Chi Rho – 11.29.2020

[Luke 1:39-45, 67-75]

          In the year 312 AD, the roman emperor Constantine was about to head into battle, the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. But before he went into battle, he received a vision from God. He saw a symbol, this symbol here, which sort of looks like a P with an X at the bottom. And he heard these words from Jesus “by this symbol you will conquer.” After he won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine made that symbol – which is called the Chi Rho – his military standard. They put it on banners and shields, he even engraved it on his helmet. The Chi Rho was a symbol of victory, that God was with them and that they would have victory. Now historians, of course, argue over whether Constantine really had a vision where Jesus told him to use this symbol right before his amazing military victory, but what we do know for certain is that the Chi Rho really WAS a military standard that they actually did put it on shields and helmets and banners. But what does it mean? What does Chi Rho mean and why do we use it?

          Today is the start of a brand new sermon series called The Living Chrismon. You may not know this, but all around us in worship are symbols. And every symbol carries a story – a reason that we use it. Some are obvious – like the cross, but others are more obscure like the Chi Rho. And so for this advent season we are going to spend some time exploring the symbols around us and the stories they tell about our Lord and Savior Jesus. I’ll be honest with you – this sermon series has the strangest inspiration. Last year, when we were decorating for Christmas, I noticed that some of these ornaments looked a little bit familiar (hold up ornaments next to your tattoos). And I had some folks ask me questions about these symbols and I realized a lot of people recognize these things, but have no idea what they mean. You see, everything on this tree represents Jesus. They’re called Chrismons, which is short for Christ-monograms. Symbols that represent Christ. Basically they’re fancy ornaments, but they’re not just pretty – they have meaning, they have purpose. So for the next few weeks we are going to tell the Christmas story, through the symbols that have been hiding in plain sight all along.

          As I mentioned, this symbol is the Chi Rho, and it looks like a P with an X through it. Which is very confusing, because it’s not a P or an X. The letters are different in Greek, and the thing that looks like a P is actually the Greek letter for R (which we call “Rho”), and the X is actually a CH (which we call “Chi”). Chi-Rho is actually a Ch and a R, which are the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ. Basically, that symbol is a mash up of the first two letters in the Greek word Christos, which is where we get the English word Christ. One of my favorite misconception for people outside the church is that some folks think that Christ is Jesus’ last name. Jesus Christ. But it’s not his last name – it’s his title. Christos is the Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah – which means anointed or chosen one. The label Christ emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus – it emphasizes the fact that Jesus was God’s son.

          So now let’s take a second and dive into our scripture lesson to look at the pieces of the story that emphasize the Christ-like nature of Jesus’ birth. The first story starts in chapter 1 of Luke, verse 39. At this point in the story Mary knows she is pregnant, and she’s going to visit Elizabeth who is also pregnant. Mary just found out, but Elizabeth has been pregnant for a while. It says, [read v.39-45]. It’s a quick scene, but there’s a couple of big things I want you to catch. First, Elizabeth’s line “why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to greet me?” Elizabeth is much older than Mary, you would think the respectful greeting should go the other way – with Mary being honored to see Elizabeth, but notice what she called her “the mother of my Lord.” This thing going on in Mary’s belly, she is pregnant with the Lord. Baby Jesus is the Lord of us all. The Lord is coming, and Mary is a part of that. That grants Mary this level of respect and that’s why Elizabeth is so honored to see her. And then look at what happened in the last sentence, [read v.45 again]. Elizabeth uses that word again – Lord. First she was talking about the baby in Mary’s tummy – Jesus is the Lord. But in this last line, she’s talking about the Lord being the one who is fulfilling promises – talking about God who fulfilled his promise to Mary. So that word Lord represents Jesus in the belly AND the God in heaven who sends angels. Because of course, Jesus is God.

          But let’s think about that word “Lord” for a second. What does it mean to have a LORD in your life? The idea of Lordship sort of brings up imagery of royalty. Jesus is king, and we are his subjects. A lord is someone who leads, someone who guides, someone who tells us how to move forward. A good Lord is someone worthy of obedience, service, even sacrifice. If you trust in your leader, if you have faith in their leadership – you’ll do anything for your leader, for your Lord. Jesus as Lord of your life, means that he is the leader you trust, the one you obey. Some of struggle with that, we struggle to bow to a lord, because we are not willing to give up control of our lives. There’s a story from a guy named Bruce Larson, he was a counselor in New York, and sometimes his clients would struggle with a question, so Bruce would suggest they walk down from the office to the RCA building on Fifth Avenue. In the entrance of that building is a gigantic statue of Atlas, a beautifully proportioned man who, with all his muscles and straining, is holding the world upon his shoulders. There he is, the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand up under this burden. And Bruce would point to the statue, and say, “that’s one way to live. Trying to carry the world on your shoulders.” And then Bruce would walk the client across the street. On the other side of Fifth Avenue is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and there behind the high altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old, and with no effort he is holding the world in one hand. We have a choice. We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, “I give up, Lord; here’s my life. I give you my world, the whole world.”  If you are carrying the world on your shoulders this morning, I have good news about the Lord of us all, the coming king.

