Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sermon: Sunday after Christmas

30 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 2:22-40 92 Sam 7:1-16, Gal 4:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Creator of the universe doesn’t need a house to live in. He doesn’t need to dwell in a body of flesh and bones. He is not obligated to live in the prison of space and time, like we are. The cartoonist lives outside of his drawings. The software programmer lives apart from his instructions to the computer. The sculptor lives beyond the block of marble he transforms into something beautiful.

Human imagination has long wondered what it would be like for an author to step inside of his own story, or a painter to suddenly find himself stuck on his own canvass, or a computer gamer to find himself trapped in a video world with fantasy weapons, animated monsters, and the looming threat of “game over.”

And yet, we have just celebrated the incarnation and birth of God into the world He created from nothing. Our God is not merely a figment of our imagination, like a genie that lives inside a lamp, or a spirit that dwells in a stone idol. For our God, the eternal God, the Triune God, is the One who has always been, who created all matter, and who set time itself into motion “in the beginning.” And yet, according to His plan to repair the damage we have done to His creation, He humbles Himself to step inside His creation, to enrobe Himself with flesh and to bind Himself to time. He meets us where we are in order to rescue us.

In our Old Testament lesson, King David is upset that God dwells in a tent while the king lives in a palace. He wants to surround the Lord’s Presence among the people with dignity and beauty – and God tells the prophet Nathan to express His approval of David’s desire.

For ugliness is of the devil. Beauty is of God. Ugliness results from chaos, breakdown, and violence, while beauty is the result of order, building up, and peace. Beauty inspires and calls us to cry out to our Creator. Furthermore, as the people of Israel were ceasing to be nomads and were becoming permanent inhabitants of the Promised Land, their God could now establish a permanent Temple in which to dwell, a place of beauty, awe, and majesty.

And yet, the real House of the Lord is the Eternal Kingdom to be established by the Seed of David – “who will come from [David’s] body.” The Temple would be built by David’s son Solomon – whose name is derived from “Shalom” (meaning “peace”). And this Temple was to foreshadow the New and Greater Temple: the Greater Seed of David, the Prince of Peace, in whose flesh the fullness of the Godhead was to dwell.

Jesus Christ is this Temple, the Temple that was destroyed and rebuilt in three days, the Temple in which the glory of the Lord shines with uncreated light, the One whose very flesh and blood give eternal life.

Though God is everywhere, like the radio waves and television radiation that bombard our bodies 24 hours a day, we only receive His gifts, hear Him, see Him, experience Him when He chooses to reveal Himself to us in space and time – in the same way that without an antenna and a receiver, radio and TV signals are part of the unrevealed “all things invisible” as opposed to the revelation of the “visible.”

By His grace, God becomes visible, He is able to speak to us, He is able to be heard, He is able to be understood, and He has wonderful news for us!

Notice how God emphasizes His Real Presence in space and time in our Gospel. First, we are in the holy city of Jerusalem – a name also derived from “Shalom” or “Salem” (which means “Peace”). And not just in David’s City, but we find ourselves in Solomon’s Temple, where Mary is meeting her obligations under the law. For her priestly Son Jesus is the firstborn – “holy to the Lord.” Under the law, there is to be a sacrifice.

Mary is herself a temple, for God was conceived and dwelt for nine months within her body. Her flesh was genetically transmitted to her Son, her milk nursed God, and her maternal protection gave our Lord Jesus a safe home in which to dwell with mankind.

God and the fleshly temple from which He came venture to the Temple of Jerusalem, the place where God dwells, where God forgives sins by means of sacrificial acts carried out by the priesthood. And there is another temple of sorts – a prophet in whose body the Word of God dwells. And this Word uttered by Simeon declares that the boy Jesus is “salvation” in the flesh. Another of the Lord’s “temples,” the prophetess Anna, is also there to “give thanks to the Lord” and to speak to those who came to the temple where the Real Presence of the Lord was to be found.

