Friday, December 25, 2015

Sermon -- Christmas Day (December 25, 2015)

JOHN 1:1-14


In the name + of Jesus.

     For whatever reason, people have been enamored with angels.  Especially at Christmas, we pay a lot of attention to the angels.  In one respect, that is understandable.  The angels were exceptionally busy in the Christmas narrative.  Angels made announcements to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and Magi.  A myriad of angels appeared and sang of God's glory to shepherds who were tending their flocks in the field.  The best we can do is imagine that scene because we have not seen such a choir before.  We will one day, and we will be in the choir with them.  But for now, the best we can do is imagine.
     Whenever the angels did appear to people, their appearance always produced fear.  We think of Zechariah at the altar in the temple, Mary at her home in Nazareth, or the shepherds in the fields.  In each case, the angel had to begin with the words, “Fear not!”  We might imagine what the angel Gabriel looked like, but the Bible does not describe him.  That's because we are not to focus on how he looks; we are to listen to what he says.  The word angel means “messenger,” and so we listen to his message.  The angel came with a word from God, and that message was about the one who IS the Word of God.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  God is one of us.
     If we are intrigued by angels more than Jesus at Christmas, it is because we know what babies look like.  We have not seen angels.  Apparently, the people to whom the letter of Hebrews was written were also enamored by angels.  So the writer reminds them that Jesus has become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.  For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”?  Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?  And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God's angels worship him.” (Hebrews 1:4-6)  The angels proclaimed that a Savior has been born to you, but Jesus IS that Savior.  The angels proclaimed the word of God, but Jesus IS the Word of God made flesh.  And though angels may take on the form of men, they never become men.  Angles remain angels, and people do not earn wings and become angels.  You were created to be you, and you will remain you forever.  But God has now become flesh.  God has become man.  God is one of us.
     St. John did not spend time retelling the Christmas story.  St. Matthew and St. Luke had already done that.  St. John has you marvel at the way God has revealed his love and his glory to you by becoming man.  The very first words of St. John's gospel take us all the way back to Creation.  “In the beginning,” John writes.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)  The Word, the Logos, is the second person of the Trinity, whom we refer to as God the Son.  He was not only with God at the creation of the world, he was not only there at the beginning when there was nothing else but God, he is in his very essence true God.  We probably miss the depth of the angel's announcement to the shepherds at Bethlehem, “Unto is born this day … a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)  He is Yahweh.  He is the one who created the heavens and the earth.  He is the Word which commanded that there be light.  He is the one who gave the word of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and he is the one whose word renders your final and eternal judgment.
     If the shepherds shook at the sight of the angel, the idea of God setting foot on earth should have petrified them.  In the movies, when a villain told someone to get ready to meet his Maker, that meant he was about to die.  To see God face to face was to stand before him in judgment.  That is the real terror of death—to have to give God an answer for what is in our hearts and what comes out of our mouths.
     St. John described Jesus as “the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)  We cannot boast that about ourselves.  We are not full of grace, but of selfishness.  If we give, we put a strict limit on it.  We give precious little time and effort to strangers.  We are even stingy to our loved ones with our time and effort.  Nor are we full of truth.  We are full of self-serving stories.  We warp the truth so that we always come out looking like the innocent victim.  When we get to tell what happened, all our faults are magically edited out of the story, so that our friends will always side with us.  We want to be sure that we always come out looking good.  Sadly, we need lies to do that.  But God sees every detail and knows every motive.  God shines the light of truth on us so that we cannot hide what we are.  The truth is that we are wretched sinners in need of divine mercy.
     The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)  Yet, the angel at Bethlehem did not tell the shepherds to run for cover.  While it was true that God had come to earth, the angel told them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)  Yes, the true light was coming into the world (John 1:9), but not to judge and destroy.  He who is full of grace and truth has come to save.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:4)  The light which Jesus shows you is not only that you need a Savior, but that he himself has come to save you from your sin, guilt, shame, lies, and from thinking you have to trust in those lies.  Your salvation never comes from how good you can make yourself look—and that often at the expense off others.  It comes alone through Jesus.
     The Lord has come to earth to save.  And to save man, God became man.  To demonstrate his love for us, God is now one of us.   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. (John 1:14)  God is now one of us so that he will be gracious to all of us and save us.  This is God's glory, that he loves and saves sinners.
     God is now one of us.  Jesus united himself to us and took up our cause.  This man who is full of truth and grace took upon himself all the lies and biases and and self-serving ways of men, and he gave his perfect life in exchange for them.  The Word became flesh gave his flesh into death to pay for our sins.  God became one of us in order to suffer and die for all of us.  He is full of grace, giving us the forgiveness we cannot earn and opening up the kingdom of heaven that we do not deserve.
     God is now one of us.  Therefore, all that he has earned by his perfectly obedient life and innocent sufferings and death is ours.  Jesus has conquered death by his bodily resurrection from the dead, and so you too will bodily rise from your grave to live forever.  Jesus has ascended into heaven to dwell with God, and so you too will ascend to Paradise.  Jesus has won God's favor by his willing obedience, and so God's favor rests upon you.  Jesus is the Son of God, and now you are also sons of God; and if you are sons, then you are heirs of the everlasting kingdom.  He is full of grace, and he pours out his fullness on you and gives you all that is his.
     The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  And your body and blood Savior continues to come to you through the Lord's Supper to pour out his grace and truth into you.  In this Supper, God again distributes his gifts to you.  Here, Jesus unites himself to you again for your salvation.  Here is the one who pulls you out of death and darkness into life and light.  Therefore, we continue to join in the song of the angels and archangels, proclaiming the glory and the goodness of God.  It is still good news.  It still brings great joy.  And it alleviates all fear.  For behold!  The Word has become flesh.  God is now one of us, and he has, therefore, made us his.

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

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