 Elizabeth says in verse 44, [read it again]. The baby leaped for joy. And as painful as that probably was to have a baby jumping around in there – there’s no mistaking the key message. When we hear that the Lord is coming, the response is joy. Now, let me ask – why is it so joyful? If Jesus is Lord, and that means that he’s the boss – why would I be excited that he is coming? He’s going to come into my life and tell me how to live, tell me what to do. When I was in high school I used to work at a place called TCBY, yogurt shop – ice cream. And I remember, we hated it when the boss was around. He wouldn’t let us goof off and eat all the toppings. Big time kill joy. But all it took was one day –  one of the ice cream machines breaks, register is on the fritz, my replacement didn’t show up and suddenly we were swamped with customers. I was completely overwhelmed and terrified – I didn’t know what to do. But the boss swooped in, took charge, problem solved, you handle this, you cover this area, organized the customers, fixed the machine. When it was overwhelming, having the boss around was great news. I was so joyful the boss had arrived. I think our level of joy at the approach of the coming king is directly connected to the level of mess in our life. ON the good days, a lot us think maybe we should be the lord of our own lives. We should be the boss, we got this. Maybe that’s why I’m so excited about the Christmas season this year. I am so eager to hand the mess of 2020 over to Jesus, my Lord and leader is here – the boss is going to get us back on track. The baby leaped for joy, and honestly? The darkness has been deep, and the good news that the Lord and savior, light of the world is coming to drive out the darkness? Makes me want to leap for joy too.

Then we move over to Zechariah’s bit. After Elizabeth has the baby, John the Baptist, her husband Zechariah has something to say. He goes, [read v.68-69]. Now there’s a lot of other stuff he says, but I want to zero in on these two verses for this morning. With Elizabeth and Mary we saw two big things: 1.) the Lord is coming and 2.) the response is joy. But over in Zechariah we get more details. What does God do through Jesus that causes us to be joyful? Well, let’s walk through it. [read v.68a]. Praise… because he has come to his people. That’s the first thing the Lord does. We see it over and over in this story. The angel comes to Mary, this was not Mary’s idea. Mary comes to Elizabeth – that’s what makes baby John the Baptist do the belly boogie. May comes to Elizabeth, and so Jesus comes to us. The first thing our Lord does is comes to us. And I love this reassurance because sometimes when we’re in the darkness searching for the light, when we are in the valley and we don’t know how to climb out – sometimes it feels like God is hiding from us. But we don’t have to find God, the first thing the Lord does is he comes to us. Whatever you got going on in life – God is coming to you and nothing can stop him. There’s no government restriction or virus or job trouble or sin that can keep God away. Some of you think that shame is too much for God. You think your brokenness makes you unworthy to give your life to Jesus. But the first thing God does in the person of Jesus is that he comes for you. Your lord is coming to you.

[read v.68, full verse]. That’s the second thing the Lord does. First he comes to us, and then he redeems us. Your lord, the one we give our entire life to – he is not here just to boss you around. He is here to save your life. See, here’s the thing – when we do something wrong, we feel shame. And for some people that shame we feel causes us to run back to God. We realize what we did wrong and we come back to God. But for others – the shame causes them to give up on God. To give up on themselves. Sin and shame is like a stain on our soul. You ever get that cranberry stuff from thanksgiving on your shirt? I’ve got a 2 year old who wears most of meals and an 8 month old who thinks he’s the next Jackson Pollock. I know about stains. And at the beginning of every meal I try to keep him clean. Don’t lean over your plate buddy, don’t hold the spoon upside down, don’t, don’t – too late. Half the time I just give up, alright take the shirt off, finish the meal tarzan style. And I think we do the same thing in our lives. We think about sexual sin, (stuff like lusting after someone who is not our spouse, pornography, sex outside of marriage, adultery) and other stuff like greed, pride, lying, racism. And we see the stain, this thing we have done, and we think – it’s too late. My shirts already dirty, might as well keep it up. But the redemption of God washes us clean. Whatever you got going on in your life – it’s not too late to come back to God. It is never too late in this life to seek forgiveness. The Lord comes to us, and redeems us. He washes us clean, scrubs away the shame and gives us a second chance. [read v.68 again]

Verse 74 gives us the third and final thing Jesus as Lord does for us. It says, [read v.74-75]. The third thing the Lord does for us is rescue us for service. He rescues us from our enemies, and enables us to serve him without fear. Jesus comes to us, redeems us, and gives us the ability to serve him. Even with our brokenness, our messed up past, and all the mistakes we’ve made up until now – Jesus still wants to work through us to make the world a better place. That’s redemption. It’s not just that he washed you clean, but that he considers you worthy to put to work. Jesus wants to build his kingdom through you. The last thing Jesus does as our Lord, as our Christos, our King is that he takes our silly, broken efforts and enables us to serve in His kingdom.  

