The Holy Apostle Saint John writes, “The Holy Ghost will reprove the world of sin” (footnote: except on Christmas and Easter). When a pastor practices closed communion on Christmas and Easter, some people become upset, to say the least. Five minutes before the service begins, visitors or long-lost members walk through the door. Most times they are accompanied by their families; their faces wrapped with pure joy. Most enter the sanctuary without any guilt or remorse because they have not true repentance or sorrow.
The typical Christian visitor, either because of teaching or ignorance, believes that his sincere and heartfelt love for Jesus equates to true fellowship in doctrine. This means that he is deserving of full acceptance and admittance at the altar. The habitually-absent member doesn’t have a conscience tortured by his sin of absence or rejection of Christ’s Word and Sacraments. It is likely that, though he has been reproved before with phone calls, visits, and letters without response, today is different; today is the day when he will slip by the pastor unnoticed or without confrontation because it would cause too great a scene. It would unsettle the joy of the high and holy day to reprove a sinner. How dare the Holy Spirit reprove sin on Christmas or Easter? How dare He bring the secure and comfortable sinner to his knees in sorrow over his sins?
The arrogance of man knows no bounds. Since the fall, the creature has desired to be the creator. When confronted with his sin, he runs to hide it. If it cannot be hidden, he quickly shifts the blame to another. If faith has not been engendered in the heart by the Holy Spirit, man starts to war against God and His Church on earth no matter the day of the year. No pastor wishes to start a war at any time in the year, but especially not on Christmas and Easter. Though if he cares enough that each man be truly inwardly and outwardly restored and reconciled to God through the forgiveness of sins, the pastor will risk what has the potential to erupt into warfare on the high holy day. He will preach the Law and confront sin because he loves and because he cares for the soul of each person in his care. “This, then, is what it means to begin true repentance; and here man must hear such a sentence as this: You are all of no account, whether you be manifest sinners or saints [in your own opinion]; you all must become different and do otherwise than you now are and are doing [no matter what sort of people you are], whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you may. Here no one is [righteous, holy], godly, etc” (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article III, 3).
The Holy Spirit reproves the sinner so that he may receive the remission of sins in Christ no matter the day of the year. To every man, woman, and child who has been led to believe that the total sum of the Gospel is that Jesus loves you, hear this now. “ [The] …Gospel is this, namely, to convict of sin, and to offer for Christ’s sake the remission of sins and righteousness, and the Holy Ghost, and eternal life, and that as regenerate men we should do good works. Thus Christ comprises the sum of the Gospel when He says in Luke 24:47: That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in My name among all nations” (Apology Article XII, 29-30). Each person, therefore, must in his own time, come to realize that “we are all beggars.” These were the final words of Luther written on a piece of paper and tucked in his pocket.
The Law of God teaches us that we are all beggars, that is, we have nothing of which to offer God, but must receive from Him everything necessary for body and soul. To know this and believe it is quite humbling. The Law of God reveals man’s sin and is meant to make you conscience-stricken. You need to know just what sin takes from you, namely, fear, love, and trust in God. It robs you of life and sends you down to the pit. Dust you are and to dust you shall return, the Scriptures proclaim. So I ask you, “Is it not better for one to undergo the uncomfortable reproof of sin here and now where the remission of sins is proclaimed in Christ name, then to suffer the reproof of Christ who sits in judgment on the last day?” However uncomfortable the conversation with the pastor may be on Christmas and Easter, I can guarantee it is less heated then what will come on the last day.
On Sunday morning, the pastor is ready and prepared to bring the people forgiveness for all their sins by way of the Word and Sacrament. It follows, then, that there would be overwhelming joy in the heart of any pastor who sees a beggar walking up to him before the service on Christmas or Easter, saying, “Forgive me for I have sinned.” Repentance, humility, and faith will be met with the word of absolution. That one will go back to his house justified. There is, at least in my short experience, a gut wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach when making the choice to confront a person living in unrepentant sin. For which is easier to say, “I forgive you in the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” or “Can I talk with you? Would you please follow me to my office.” To the humble, God has promised to raise them up, but to the wicked, He has promised to cast them down (Psalm 147:6).
In Proverbs 15 we read, “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.” The pastor who ignores the sin and the sinner who tries to dodge the reproof are both equally guilty before the Lord. It is the responsibility of the pastor to be ready in season and out of season to give life-giving reproof, which is the whole sum of the Gospel. It is also for every Christian to daily live in his baptism, which is drowning the old Adam with all its sin and rising again as the new man. The new man is ashamed of sin, and of the body of sin, so he seeks out the comfort of the Gospel in the forgiveness of his sins.
There is good news for every sinner. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. The Father, for the sake of the Son, who bore our iniquities unto death, gives to Jerusalem double for all her sins (Isaiah 40:2). He lavishes His unconditional love on us, His redeemed children, by not only canceling the debt that stood against us, but by also bringing to us the treasure which comes in the resurrection unto eternal life.
If you are the one who has made the choice to skip church consistently, habitually, and without remorse, now is the time to repent. Seek out your pastor and confess your sins, and once more join the fellowship of believers in the Holy Supper of the Lord. If you have wrongly partaken of the Lord’s Supper because of unrepentance or false unity, repent, confess your sins, and you will be met with forgiveness. If you have started warfare against Christ and His Church on earth because of past reproof, humble yourself before the Lord, repent, and receive the Gospel. Return to His Church and to His humble servants that they might receive you back into the fold with much rejoicing for, though you were lost, now you are found. If you are the pastor who has remained silent when you should have reproved, repent and seek out your father confessor, that you too might also be absolved of your sin and receive the joy of the Gospel.
I speak for myself and, I believe, many of brothers in the ministry, when I say there will be a visible joy upon our faces in seeing the one who left in anger return in humility. We will rejoice with the angels and with Christ Himself, for, as it is written, there is greater joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over the ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
To set the record straight, I have never woken up the mornings of Christmas and Easter thinking to myself, “How might I ruin Christmas for someone this year.” It is true that I have been put into difficult and uncomfortable situations on these high and holy days because people come securely in sin. It is true, that the ferocious nature of man’s sin has wounded me, but I would rather be wounded now in pursuit of preaching the Gospel than to idly stand by as people damn themselves to hell. A pastor does not seek to ruin Christmas and Easter for families. His desire is for the family of Christ to be truly united in the reconciliation that comes by Christ’s blood and righteousness. Don’t be fooled. The war on Christmas and Easter isn’t necessarily a visible battle. The war on Christmas and Easter is a spiritual conflict with the high cost of salvation.