Now Let's Get Personal
Did you hear about the controversy surrounding the movie “Bad Santa?” People are upset that the good name of Santa is being besmirched. Or did you hear about the DJ in the east who lost his job because he debunked the Santa myth? He told parents to be sure to listen to a special broadcast with their children. On the special broadcast he showed how it was physically impossible for a man to do what it was claimed Santa did. Santa would have to be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, things which only God is, for him to deliver presents to children round the world. For pointing out that Santa isn't God, the DJ lost his job. People took it personally. We want to get personal tonight, and it's going to involve the big guy in the red suit.
We're dealing with the Second Commandment tonight which commands us not to misuse the name of the Lord our God. It's easy to misuse the name of people you don't know personally. They may be real persons, but they are not real to you. Like it or not, admit it not, that is why you can use the name of God as an interjection, “O God this;” “O my God that.” You casually say, “O Lord” or that typical southern, “Lordy, Lordy” because the true God and Lord isn't real to you.
You disagree, but I can prove it to you. You don't use the names of any member of our church in such a casual way because they're real people to you. For example, you don't use my name as an interjection or expression at a church dinner. You don't say, “O my Paul,” or “For Paul's sake” because I would be turning my head every couple of minutes wondering what you wanted. I'm standing in that room with you; you know it would drive me batty if you said my name carelessly or uselessly and didn't really want me.
Ah there's the rub. You can use God's name, the name of Jesus as an expression of joy, pain, anger, or just as a meaningless expression because God isn't real to you. He really doesn't hear you every time you use His name. He isn't really in that room with you. You use the name of the big guy in the red suit with more care than you do the name of your God and Lord because that fictional character is more real to you than He is.
If you don't know someone personally, you don't expect anything from them let alone anything good from them. I don't know Michael Dell, so I don't expect that when I get into financial difficulty he will come and help me out. I don't know Attorney General Greg Abott; so if I get into legal trouble, I don't expect that he would care let alone help. I don't know the Mayo brothers, so when I get sick I don't look for them to know about it, care about, or do anything. People I don't know personally I don't go to with my problems, and neither do you.
Can you see how this fact condemns our lack of prayer to God in difficult times? Can you see how we are condemned because we don't expect God to care about us, keep track of us, or come to our aid? We may think we're being humble by not bothering God with our needs and troubles; we may think we're being lowly by not expecting God to come to our aid, but we're really just showing that we don't know God personally or that He isn't real enough to us for us to expect Him to care or help.
One of the saddest stories I know is of a man condemned to die in the electric chair. As they strapped him in and made final preparations to electrocute him, he began to shake violently back and forth crying out in terror, “Help me Joe Louis! Save me Joe Louis!” At the time Joe Louis was the heavyweight boxing champion. In an hour of desperate need, this man knew no other name to call upon other than that of a famous boxer.
How will it be for us who've acted as if God did not hear us when we used His name? Will we dare utter the name of God in prayer when we have uttered it frivolously so many times in our life? Will we who've taught our kids to make big and large, sky's the limit, requests of Santa think to call upon God when our needs our bigger and larger than the skies?
It's easy to misuse the name of a person you don't know personally, but you can't forget the name of the person who saved your life. Actually, we don't forget the name of the person who helped us out in a particularly rough time in our life. I won't forget Master Sergeant Fuge who helped me when I was a newly commissioned second lieutenant and had gotten myself into a bad situation. You probably have people like that in your life; God wants to be that kind of Person in your life. So badly does He want this that He took the incredible step of taking on flesh and blood to enter your life.
You can't forget the name of the person who helped you out in life; you will never forget the name of the person who saved your life: especially if your own sins, your own failings got you into the predicament. And that's how it is for us and God. He gave us everything: life, breath, family, food, home, ability to work and countless other things. But we were naughty not nice with such things. These things rather than leading us back to Him from whom they came, led us away from Him. The life that was not our own became our own to do as we please. We regarded the breath that filled our lungs as coming from them and thought not of the Giver. The good gifts of God we used as excuses to stay away from God.
What does the big guy in the red suit give to naughty boys and girls? Pieces of coal. What does God give to naughty sinners? A Savior who is Christ the Lord. But the picture can't be of us pining away for a Savior. No, while were yet sinners, while were enemies of God, while we were ungodly says St. Paul in Romans 5 God sent us a Savior. And it wasn't a fat guy in a red suit, it was His only beloved Son clothed in our flesh and blood.
You can't forget the name of the person who saved your life especially if you know your own sins, your own failings is what put you in the desperate situation, and especially if the one who saves you ends up dying in the process. If somebody took a bullet for you, you'd remember his name. If someone died from smoke inhalation after dragging you out of a burning building, you'd remember his name. If someone died and donated an organ for you and they told you his or her name, I promise you, you would never, you could never forget the name.
If only Jesus had none something that special for us, if only Jesus had stepped in front of a bullet, dragged us from a burning building, or donated an organ to save this physical life of ours, but all Jesus did was save us from hell, death, and Satan. All Jesus did was take on our sins, our wrongs, our guilt, our shame, and die for it, be damned for it. That's all Jesus did.
Santa is revered because he's a jolly old soul. We sin and he “ho, ho, ho's.” But with Jesus it's we sin and He bleeds, cries, and dies. Kids are pointed to Santa because he gives and gives and keeps on giving. Jesus just gives His body, His blood, His heart and soul to save miserable, thankless sinners. Of the top five Christmas songs of the 21st century, so far that is, not one mentions Jesus Christ. The top one is the paean of praise to the big red guy, “Santa Claus is coming to Town.” This world will not soon forget Santa, but it is well on the way to forgetting the name above all names.
Well, we won't forget that name. How can we forget the name of the One who saved us from the death and damnation that we had gotten ourselves into? How can we forget the name of the One who gave up His life in order to save ours? How can we forget the name of the One in whose name we inherit all that He deserves? It's as if the person who died to save you made you the heir of his estate. It wasn't enough that He suffered for the wrongs you had done; it wasn't enough that He gave up His life to save yours; in His will He left you all that belongs to Him. Jesus, left you His Body and Blood in His last will and testament, and that Body and Blood in and on you gives you entrance to the good graces of God and eternal life itself.
Now if someone had done all of this for you, not only could you not forget His name, you could not misuse it either, could you? And wouldn't you quite naturally praise and thank that name? There's a man in North Zulch who 20 years ago I preached the Gospel to. Every single time I see him, he thanks me. Every time he introduces me to someone new, he praises me for preaching the Gospel to him. I've never told him to do that; in fact it's a bit embarrassing, but his overflowing heart cannot help itself. It's only natural to praise and thank someone who has saved your life. As this man needed no command to sing my praises, so we need none to sing our Savior's.
Likewise, it is only natural for us whom God in Christ has helped out of so many troubles to call upon Him in times of trouble. If Michael Dell had come to your aid in the past, you would know you could go to him in the future. His name would come to mind instantly. That's they way God wants His name to be for you. Though Satan will rage and shout that you're not good enough for God to help, though you own reason will point out all the logical reasons for God not to help, in Jesus God has shown Himself to be an ever present help in time of trouble. If He willingly came from heaven to earth, into your very flesh and blood, and under your heavy sins to help, then you can count on Him in every single trouble you will ever face.
Friends, Santa isn't bad. He's part of the mythology of the 19th century. And I confess I'm a real Santa lover. My favorite wrapping paper is green with Santa faces. My folks had a plastic, full color Santa face that was one of the fixtures of our house at Christmas. If that had come down to me, I would still put it up. It brings back warm memories and that child-like wonder that came with Christmases past. But Santa is not kinder or gentler than Jesus, and Jesus is real. He's more than warm memories and child-like wonder. He's my God, Lord and Savior who just can't wait for me to call upon Him, to rely on Him, to expect only good things from Him. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek II (12-10-03), Second Commandment