          The good news this morning is that Jesus lords over us. And I know that sounds a little weird. You might be saying, “I don’t know how I feel about having someone lord over me.” We have lost faith in human leaders, the good news is that it’s JESUS who lords over us. He’s not a boss who comes into our messy life and just starts yelling at everyone. He’s the strong leader we need to pull us out of the darkness. Jesus lords over us. I don’t think Constantine understood that. I look at the Chi-Rho, and think about its history as a military emblem. Constantine thought Jesus’ label as Christ, his role as a strong king meant military victory, conquering people. But I think the way Jesus truly lords over us is very different. If you remember the way baby John the Baptist bounced in the belly – Jesus as Lord is something that makes us want to leap for joy. Jesus is our king because he comes to us, redeems us, and then enables us to serve. Jesus lords over us, and leads by example – and the example is reaching people through love and service.

          That doesn’t mean that it’s easy though. Think about it this way. If Jesus is our Lord, then we must obey him. There are moments in life when we want to say “No, Lord.” We submit to Jesus as our king, as our messiah, as the Christ. We submit and say, “I’m going to follow you Jesus.” Until Jesus asks us to do something we don’t want to do. Then we want to say “no, Lord” Now I’m going to put this phrase on the screen – and I want you to look at it. The challenge for us today is that you only get to keep one of these words. Either you can call Jesus Lord, OR you can say “no” to him. But if he’s your lord, you can’t say no. Listen to this from Luke 6, [read v.46-47]. So when you see that facebook post, and you want to spew your venom at them, but you know that’s not how Jesus wants you to act as a Christian, or whatever sin shows up in your life, and you have a choice to follow Jesus or not– there’s no choice if Jesus is truly your lord. Look at this phrase again, “No, Lord” – When you walk out of here today, or when you sign off on the livestream, you only get to carry with you one of these words. Will you take the “no” with you, or will you call Jesus Lord?

          Jesus as Lord does three things for us this morning. He comes to us. He redeems us. And he enables us to serve. Jesus comes to us in this advent season as the Christ, as the Lord, and we respond with two things – we celebrate and we serve. The first application for us today is celebrate. Jesus the Lord, the Christ-King, comes to you! This is a very big deal. Worth leaping for joy. So celebrate! This whole season, Advent, is preparing us for God coming into the world. It’s finally a season for GOOD news after all this darkness. So the first part of the application is celebrate! Praise God for what he has done in your life. We have not done enough celebrating this year – so celebrate that the king is on his way, not to shame us but to save us.
          First we celebrate, and then we serve. Verse 69 says that [read it]. The first piece of application is that I want you to celebrate. The second thing we need to do is raise the horn of salvation.  Now I know that’s weird, but just follow me on this, back in the day – the horn represented a strong king. The king would take the horn into battle, just like the Chi Rho symbol, it was a military emblem, the horn of the king. But also, horns make a whole lot of noise. You blow the horn to send people out into battle. Jesus as Lord comes to us and redeems us. So to raise the horn of salvation, is to tell people the good news about Jesus. There are people in your life, who are beat up by this world, by this year, by their sins – and Jesus the Christ, the messiah is offering redemption. He has enabled us to serve him, he wants to put us to work building the kingdom of God, which means that he wants to put us to work sharing the good news about Jesus with everyone. People are feeling like atlas, with the world on their back, and they are looking for leader, a Lord to guide them – and in those moments, you can tell them the good news about the coming king. Raise the horn of salvation, make all kinds of noise for Jesus in this Christmas season.

          I think this sermon series is going to be a lot of fun. Each week we’re going to explore the symbols in worship all around us. The Chi-Rho teaches us that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is our king. But unlike the lords and kings of this world, Jesus comes to us in a completely different way – not as an angry boss who shames, but as strong king who saves. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you look at the phrase “no, lord” and pick which word you will keep. May you celebrate the coming king with leaps of joy. And may you raise the horn of salvation – to make sure everyone around knows the redemption that comes from Jesus. Amen.

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