December 25, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St. John.
One of the hardest roles to play in life would have to be that of a single parent. The financial stress, the lack of time for yourself, the need to be both a father and a mother must be absolutely draining. I have no doubt most single mothers and fathers are great parents who work incredibly hard. But if you come from a split family or have one, you know that a mother can’t replace a father, nor a father a mother. Each one plays a vital role, which is why God designed marriage and family the way He did. Did you know that the number one indicator of a troubled child is the lack of a father? A father’s relationship with his children is incredibly important to their emotional and social well-being and the negative effects of a child without a father can be seen in countless studies and reports. The United States Department of Justice reported that children from fatherless homes account for:
63 percent of youth suicides
90 percent of all homeless and runaway youths
85 percent of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders
71 percent of all high school dropouts
70 percent of juveniles in state-operated institutions
75 percent of adolescent patients in substance abuse centers
But as we all know the presence of a father doesn’t mean that everything will go well. There are plenty of troubled children in households with a mother and a father. In our midweek Advent series this year, we heard about three families just like that. Cain, the son of Adam, was the first man among many who would kill a loved one. Abraham and Hagar’s son Ishmael wasn’t a bad son, but since he wasn’t the son promised to Abraham and Sarah he and his mother were mistreated and kicked out of the house. Absalom, the son of David, despite his father’s great love for him, ended up rebelling against his father and was killed in the process.
These Biblical stories about fathers and sons, and the ones we see played out around us, help point us to the most complicated father-son relationship of all time. It’s the story of God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth, and the children He created, the sons of men, you and me. Though we desperately need the presence of our loving heavenly Father in our lives for our wellbeing, we’ve rejected Him time and time again through our sinful and foolish ways.
Like Cain, we’ve not lived up to the expectations given to us in the Ten Commandments and have become murderers through our sinful thoughts and words and actions. Like the story of Abraham and Ishmael, we’ve tried to take matters into our own hands, but our efforts drive us further away from God. Like Absalom, we have rebelled against our heavenly Father and King, wanting to rule our own lives instead, only to find sin and death ruling over us. Rather than trust in our heavenly Father’s guidance, which is always wise and good, we prefer to place our trust in ourselves or those who say what we want to hear.
Our story is a story of wayward and stubborn children who have a Father who is even more stubbornly pursuing us out of His great love. It is a story perfectly captured by Jesus in His parable of the prodigal son. I’m sure most of you know this story, but in case you don’t, here’s the short version. The younger son of a wealthy father demanded his share of the inheritance. He essentially said, “I wish you were dead so I could have your stuff!” With his words, he murdered like Cain. With his actions, he rebelled like Absalom. Yet even more shockingly, the father gives his son what he wants. He allows him to walk away and out of his life.
Yet the father never stops watching for his son and hoping and praying that he will return. Though he had every reason to be, he was not angry at his son. He simply wanted another opportunity to show him how much he loved him. And finally, when the son had wasted all of his father’s money and found himself at the end of his rope, his father got the chance to demonstrate just how great his love was for his son.
The prodigal son knew he did not deserve his father’s love or even a spot in the family again. He merely wanted to return as a servant. Perhaps he could work his way back in. But his father would have none of it. Before he can even speak, the son is embraced tightly, clothed in the finest robe and sandals, and given the family ring, a symbol of his status as a son of the father. A celebration is planned, a fattened calf is sacrificed, and the son who once was lost has been found, the son who once was dead is alive again. This story raises the question: how could the father love his son like this? How could he just receive him back as if he had done nothing wrong? And would God do the same for us? These are questions that are answered by the story of Christmas.
The Christmas story tells the story of the only perfect Father-Son relationship that has ever existed. This relationship has existed since before time began. It will continue to exist throughout eternity. It is a relationship seen throughout the Scriptures. It’s the Father saying: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” It’s also what the Gospel says today: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” There has never been a time when the Father didn’t love the Son, there has never been a time when they weren’t working together for you. There has never been a time that the Father didn’t know that there would be a Christmas, or a Good Friday or an Easter.
God the Father knows how much you need Him, despite your rejection of Him. You are the prodigal son, you are the one who snubbed your Father’s love. And He is the Father who never stopped watching for you. He is the Father who rejoices, along with all of Heaven when you return, repenting of your sins and asking for Him to forgive you. You are a child of God only because the Father sent His only-begotten Son into the world—the Son of Man and Son of God—to be the perfect Son that we could never be.
Paul says, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus is the true Son of Adam who is the Savior promised to Adam, Eve, and everyone else who came after them and who committed no murder with His thoughts, words, and actions. Rather, He was murdered that we might live. Jesus is the true Son of Abraham, the One who would bless all nations, by taking our salvation into His hands and giving to us His righteousness. Jesus is the true Son of David, the King of kings, who remained perfectly obedient to His Father, and yet became a curse for us by hanging from a tree. As we joyfully sing in that great hymn Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: “Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” God and sinners reconciled, reunited, back to the way things were supposed to be!
You are not a fatherless child. You do not have an absentee Father. Though you don’t deserve it, you have a perfect relationship with your Father who has given up His only-begotten Son for you and who will always love you and care for you and shield you with His presence. Human fathers make mistakes, we let our children down, but God never will make a mistake and He’ll never let us down. He is the perfect Father who sent to us His perfect Son all so He can say of you: “This is My son. This is My daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen