24 December 2016
Text: Isa 7:10-14, Mic 5:2-5a, Isa 9:2-7, Matt 1:18-25, Matt 2:1-12, John 1:1-14
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Christmas is a time of nostalgia and memories, memories triggered by ornaments and decorations and repeated family rituals, by familiar sights and smells of the season. And in calling to mind these memories from our past, we are reminded of our family members who are no longer with us, as well as the realization that the babies have become children who have become grownups who have become grandparents. The passage of time is a mystery, for when we are young, it creeps along at an agonizingly slow pace (especially waiting for Christmas to come), whereas as we age, the years seem to fly by.
The series of readings traditionally read and pondered on Christmas Eve call to mind memories of the distant past, memories of our fall into sin, and of our deserved mortality and condemnation as a result of our transgressions.
But we also ponder God’s acting in a way that defies reason. He is willing to suffer for our salvation. He is willing to die that we might live. He, the Divine, is willing to become human so that humanity might intermingle with the divine. And He does this through love: the Son is of the Father’s love begotten, and through a mother’s love is a Son born to all the world, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”
Just as we participate in family rituals, including sights, sounds, touch, smells, and taste – so too does our family the Church. Our senses call to mind the working of the Lord in human history, through the prophets of Israel, the people to whom they preached were they through whom the Lord would take flesh, the people who would be the down-payment on the redemption of the whole world.
“The Lord spoke to Ahaz,” and his oracle was recorded by Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” For seven hundred years these words were read wherever God’s people gathered, waiting for the fullness of time when the prophecy would put on flesh, when the ritual would be replaced by the reality.
The city of Bethlehem, today a hotspot of violence and terror, was in the days of Micah the prophet, a sleepy, inconsequential village. But the little town of Bethlehem, the village whose name means “House of Bread,” would become the breadbasket of salvation, the place where the Bread of Life come down from heaven would emerge from His mother, that same flesh to be multiplied miraculously in space and time, even unto our very age where we gather tonight, participating in the miracle of the incarnation anew.
Isaiah also spoke of darkness and light. The darkness of sin and death are to be illuminated by the light of the Christ, the light of the star of Bethlehem, the light of the hosts of heaven appearing to shepherds, the Uncreated Light of light who is “very God of very God.” Indeed, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” How many memories we have, dear friends, of holding candles and singing “Silent Night” with our children and our loved ones as time passes. And how many memories we have of candles lit in churches while services have gone on from the days of the apostles until today. Even in places where candles were too expensive or where our brethren had to meet under the cover of darkness to escape persecution, the Light of Christ still shone brightly in their hearts and in the Word of God proclaimed among all who gather around the Lord Jesus.
And in the fullness of time, the Holy Spirit came upon the virgin Mary, and the Father brought forth a Son according to the flesh, and His name was “Immanuel (which means God with us).” The angel of the Lord warned Joseph not to divorce his betrothed, for she had been faithful to him, and the Lord had used her to faithfully bring the Savior into the world.
And that world has never been the same, dear friends. For more than a few Jews living in Bethlehem were affected by this great and mighty wonder. Gentiles from the east, the Magi, came bearing gifts: “gold and frankincense and myrrh,” royal gifts for a royal Child. “And they fell down and worshiped Him,” worshiping the God in the form of a baby.
All of those prophecies became reality in the incarnation of Jesus. All of those memories: rituals of words confessing His coming, and rituals of actions, our bodily responses in worship, brought alive in our senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste, generation after generation, century after century, all were brought to their fullness in a single quantum of space and time, that one redemptive and creative moment when time froze, when the universe halted for less than a nanosecond, when the past met the future in the present and in the presence of God’s physical conception in Mary’s womb, and then in the revelation of the Christ child at His birth. How utterly remarkable and beyond human reasoning and understanding, dear friends!
For the coming of Jesus is where past, present, and future meet, where the entire universe finds its fulfillment in a single human cell. This fleshly incarnation of Jesus unites the time of “In the beginning,” when the Word was creating all things with the Father and the Holy Spirit, with that moment when “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Nothing was ever the same after. For Christ came to restore a broken world, to cure human disease, to end all of creation’s struggle and strife, to restore peace between God and man, and to raise us from death unto eternal life in a new and incorruptible body, not the body of a spirit or of an angel, but the glorious body of humanity: male and female bodies created in the very image of God, a flesh and blood body redeemed by the flesh and blood of Christ, by our Immanuel, of Him who is truly God With Us!
Let us revel and celebrate these Christmas memories! Allow these rituals to bring richness to the reality of life! Take in the candles and music, the sights and smells, the hugs and the smiles, the joys of being together, and even the pain of separation – and allow these memories to point you to the Christ Child, to the Word Made Flesh, to the Lamb who went to the cross to redeem you, to the Great Physician who has come to heal you, to the Good Shepherd who gathers all of His sheep promising them resurrection in a body, even as our Lord took upon Himself a body in the womb of Mary, a body willing to be put to death at the cross, a body that rose again from the grave, a body given to you in the Most Holy Sacrament: His true flesh and blood, that the divine might mingle with the human, and the human might be elevated to the divine.
Let these sights, sounds, touch, smells, and tastes trigger memories of the prophecies and their fulfillment in Christ. For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.