Christmas is coming. Think back to your childhood Christmases, when grandma bought you socks. She loved you. She didn’t want you to have cold, wet feet. She didn’t want you to catch pneumonia. At least, that’s what my grandma always told me when, I opened the package intentionally forgotten, hoping I wouldn’t have to open it in front of everyone. Socks are practical. But at Christmas, who wants practical gifts? We want fun gifts—electronics, money, big-ticket items that can impress. But how long after Christmas morning are those gifts forgotten? Socks you wear every day. But that bag of socks is still disappointing.
St. Luke records quite a spectacle. As the Gospel was read you could see the painfully awkward situation play out in your head. The Pharisees are all busy jockeying for the best seat at the arch-Pharisee’s table, all while hoping to catch Jesus in a sin. And then the test subject is trotted out—a poor man with dropsy, or as we know it today, congestive heart failure. The Pharisees do not invite him out of compassion or a desire to see him healed, but parade him in front of Jesus to see if He will break the man-made Sabbath laws.
Death and Life meet at Nain. The boy is carried off in fulfillment of the Genesis curse: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. To be sure, it’s a tragic scene, and one the mother knows too well. She was a widow, so she has walked this path before, wept behind the casket as it is carried to the cemetery. Each of us knows the pain of that walk. We have all been there, weeping in that somber procession from church to hearse, hearse to grave. We mourn family and friend, one taken away from us. But we also walk that path knowing that one day we will be the one carried. We will breathe our last, be committed to God’s acre, and await the Day of the Resurrection of the Dead. It’s not a pleasant thing to ponder. It’s a reminder that, as much as we try to avoid it, creation just doesn’t work the way it was supposed to. Gone is God’s declaration of “very good.” In its place is death and decay, sin and evil. But into this deathward drift from futile birth steps Our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him the ancient curse is reversed. He gives us the promise that one day He will say to all of us, to all who believe in Christ: “I say to you, arise!”
Do not worry, Jesus says. If you’re worrying about anything right now—and you’re human, so chances are you’re probably worrying about something—a phrase like that can sound flippant, entirely dismissive of your concern. Don’t worry. Let me get right on that, Jesus. It sounds as uncaring as telling someone battling depression “Just think happy thoughts” or telling someone with stage four cancer “keep your chin up!” It sounds like a canned phrase, a sentiment just tossed out there when someone doesn’t know what else to say.
Leprosy is one of the best analogies for sin. Leprosy is a terrible disease that starts small, but ends in death. What begins as a small spot on the skin turns into boils and scabs. The hair turns white or yellow. The flesh becomes raw. And it’s all coupled with a pain that radiates below the skin, down to the bone. Eventually everything is taken over by this rotting and all that’s left is death. Isn’t that what sin does? Our sin starts small—one tiny infraction, but it grows. It consumes, until all we know how to do is sin, and sin gives way to death, spiritual and physical. So, what we heard in God’s Word today is that we’re all lepers. Each of us can examine our own lives and see the symptoms St. Paul laid out: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissentions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. We don’t all experience these in the same way, but that list touches each and every one of us in some way. Every one of us are on the path to certain death. Our only hope is the intervention of Jesus Christ, that He would haver mercy on us, to save us from this body of death.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.