch over the grave as He keeps Keith’s soul with Him until the day He returns. For He will return to open that grave, and Keith will be back. His body will be restored. He will rise from death. He will be completely, totally healed – no more wounds or diseases of mind and body, no more sadness and disappointments and worries of times past, only joy to see his Redeemer with his own eyes, only joy to live with him forever.
God loves Keith. God loves you. Now Keith is rescued from this wicked world. Death is that rescue. So death is blessed now. Christ by His Death has transformed it. When the Christian suffers in death, we are reminded how much more our Lord suffered when He died for us. We count it not a sorrow, but a joy to be connected to Christ in such an intimate way. Now we rejoice that the suffering is over and he is with Jesus. We will rejoice again when he with all the faithful will be raised.
Christmas will come again. You’ll give gifts to each other like you do every year. God gave you Keith. He has taken him back to Himself. But He has also given you Jesus. Jesus He shall never take from you. Jesus shall never forget you nor leave you behind. Instead, you who believe in Him, Jesus shall restore Keith to you and you to him. For God gave us His Only-begotten Son. Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but has everlasting life. God grant it.