In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
A trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York restores a person’s sense of wonder. It was my pleasure to visit the Hall this past May with my best friend Matt. Walking through the Hall of Fame brought back a flood of memories from childhood, especially looking at all the Chicago Cubs artifacts, some of which were over one hundred years old.
Then there was the T206 Honus Wagner baseball card. Only 57 cards were produced. Cooperstown has one of the cards. One of the cards in poor condition sold for $262,000 a few years ago. A Honus Wagner card in very good condition sold for more than $1.2 million dollars in April. I’m not a baseball card collector, but I couldn’t believe seeing the genuine article before my eyes.
The catch is that the Hall of Fame won’t let you touch most of their collection. Artifacts are preserved in special environments. You can take all the pictures you want and have the image saved on a camera or on a cell phone. When I look at the pictures some seven months after the visit, I am transported to that magical overnight visit in upstate New York.
If artifacts in the Baseball Hall of Fame cause jaw-dropping moments, holding the Son of God in your arms should be the ultimate jaw-dropping, eye-popping, awesome moment. However, you’ve become so used to being in His presence that there is no longer a sense of wonder and amazement in God’s House. The words of the liturgy and hymns become words and sentences that roll off the tongue as if you were reciting your address and telephone number to someone. Sticking out your tongue or your hands to receive the Body of Christ is as regular as brushing your teeth or watching your favorite TV shows.
Being in the presence of the Almighty God becomes a cozy visit to a familiar friend’s house. You can go without it, if necessary. When you are there, you do the same-old stuff. You talk about the same old topics over and over again. Sure, it’s fun for a while, but then you grow tired and have to go home. You’ll be back another day and do it again. Before you know it, you’ve grown into a cozy routine. You don’t know why you do what you do, but you can’t get through the day without doing it because that’s what you do.
Consider Simeon and Anna holding and seeing the Son of God in the temple. Neither of them acted as if it wasn’t such a big deal to see and hold Messiah. Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple…took [Jesus] up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel…. Coming up at that very hour [Anna] began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The gospel should instill such amazement in us that we too would exult and proudly assert: I have been baptized in Christ; there is no doubt, that through the Lord Jesus, I become a lord and can overcome death and sin, and heaven and all creation must serve my best interests. If a prince were to give me a gift of a velvet cloak, or an entire village, I would be so very happy and be amazed forevermore. But what is that compared to this? Yes, if I [was President of the United States], it would be nothing compared with my being baptized into an inheritance of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the Day of Judgment he will say to me, even as he already does, You are my dear brother; everything that is mine is yours, you shall live with me in eternity.
But where do you find those who truly believe this from the heart? We can all repeat the words, but whether we truly believe is soon evident, because there is no joy, no amazement, no change in us. If one wishes to call that faith, surely it is cold, half-dead faith; else, we would not be frightened and sullen, but happy and proud. For a Christian is a happy, confident, redeemed person who is sidetracked neither by the devil nor by any trouble. For he knows that through Christ he is master over all this.
This we [pastors] preach, but there are those among us who think they know it already. Would to God, however, we believed this with our whole hearts, firmly holding to this truth, that through Christ we have been made lords over all. On the basis of the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, we can rightly conclude that they had an inheritance with Christ and would live with him in eternity. But that I should believe this of myself of you of yourself, that is lacking because we do not see it in ourselves. We do not feel it. We do not experience it. In our thinking, Paul and Peter are lords and sovereigns over heaven and earth. But whether I, too, am a lord and sovereign, that I do not know.
What does it mean to believe? If I do not believe it of myself, that I have become a lord and sovereign over heaven and earth because of Christ, then certainly I cannot believe the same of Peter and Paul. Again, if I do not believe that through Christ I have gained the heavenly inheritance, then I do not believe that Christ became man for me and that I have been baptized into Christ.
We should marvel at what we hear of Christ, and be comforted and undaunted. That we are still frightened and have fear is a sign that we do not believe firmly enough that through Christ eternal life and heaven have been gained for us and have been given us as a gift. Accordingly, let him who knows this hold on to it, and he who doesn’t must learn it. There will be some who marvel at and are happy about the unspeakable good which Christ has gained for us and given to us. For them this sermon is an unending feast of which they never tire; as St. Peter says, the angels rejoice as they observe them. But a disgruntled, lazy soul is not at all concerned, but chases after carnal comforts. When he has his god Mammon – wine, bread, food and drink, he thing he has everything he needs.
Mammon is cast from its false throne when you turn from idolatry to the One who takes on flesh to bear your sin and be your Savior. This place is none other than the House of God. This is the gate of heaven. Christ is truly present in words, in water, in bread and wine that is shown for us to be His true Body and Blood. You don’t stare at a climate-controlled cabinet and marvel at the Savior. You eat and drink His Body and Blood. His forgiveness and life are applied to you up close and personal, with no barriers protecting you from Him and Him from you.
This is why pastors wear fancy vestments, bow, kneel, and use incense. We’re not showing off. We stand in awe with you at how God becomes man. We can’t help but act and speak as if we are seeing and holding the Christ Child in our arms for the first time. The Divine Service is not so much a reminder of something that happened a long time ago that brings you comfort to get you through another week. The Divine Service is Christ delivering His Gifts to sinners made worthy of seeing and holding Him through His grace. Together we believe Jesus is our salvation, given to both Jew and Gentile.
Encountering Jesus never grows old. There is always something new every week in those familiar words. There is something new in hearing, eating, and drinking the everlasting God who is robed in majesty, yet humble and meek as a 40-day-old boy in the arms of His earthly parents. If a baseball card brings wide eyes, then resting a while in the Savior’s presence while He feeds us with His grace prepares us to close our eyes and rest in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
 Adapted from Luther’s First House Postil for Christmas 1.