“And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom. and the grace of God was upon Him.” For this Christ Child, this Emmanuel, this God whose mother calls Him her Savior is where God dwells in space and time for His people.

This Temple isn’t made of cedar or stone. This Temple is not a building with rooms and furniture. This Temple doesn’t contain symbolic representations of God. Rather, this Temple is made of flesh and blood. This Temple is a Man. This Temple is no idol, but is rather the living Icon of the living God. The Author has jumped into His story. The Artist has become part of his own handiwork.

Mankind can now look upon the face of God and live. Mankind can now make statues and paint pictures of God and not be committing idolatry. Mankind can hear God speak, because God has a mouth. Mankind can feel the healing and forgiving touch of God, because God has hands. Mankind can look into the eyes of God and see that God looks back at Him – not with vindictive eyes of wrath, but with gentle eyes of mercy.

But the dwelling of God doesn’t stop with the incarnation of Jesus. For God doesn’t merely want to look at us, speak to us, and touch us – as wonderful and mysterious as that is. He wants us to partake in His divine nature. He wants to become part of us – not in a symbolic way, not in a sentimental way, but in the way of physical communion. God wants every person – designed in His image – to be a Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Sonship of Jesus, through which Jesus calls God his “Abba” – His Father, is to be our sonship. For when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we don’t address God as “Jesus’s Father,” but rather as “Our Father!” Because Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, we are adopted Sons of God. For we are baptized into Christ Jesus, united with Him in His death and resurrection, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and given the right to be children of God (just like little Madelyn was made into an eternal temple of the Holy Spirit a few moments ago).

We baptized Christians can pray “Our Father” and mean it in a real sense. God isn’t a symbolic Father, God is not a metaphor, God is not some philosophical construction or faraway cosmic force, but rather He dwells with us, tabernacles with us, temples with us. He is as real as the baptismal water that pours over our heads, water that has been united by God’s Word to become a holy water, water that is a Temple of the living God.

God dwells with us in His eternal Word that is proclaimed by His preachers, a Word that is miraculously templed within human language. God dwells with us when He uses His ministers to speak forgiveness to us. And He dwells with us, lives in our bodies which have become a physical Temple, when His flesh and blood are placed into our bodies. Like the temple Mary, our bodies become holy shrines in which the Real physical Presence of God dwells.

And though our senses see only the flimsy tent of our bodies, only the ragged, sin-drenched canvas of our tainted flesh, the Lord God gives His promise that we are being transformed stone by stone into a living Temple. God is a God of beauty, and by faith, we do not see merely a frail and tottering tabernacle, but rather a magnificent and eternal Temple, a place where the Holy Spirit dwells in His fullness, a body that carries within it the very body of Christ, a person made in the image of God the Father, whom we, as His dear children, can call upon as our own “Abba,” to whom we can pray “Our Father,” and with St. Simeon we can sing: “Lettest now Thy Servant depart in peace… for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.”

And as sons, as heirs, the kingdom belongs to us – not by conquest or by our purchase of it, but by the free gift of God’s grace. For we are indeed heirs! For “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.” And, as St. Paul continues, we have become holy temples in our very flesh, for “because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father.’”

No, God doesn’t need to live in a house – neither a palace of gold nor in a body of flesh – but he freely chooses to do so. God doesn’t need to come in the humble forms of water, bread and wine, and human speech – and yet this is just what He does. He comes to save you, to redeem you, to dwell in and with you out of love, out of mercy, out of a burning desire to be at one, to be in communion, with you. He is not driven by our being lovable – for we know and confess the truth that we are not. But rather, He loves us because He is love. And greater love has no man than this: that He would die for His friends. And He who dies among us, lives among us, dwells in us, and works through us.

“The body of God’s Lamb we eat, / A priestly food and priestly meat; / On sin-parched lips the chalice pours / His quenching blood / that life restores.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

1 comment:

MJ said...

Hi Larry! I read this post to Cathy the other night, and we really enjoyed it. Cathy commented that it sounds like the kinds of messages our own pastor delivers. :)