David Kolander

No Repining at Christmas!

by David Kolander on December 25th, 2023
John 1:1-18

 We just sang it four times; we say it again: Hence, all sorrow and repining, for the Sun of grace is shining! Amen.

If you have opened your gifts for Christmas, was there any repining at your house around the Christmas Tree? If so, don’t you just hate it when people repine at Christmas? I assume that would be a lot easier to answer if  you knew for sure what in the world the word “repine” means, right? While I have read the word repine a few times in a book or a magazine, and while I have sung the word repine in that hymn any number of times over the years, I don’t know if I have ever spoken the word repine in a regular sentence even one time in my entire life. I guess I could say that I repine that I have never spoken the word repine, because the word repine has the meaning of having regrets, with the added thought, though, of complaining or grumbling or being dissatisfied or resentful. So, while it is possible there may have been some repining around your Christmas Tree, I hope it only lasted a brief moment and was followed very quickly by a “Thank you very much; I just love what you got me.” Either way, whether until now you knew what the word repine meant or not; whether you have ever used the word repine in a sentence or not – or whether you ever will; I pray that today’s words from John’s Gospel about the coming of Christ into the world will make sure that for you and for me there is No Repining at Christmas! How could there possibly be when we know that Christ Our Savior is born!

The word “repine” may not really be an extremely important word to know, but there is a word that is vitally important for us to know and to cherish, and that word is the word “Word” – like in John’s opening verse, where he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the Bible the word “Word” is used in two different ways. The most common way is when the Bible says it is the Word of God, just like when we answer, “The Word of the Lord,” when the pastor reads a portion of the Bible to us. When we listen to the Bible, we are listening to what God has said and what God had written down.

The other way the word “Word” is used in the Bible is the way it’s used here in John chapter 1, where the Bible also calls Jesus the Word. What that means is that when you see Jesus, you know who God is; because when Jesus speaks a word, he is speaking for God, because Jesus is God, and everything he says and does is what God says and does. So, the Word of God – the Bible – tells us that the Word – Jesus, true God – is the one whose birth we today are celebrating. That’s why we can say and sing, “Hence, all sorrow and repining,” because the reason there can be no repining at Christmas is that we have the Word of the Word. In that tiny manger we are worshiping our Lord and our God.

That’s why Christmas Day, while obviously such a great and joyful day, as it should be, is also a humbling and sobering day, because the only reason God came into the world and took on human life was to rescue us from how we had messed up ours. And messed it up we have. Just like so many people at the time that Jesus came that John was writing about in in our Lesson, so we too have to admit how we have often not recognized him as the light of the world who had come into our darkness, preferring instead to walk in the darkness of things we want to do that are not what God wants us to do, or living as if we are repining – grumbling, complaining, being resentful – about how our life is going or what God expects of us in order to walk in the light of faith. If anyone should be repining at Christmas, it should be our Savior, because he knew how the vast majority of the people he came to save wouldn’t feel they needed to be saved or really didn’t care – something you and I need to take to heart, as well.

What makes this all the more tragic, as John says, is that “the world was made through him.” The baby in the manger is the creator of the universe. He is the one who was responsible for the hay in the manger, the cattle in the barn, the birth of his own mother, the stars in the bright sky, the glory of the angels, and the ability of the shepherds to run to Bethlehem and open their mouths with words of praise. Jesus is the one who made everything and who gives us our ability to continue living day by day. He is the Word of the Father, the Son of God.

And that, then, is also why our humble awareness that in the stable we are in the presence of the almighty God at one and the same time turns into joy-filled confidence, because the one who came to save us from our world so we can someday live in his world is not just someone like us, who can only fall, but he is the all-perfect, all-wonderful, all-loving Lord God who can never fail. When the Word says to us, “To those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God,” we can trust him, because he means what he says, and nothing he says is ever wrong. Believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to make us children of God by believing in the work he came to do means you and I are children of God. If we are repining out of regret because of how we know it was because of us he had to come into his world, we can say and sing, “Hence, all sadness and repining,” because it truly was because of us, thank God, that he did come into the world. So, Joy to the World. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King. We have the word of the Word himself to guarantee that Christmas is not just a holiday, but it truly is a holy day that means the God who made us is at peace with us. Yes, there truly is peace on earth because of mercy mild; God and sinners are reconciled.

What all this means is that we not only have the Word of the Word. We also have the Word’s Word. We also have Jesus’ word and promise that every Christmas we celebrate is a Christmas where there never needs to be any repining. This is what our Lesson says about the work of Jesus in verse 16: “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” If someone you know shows grace to you, that is really nice. If Jesus Christ shows grace to you, that is really something else altogether. You and I have received grace from God – love we in no way deserve, but that we have – which is, John said, “in place of grace already given.” That just means it doesn’t stop. God’s grace just keeps on coming and coming into our lives day after day.

In God’s grace you and I were born at a time when he chose for us to come into the world in the place he chose for us to come into this world. In God’s grace we were also born again, when he chose to give us the faith to believe in the one who was born of the virgin Mary, and who ended up suffering under Pontius Pilate – and then being crucified, dying and being buried. And, then, so we could know that that suffering and death accomplished forgiveness and pardon for every single thing we have ever done wrong, he was raised from death to life on the third day, and has now returned to the glory he had from all eternity, where he is preparing a mansion for us as our home that is so different from the cradle that was his first home in that Bethlehem manger.

Because of who the Word is, we can trust his word that it will be so. All the commandments that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai, which cause us so much repining, because of how we cannot perfectly do what they tell us to do, were perfectly done by Jesus Christ. In God’s grace, God the Father gave his word that he would send the Word to do just that in place of every single one of us, so that when the Father looks at his Son in the manger, he also sees you and me, covered not by the hay, but by the blood his Son would someday shed and by the perfect life he would continue to live. Yes, the greatest gift of Christmas is to know that Jesus did all that for me, so that when I leave this earth I will live with him forever in joy, meaning that until that day I want to live for him with joy. That is the truth which the Word gives us in his Word. 

You know, another word we probably don’t use too often – in fact, I don’t know if I have ever spoken this word in a sentence, either – is the word “Hence.” “Hence, all sorrow and repining.” But that word can help us understand the greatest blessing and gift of Christmas. Hence, go away, get out of here, never come back again, God doesn’t want you around here anymore. Hence, your honest reasons for being sad because of losses and sicknesses and the death of loved ones. Hence, all your honest regrets for having failed a faithful friend or your dear Lord God. Hence, all your honest confessions of grumbling and complaining. Hence, your fears that God is not on your side. Hence, your concerns that God could never love you. Hence, your worries about what the next life is all about. Hence, anything that the devil will try to use to take away your confidence and certainty that every day is Christmas Day for a child of God, because every day is a day that in God’s Word we can open up the pages of what God has spoken to us, and know that we have the word of the Word – Jesus Christ, the Son of God – who has given us his Word – his oath and his promise – that any reason for repining has been taken care of by the Christ Child, meaning that our only possible reason for repining at Christmas is that there’s no way we could ever give him enough thanks and praise for all he has done. But, hence, even that. Yes, hence all sorrow and repining, for in this sometimes dark world and our sometimes dark life, the Sun of Grace is shining. And that is why we today can speak the words we know so very well and do say so very often with love and joy — and truly wish each other through Christ a Merry Christmas. So, dear people of God, Merry Christmas! Amen.

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