Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sermon: Christmas

25 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 1:1-14 (Ex 40:17-21, 34-38; Titus 3:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

I think most people know that the Bible opens with these words: “In the beginning,” for indeed, as Moses first book called Genesis begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And the first thing God created in this formless void of darkness was light. With the creation of light, the Lord brought matter and energy into existence, and shaped them by His own hand to bring all things into being.

But we, His rebellious creatures, often delude ourselves into believing that we are more than creatures, seeking to be God Himself. And their doing the same thing we do, our ancestors put us on a path that led us back to darkness. By our sins, by choosing to be people of darkness, by preferring to have our evil deeds covered by the shadow of night – we shy away from the very Light that animated us, that gave us the breath of life.

And another book, a Gospel, a Book of Good News written by the Apostle and Evangelist St. John, likewise makes his beginning with “In the beginning.” But in John’s beginning, we find something that precedes the creation of the heavens and the earth. We hear of the Logos, that is, the Word.

For the same Word that spoke light into existence is the very Word that “was with God” and yet at the same time “was God.” And “all things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

But so shortly after the time of the beginning, we chose darkness over light, we rejected the Word and chose our own wicked and pathetic words instead, poor imitations of the Almighty Word through which we were created and by which we have the light of life.

Instead of the light of life, we poor miserable sinners live in the constant shadow of death. As fallen men, we despise the light, for the light exposes our lawless deeds and wicked thoughts. We live in the delusion that the darkness conceals our iniquity – but the one who created all things sees all things. Nothing is truly hidden.

And as a father pities his poor children who wail out in the darkness, our Father has come to bring us light, to save us from the darkness of the grave and the decay of death.

The Word by whom all things were made becomes the Word by whom we are redeemed and re-created. Our darkness is to be yet again dispersed, as the veil is shred. The separation between God and man, the gap between the divine and the human, is to be forever bridged and occupied by the Logos Himself, for the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This Word, this Christ, this Savior, is He who is the “true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”

And just as the Word, the Logos, commanded “Let there be light” and “there was light,” so too does the Logos - the Word of God Himself, the Light that is uncreated – burst into our dark world to illuminate us.

And yet He doesn’t accomplish this by a mushroom cloud, by a nuclear blast, by a collision of atoms into a cosmic conflagration that ignites all of creation into obliteration – but rather in the “still small voice” of a boy, a poor child lying in a manger trough in the chill of a stable in the middle of the night – the King of creation reclining with His creatures, the Good Shepherd unto whom come shepherds from the countryside who have been given a sign from the angel.

Indeed, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” in our toxic world, living in the midst of our sin, our selfishness, our suffering, our pain, and the death that we deserve, but which He was not obligated to taste. And yet He takes this cup, He allows the light of His life to be temporarily extinguished so that we may bask in the glow of His resurrection.

“And we beheld His glory, the glory as the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.” We can behold His glory, because like the Glory of the Lord as manifested in the Tabernacle, this Glory shines forth as a Light, condemning the darkness into non-existence, and as the Word, serving as a “lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In fact, this Word made flesh is the path, He is the “way, the truth, and the life.”

This holy incarnate Light drives us to pray:

Thy light and grace
Our guilt efface,
Thy heav’nly riches all our loss retrieving.
Thy birth doth quell
The pow’r of hell and Satan’s bold deceiving.

And we gather here, as the Church has done since the Boy of the Manger became the Man of Sorrows, and we eat his flesh that once lay in the food trough, and we drink His blood that was shed by way of a cup not of His choosing. By the light of our Lord, our eyes are illuminated by faith alone, and we see the manger become a cross, and a stable become an empty tomb. We see bread become His holy body and wine become His holy blood. We see death vivified into life and the darkness made lucid into light – a light and life that will have no end.

Dear friends, the Light is not our enemy, but our friend. This light has not come to condemn, but to save. He has come to be a beacon, not as a lamp to expose us. The glow of the Light has come to warm our cold hearts, not to melt us into oblivion. For just as darkness becomes non-existent when a lamp is lit, so too do our sins cease to be when they come into contact with this Holy Light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” But we, dear friends, comprehend it. We grasp it, cling to it, and hold on for dear life, knowing that this Light is our only way out of the dark pit of exile and separation in which we have been living these thousands of years.

And this revelation of light was first manifest to us, the redeemed, at the manger. To us Christians, the manger is more than a feeding trough for livestock, it is the location of Eden itself. We pray with the hymnist:

O Jesus Christ,
Thy manger is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O lord,
Doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; here in Thy grace forth shineth.

May this blessing of the Word Made Flesh in His Light-bearing manger illuminate the Church and keep her safe from every form of darkness and evil, now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

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