Christian Funeral Service for Herbert Dannenfeldt Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Text: Luke 2:8-14 18:2098
Theme: Fear Not! I Bring You Good Tidings of Great Joy
What a song those angels sang. Don’t you wish you had been there that first Christmas night to hear it? Joy among all the hosts of heaven; echoing hymns in the sky at the birth of the Lord Jesus; new-born life from God, come to earth, and laid in a manger – it all must have made for a gloriously happy scene!
What a contrast to that which we have before us today – death in a casket; the end of a long life here on earth; sadness among friends at Herb’s passing – what a contrast to Christmas night In God’s mysterious way, He took our relative and friend away from us in the midst of such a happy season. And now we are here to sadly give our final farewell just two weeks before Christmas.
But I wonder if that isn’t the way Herb might have wanted it, knowing the inevitable path that lay ahead of him due to all his surgeries and medical problems of the past few years. It certainly was the way God worked it out. Maybe the Lord and Herb saw this glorious season as a most appropriate time that would help us the most as we mourn our friend’s passing.
These are not just the decorations of a secular festival that surround us. These are the trappings that bring to our hearts and minds the joy that we Christians have, especially in the face of death, because of that Child who was born for us so many years ago. On the one hand it’s hard to sing for joy when we lose someone close to us, someone who has meant a lot to his family and to our congregation. On the other hand, it’s not that difficult because that Child who was born makes this time, even our sad hours, glad ones for that which He brings us.
So, as we bid farewell to a good friend today and sing the glad songs of the season, let us think upon the heart-warming words of the angel to the shepherds on Bethlehem’s field the night Christ was born: “Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
I. Good tiding of great joy! To all people! Yes, to all people. To you, Tim and Janet, to son Ted and his wife Diane, to Herb’s friends, and to his fellow members here at Zion. Presently, your hearts are bowed down with the loss of our friend. But we are Christians, and therefore, in a great paradoxical way, we rejoice in the midst of grief. Gladness merges with sadness in our hearts because God has sent us the message, “Fear not! Stop being afraid.” No fear. No overwhelming sorrow. But joy.
An unbeliever perhaps could not understand our joy today because in all of this he would only see defeat. He would see death cheating another human being out of life. An unbeliever would see only the hurt and pain which death inflicts. An unbeliever might even consider it brutal when I tell you to be glad and sing for joy over the wondrous things that God has now done for Herb. But I trust that in your faith you won’t misunderstand me. For this is a message of glad tidings that God gives to you even in this sad hour.
That Babe of Bethlehem was born for us, to bring us back to God after our sin separated us from Him. Herb in his life believed in Him as the one who accomplished it. For 98 years, 98!, he clung to faith in the Savior. Even in all the sad occasions and the health problems that Herb endured, the Lord kept him strong in that faith.
Now, I cannot look into a person’s heart to see what is really there. Only the Lord can do that. But the Scriptures promise: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved…‘Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame’” (Ro.10:9f).
God, in His grace and mercy, will not let the one who trusts in Christ and confesses Him to be put to shame. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
That’s why the angel cries, “Fear not; for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born…a Savior!”
Herb was one of those “people.” You and I are one of those “people” for whom a Savior is born to take away our sin and open the door of heaven to us. Believe it and rejoice in the gift He brings.
II. How interesting that we celebrate a birth and a death this day. The death makes us sad at first, but the birth turns sadness into happiness – happiness for Herb, happiness for those who in faith have gone ahead of us in death, like Herb. We might even envy our friend a little – in a good way, a very good way. Envy? Yes, envy for the eternal joy which God in His love has bestowed upon our brother now fallen asleep.
Those who go before us in faith enjoy the eternal happiness for which every believer longs. It is a happiness with God that is apart from all pain and suffering that people go through here. As the Scriptures proclaim: “They are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev.7:15f).
Ah, dear friends, such a glorious message! Believe the glad tiding of the Christmas angel with all your heart for it is divinely true. Unbelief receives nothing and knows only pain. But faith in a Savior born to die, to rise again, to prepare a mansion for us above, that faith receives the greatest Christmas gifts of all – and they are eternal. Believe this and the glory of the Lord will shine around you too even in the dark hour of grief. And you will find it pure joy to join the multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.” God grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.