With the hectic schedule of the holiday I neglected to post my sermon for 3 Advent and Christmas Day. (Due to unforseen circumstances I ended up doing a LOT of services, roughly 1+ a week, that I had not expected. Thus the last two weeks were pretty crazy.) I will not post the 3 Advent sermon, unless asked, but here is my sermon for Christmas 2008. After all, the Christmas season is not over yet! Tomorrow is Epiphany!
Christmas Day (Service on Christmas Eve)
“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
I wish you all a very happy and blessed Christmas! The weather today is ugly and cold, but within these walls there is light and warmth. At long last our period of waiting is over! Over this Advent season we have contemplated Christ’s coming again even as we have prepared to remember his first arrival as a small child. Even in these difficult economic times this season fills our lives with business and things. But tonight we take pause and worship God born as a child. This is, after all, Christ’s mass.
It is for many good reasons that Christmas is perhaps the best known of Christian festivals. That may be primarily due to the practice of giving and getting gifts, Christmas is now a major festival in China and its popularity is driven purely by commerce, but all the same Christmas is so familiar that we often forget that at its heart lies perhaps the most challenging and fundamental of Christian beliefs. The birth of Jesus is nothing less than the incarnation of God. This baby Jesus is the “indwelling” of God in the flesh. He is “Emmanuel,” God with us.
The Gospel of John opens with this simple and yet revolutionary assertion about the person and identity of Jesus.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Jesus is God. I spoke of this two Sundays ago and commented then that this is a mystery. It is a mystery in the sense not that it is a problem to be solved, like a murder mystery, but rather it is a truth that is only known through revelation. That we do not fully understand how this happens does not mean that we cannot appreciate and contemplate what the humanity of Jesus means for us tonight.
God becoming human is not just a theological concept for contemplation and debate, the incarnation is about God expressing his will directly to us through his son Jesus. The very notion of God’s humanity is about bringing to humanity those things that words cannot express. You could say that Jesus is God’s response to “don’t tell me, show me.” The fact that Jesus lived and walked among us, that he had friends and followers, that he was a child growing up with hunger and sleeplessness, weariness and pain, temptations and troubles conveys to us the relational aspect of God’s love. He is not only transcendent, completely other and beyond our comprehension, he is at the same time immanent, here with us, feeling and knowing what life is like for us human creatures.
Jesus’ presence on earth provides us with the living example of God’s will for us. Think about this as we go through the next year together. Listen to the Gospel readings each Sunday, read them on your own, and consider what example it is that Jesus has left for us, not just in his words, but in his actions. Jesus demonstrated what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself as he sat at meals with those whom others would not even let in the door. He touched and healed those whom others would not even look upon. He fed the hungry and told his followers to be willing to give up their hoodies to those who needed clothes. (Well, the equivalent of hoodies.)
The day to day life of Jesus as seen in the Gospels shows us also the companion that he was to his disciples and is still to those who follow him. He lived, slept, and ate with those men and women. He cried with them and held them. Again, this is our example to follow, to hold and comfort those around us and to receive their comfort to us. Most of all, to simply be with them in their joy and grief, love and anger, hunger and feast. Jesus was their companion and he remains our companion even now.
“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.” That is how Paul described Jesus in his letter to Titus that we just heard read. Jesus provided the example of how to live in this world in a way that is “self-controlled, upright, and godly.” That is why Christianity at its heart can never been just a religion of contemplation, study, meditation, or learning. It is about being and doing, just as Jesus was and did.
Yet most of all, what Jesus was and did is something we cannot be or do. The Son became human to bring salvation to all the world. He was the Messiah who died for our sins. He is, as Paul said, the “grace of God,” the freely given gift of eternal life that could only come through his own sacrifice.
Birth necessarily reminds us of death and from the crèche we see the cross. When my wife was pregnant with our first child, our daughter Isabel, it was a hard labor. Izzy was two weeks over due and Elizabeth was in labor for over a dozen hours. After more than an hour of intense effort with two doctors and three nurses in the room they wheeled Elizabeth out to prepare her for a c-section. The nurse told me to put on my scrubs and booties and said, “Don’t worry, you will think we have forgotten you but we won’t. Someone will call for you.” It was the longest 15 minutes of my life. After all that activity there I was alone in that big open hospital room. I realized that I might lose not only the baby but my wife as well. I called Drew, our friend and priest, and we prayed.
Last week SH celebrated her birthday. A freshman in high school her birthday is always just a few days before the date when we celebrate the birth of Christ. This past Sunday morning her mother died from cancer. Our prayers continue to ascend for [this family] even as we mourn and praise God for the life of [the mother]. Even as we are all born, we all will die. Some of us may live long and happy lives, my grandmother’s 90th birthday was yesterday. We feel others are taken far too soon.
We are all born and we all will die, but Jesus was born in order to die. If we merely remember the baby in the manger or even the young man who taught us a good way to live, we will have some times of happiness and we may ease the suffering of others. But Jesus came to do far more than to be merely an example of good and right living. He was the Messiah who came to bear the sins of us all to bring salvation to all. And through his death comes our eternal life.
From the crèche we see the cross and we rejoice.
This is why the baby was born, why the Word became flesh, to show us what it really means to be human, created in the image of God, and to once again make us at one with God.