Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sermon for the Memorial for Laura "Dodie" Robb

Sermon for the Memorial Service for Dodie Robb (February 12, 2009)
“O Holy Night” (Luke 2:8-16)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, especially to you, dear Ron, Sherri, Amanda, Jamie, and John, and to all of you family and friends gathered here today.

The text for our consideration today is from the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 2:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2:8-16)

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

That was one of Dodie's favorites. As you heard in the obituary, she went “overboard at Christmas.” But that seems like a strange song to sing at a memorial service in February. Some of you may have thought that very thing as you heard it sung a short time ago. It's not Christmas, after all. The presents have long been stashed away and forgotten. The trees have long dried out and been cast aside. The decorations have been carefully placed in boxes, ready to be taken out again next year.

And it sure didn't seem like much of a holy night last Friday night and early Saturday morning as you gathered around Dodie's bedside and saw her suffering in her final hours. You gathered around her bedside, and you saw a body wracked with cancer … a body that just couldn't take it any longer. Death never seems very holy. It can be an agonizing thing … for the one who suffers, and for the ones who watch their loved one suffer and who sorely miss them when they are gone. It's been said that death is just a part of life. But that's not true. Death was never meant to be a part of God's creation. It entered into the world as a consequence of sin … going our own selfish way rather than God's way. Death entered into the world following the sin of Adam and Eve, and ever since then, we all share a sinful nature that does not want to do things God's way. Long lay the world in sin and error pining. And now, the world is broken. Disease enters our bodies. Sometimes the doctors can fix us. Sometimes they can't. But even for those of us who live to a ripe old age, death is still staring us in the face.

But that holy night when Christ was born gives us hope and comfort. The angel announced this birth to the shepherds. He said that this was “good news of great joy.” This child would be the Savior. And a choir of angels sang that the birth of this child would bring “peace.” The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem to gather around the bedside of the newborn child, a bed of straw and hay, with his mother Mary and his foster father Joseph. Into a world full of death, Life itself was born. In the reading from St. John's Gospel earlier, you heard Jesus say that he is the one “who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Jesus, the Son of God, was born to be the Savior of the world, to be our Savior from sin and death.

But the joy of Christmas soon turned to grief and sorrow. Many years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah said that he would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) He saw the ravages of sin and death in the world. People with all kinds of illnesses and maladies came to him to be healed, and he healed them. Jesus raised people from the dead. All this to show his divine power and that he was the promised Savior who was to come and reverse the effects of sin in the world. And what did he get for this? Opposition. Persecution. Rejection. Crucifixion.

But this, too, was all in God's plan. Jesus endured the darkness of sin and death for us, when the sins of the world were laid upon him at the cross. There, at the cross, the sinless Son of God died for you and for me, paying the price for your sins and mine. That's the good news that the angels sang about at Christmas. This is the peace the angels sang about. It's not a peace between nations, but rather peace between God and Man. Through the shed blood of Christ, you and I are reconciled to God the Father. St. Paul wrote that, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Cor. 5:17) Now, all who trust in Christ and his saving death receive that forgiveness personally. In the Gospel reading from St. John chapter 6 that you heard earlier, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out … This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” (John 6:37, 40) Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, 'til he appeared and the soul felt its worth. God loved you so much that he sent his one and only Son to die for you … and for Dodie … to forgive you all your sins and to give you everlasting life. That's how much your soul was worth to Jesus … that he would give up his own life in exchange for yours and for your salvation. If Jesus loves you that much, you can also be assured that he is with you today to comfort you and to give you peace and strength in your time of sorrow and grief.

It was a holy night when Christ was born, with shepherds and Mary and Joseph gathered around the bedside of the Baby Jesus. It was a holy moment when Christ died on the cross, with his mother Mary and his friend John gathered there, along with the soldiers who crucified him and the crowd that mocked him. And it was a holy morning when Jesus rose again on Easter, with angels once again present to announce the good news that Jesus had conquered death. Some of the women who followed Jesus went to gather at the tomb, and found the stone rolled away and the angel sent them to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive.

Consider these holy gatherings – at the manger, at the cross, and at the empty tomb – and think about how that sanctifies those gatherings around the bedside of our believing, dying loved ones. It was a holy night as you gathered at the bedside of your wife … at the bedside of your mother. In the face of death, Dodie had already received the new birth in Holy Baptism and by faith in Jesus as her Savior. You heard these words earlier from Romans 6: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Dodie had the new birth by Baptism and by faith in Jesus. Her death was a birth of sorts, as she entered into the new life of heaven. In the Church, the day on which we remember the saints of old is not their birthday, but often it is their death-day. And so you can remember February 7 as Saint Dodie's day. She was already a saint … forgiven and holy for the sake of Christ … but now she has joined the Church Triumphant in heaven, of which we sing, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confessed Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia.”

Now, we await that great and final day that Jesus promised: “Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him [has] eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.


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