Last week, this article reminded us of the reason for the season, the purpose behind all of our preparations and parties, decorations and driving, fun and family gatherings. We talked about preparing for CHRISTmas rather than just Christmas, and how that happens when we keep the proper attitude and the proper purpose.
But in order to do that, we need the proper help. Because no matter how good your intentions might be, living with the sinner in your heart, you fail. I fall short and get distracted. Our hearts get clouded with the frustration and busyness and heartache of a purposeless holiday, and all the activity just leaves us worn out and frazzled.
The sad thing is, all too often, we pretend that the celebrations are more important than the one we're celebrating. Plain and simple: we sin in our celebrations, because of whom we celebrate. All too often, our Christmas celebrations become nothing more than celebrations of self.
So in our reading for today, which follows right after what we talked about last week, Paul prays for our preparations. This is 1 Thessalonians 5:23. "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through." Sanctify. That's a word that means "to make holy, to set apart." God is the one that can set us and our celebrations apart from the wheel-spinning that the world around us is doing. God is the one who makes us what we were not, removing our sin.
That is the beauty of what we are celebrating this Christmas. Christmas happened so that the God of peace on earth, goodwill toward men could sanctify us, could get rid of that sin - because that is what holiness is. He did Christmas so that what Paul prays for does happen.
Think about being sanctified, made holy, through and through, every part of you. Yes, there is that picture of washing away our sins, like we are reminded of every time we see a Baptism and think about our own. And that is why Christ was born - so that he could live for us and die for us and then live again. That baby in the manger became the man beneath those whips, and the hands beneath the nails and the blood that was shed to wash us clean.
He sanctifies us through and through.
And the picture is totally complete - "through and through." He covers over where we were washed with his active perfection that that baby in the manger lived, growing up to be the boy who couldn't get enough of God's word, the man that Satan just could not fool because he was armed with the sword of the spirit. And so this Christmas, our present is that robe of perfection draped on us. He sanctifies us through and through.
This is never just an external thing - but through and through, all through the insides. Think about that. I can't say that I understand all the intricacies of kidney dialysis. But I've spoken to a couple regulars of the method, and if I understand it correctly, what an awesome picture that is of this Christmas present Paul talks about today. If I understand dialysis right, basically, there is a machine that cleans your blood. Your blood is taken out of your body, filtered through this machine and then returned, clean, new, healthy.
Just like that, God sanctifies us through and through. Our blood, tainted with everything we've done wrong, is cleansed in the flood of Jesus blood, and he puts his perfect blood back in our body. Think of what a great picture of that we have in the Lord's Supper, receiving Jesus' body and blood for our forgiveness. (If you've got any questions about that - come to our Bible Information Classes on Sunday nights at 7 p.m. or Thursday mornings at 11 a.m.)
And each week, get into God's house to enjoy the feast of God's word and sacrament as the perfect preparation for Christmas - and far beyond. In fact, as our text closes, Paul points our eyes to the skies as we prepare, reminding us that he will come again for us. This is I Thessalonians 5:23-24. "May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."
With the proper attitude and the proper purpose - you will have a very merry CHRISTian CHRISTmas. God is here with his word to help. And he promises it! May God bless all your CHRISTmas preparations!
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.