Sunday, December 25, 2005

Sermon: Christmas

25 Dec 2005 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 1:1-14

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

John opens his Gospel using the very same words Moses uses to begin the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning.” He takes us back to the beginning of everything – of time and space itself. And notice that during this, the very first nanosecond of everything, we find that something was already in existence: the Word. Before the beginning of time and space, the Word existed with God, and the Word was God.

Isn’t this a great way to begin a Gospel? Instead of starting with Jesus’ genealogy, or the Christmas story, St. John talks in riddles.

But this is so important, because John is telling us about Jesus. Jesus existed before Jesus. Jesus existed before existence. Jesus is eternal, and not bound by time. In other words, Jesus is God. This is important because it sets up the wonder of Christmas! Jesus is not a created being, and yet when he was born, he took on created flesh. Jesus transcends all time and space, and yet he was born on a specific date at a specific time, and he occupied a tiny area contained within the skin of an infant. Jesus is almighty, and yet became all-helpless. Jesus is all glorious, and yet veiled his glory to the point of wearing diapers.

Why does God do this? This, dear friends, is the great question. The world gets it wrong. Time and Newsweek get it wrong. Sadly, a lot of Christian churches get it wrong. Jesus didn’t come to give us the law – Moses already did that. Jesus didn’t come to teach us morality, we all know right from wrong. Jesus didn’t come to be only a teacher – the world has seen thousands of great teachers before and after Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to advocate a political position, to advance a social agenda, or to tell us what kind of vehicle to drive.

God becomes one with his creation, he breaks into space and time, because there is a plan. There is a real and profound need for him to be here. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

Theologians argue about whether or not God would have taken flesh even if we had not fallen into sin. Who can say one way or the other? But this much we know for sure: “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… born of God.” He was “born to raise each child of earth, born to give us second birth.”

And what is the connection between the baby lying in a manger and our being born again? How are we born again? Notice what our Gospel text says: “not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Our being born again is a lot like Jesus’ birth: it is supernatural, it is divine, it is mysterious. Our being born again, becoming children of God, is not a “human decision.” Nobody decides to follow Jesus or makes a decision to accept Jesus as savior. Rather we are “born of God.” It happens to us without our will, even in spite of our will!

Our epistle text speaks of how Christmas is tied to being born again: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

We are born again not by our willpower, not by our good deeds, not by our decision to accept Jesus, not by some waterless baptism of the Holy Spirit championed by certain sects – but by a “washing of rebirth.” We are washed clean by water and the Word! This baptismal font is where the Holy Spirit hovers – just as surely as the glory of the Lord appeared as a pillar of fire and as a cloud over the children of Israel. When the water was poured on us with the Lord’s words, the Holy Spirit was placed on us, and we were indeed, in the very words of Jesus, “born again… born of water and the Spirit.”

So, the Word took on flesh, Jesus was born, so that we might be born anew. Through the washing of rebirth, Jesus saves us. And this is for no other reason than that God is merciful and he loves his whole creation.

John describes this incarnation of God as life and light. These are the opposites of death and darkness. The old priest Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied in words we still sing in the liturgy: “Through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Apart from Jesus, we sit in the dark, and wait to die. There is no hope, and no direction, no guidance. But with the coming of Jesus, the Dayspring, who has come to us on a mission of mercy, he brings us light and guides our feet. Jesus is the fulfillment of the psalmists’ prophecy: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The Word, dear Christian friends, is Jesus. The Word isn’t information recorded in a book – the Word is the living, breathing Christ, God in the flesh, who has snatched us from darkness and death, whose light guides us to eternal life.

“The true light that gives light to every man was coming in the world.” Notice that John says the light is given to all men. And yet, not all men want it! It is as though a winning lottery ticket were distributed to every person, but most people decided they didn’t need it – some politely, others violently. The twisted response of the world to the coming of Jesus is testimony to the wretchedness of man. “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” The world rejects Jesus, rejects the Church, rejects the Scriptures, rejects the sacraments, and rejects eternal life itself. The world embraces the culture of darkness and death.

But thanks be to God that we baptized, reborn children of God have seen the light, and have received the gift of eternal life! “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Thanks be to God St. John has written a new account of “in the beginning,” that the fall of Genesis was conquered by the rising of Jesus. The degradation of human flesh by sin into the stuff of corruption and death has been checked and turned around by the One who has taken on our flesh, and yet who is incorruptible, and who has conquered death for all time.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In six days, he created all things, and on the seventh day, he rested. But there has followed an Eighth Day, the first day in a new age of creation. That new creation has begun, dear friends. On the Eighth Day, the Creator became one with his creation. We are in the last days as we move ever closer to the end of the Book of Revelation, in which all darkness, misery, suffering, and death are conquered and overthrown.

For the baby Jesus, God in the flesh, was born in a manger – a food trough. He was born in a place called Bethlehem – literally, the House of Bread. He is the true bread from heaven, the new manna, which he bids us to eat. His blood is the blood of the new passover, the new testament, which he bids us to drink. His divine body and blood are melded with ours, raising us to himself.

This, all ye faithful, is the meaning of Christmas. The birth of Jesus, the Son in flesh appearing, has heralded a new age, the beginning of the end of time, the beginning of the end of death. God and man are one in flesh and in eternity. We are claimed as his own by holy baptism, and nourished by holy communion and holy absolution. The Word made flesh is a lamp to our feet as he proclaims his Gospel to us. Sin, death, and the devil have been conquered. The new heaven and the new earth are now under construction, and we are citizens of this heaven above.

“Glory to God in the highest! Oh come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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