Dec 25, 2016 – Christmas brings the Incarnation
Wreath, carols, crèche and tree. These symbols of the season are things many of us use in advent time leading up to Christmas. But today, Christmas day, we move beyond the symbols… to the substance. Today we celebrate the Incarnation – Jesus being born in the flesh. Last night we talked about the earthly parents that God gave to raise His son Jesus who was born, just as you and I are.
Remember that during advent we’ve been preparing to remember the 1st coming of Jesus. And, that in that first coming God kept His first promise of a savior. The symbols of wreath, crèche and tree all are markers that remind us that God keeps His word. And that His living Word to us, Jesus Christ, was incarnated, that He was born for the sake of the world.
Christ was not born for some abstract reason. Jesus being born wasn’t done as an intellectual exercise by the Divinity in order to play out some cosmic game. We come back to the words of the gospel writer today that say, And the word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. That phrase, ‘dwelling among us’ is what it means for Christ to be born. Christ didn’t come in the abstract, He came in the flesh so the gospel of John reminds us. And it’s only by His incarnation, His coming in the flesh that He could do for you and I and the world what needed to be done.
He needed to come and… to die. Only a true human can die. Jesus, truly being born in the flesh; means that Christ truly can die.
The birth of Jesus in a lowly manger is a dramatic example of the equality of all people before God and that God loves all people the same. Suppose Jesus had been born in a palace: The Wise Men might have gotten in, but the shepherds would’ve certainly been turned away at the gates by armed guards. Yet at the lowly manger, shepherds and kings could approach on an equal footing. God’s gift of life, through the death and resurrection of His only begotten Son, is for all people.
God in His love did not send down a delegation, a commission, or an unapproachable monarch, but a little baby. If Jesus was only spirit and not true flesh and blood, then His birth, and consequently His death, would mean nothing. And if He was only a man with original sin and guilt as you and I are, then again, His death would mean nothing for you and me.
Oh, he would accomplish saving His own life perhaps, but if He is not the Word of God made flesh, then His death on the cross would not cover the sins of the world, and His resurrection would not give us His promise of hope. As it is we have the written word of God and God’s Holy Spirit to open our eyes to this truth. Only the Holy Spirit can lead us to recognize who Jesus is as both God and man, as the One who came to sacrifice Himself for the world.
Many years ago, during the Christmas season, an agnostic newspaper reporter saw three little girls standing in front of a store window which was full of toys and Christmas decorations. He walked up behind them and listened to their conversation. One of the little girls was blind. The other two were trying to describe for her some of the toys in the window. The reporter marveled at how difficult it was for the girls to describe these toys to someone who couldn’t see.
That became the basis of his newspaper story that week. Two weeks later he attended a worship service led by the great preacher Dwight Moody. The reporter had gone intending to write something about Christmas religious practices. That Sunday Moody, not knowing the reporter was in the sanctuary, told the newspaper story about the girls to illustrate the difficulty of unbelievers, who are spiritually blind, seeing the glory and gifts of Jesus, as our Savior. God’s Holy Spirit touched that reporter’s heart that day through the Word of God preached to him, and he became a child of God through faith in Jesus.
Without the aid of the Holy Spirit we simply cannot see that Jesus came and totally emptied Himself of what it meant to be in possession of His divinity, of His God-ness while He was among us in mortal human flesh. “(He) made himself nothing”, literally “He emptied Himself.” That’s the expression St. Paul uses in Phil.2. I’m simply not capable of truly grasping the significance of this magnificent act because I can’t truly grasp what it means to be in heaven. In heaven, Christ was surrounded by all the glory that surrounds the dwelling place of God.
Myriads of holy angels worshiped and praised Him without ceasing. But He didn’t retain that divine glory and majesty or His divine rights, divine status and divine beauty – He let it all go for a time. He emptied Himself of all glory, majesty and light. He left the holy and perfect realm of heaven to come to earth. And He gave that up willingly, in order to make His dwelling among us.
In His incarnation, He took on weak and frail human flesh. And more than that, Jesus was not even given human allure or appeal. There was nothing in His appearance that would give us a hint or a clue as to His divine nature, hidden under His human nature.
Isaiah 53:2 in foretelling the coming of the suffering servant of God who would redeem mankind, we’re given this description of the Servant:
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
Jesus exchanged the glories of heaven to live in a sinful, fallen world. In heaven, He looked into the unstained eyes of the holy angels who worshiped Him. In this world, He saw only sin and rebellion in the eyes around Him. He traded His rightful crown of glory, for thorns and a cross, for you, me, and the world God created and loves.
Today we celebrate that Christ is born. That the word of God became flesh and made His dwelling among us so that He could die and rise again for us. That is the greatest of Christmas gifts, knowing that God is for us, that God knows our needs and comes in the flesh of Jesus to touch us and meet our needs. Let me close by giving you an idea of what it means for us that Christ is born for you and me, by telling you the story of a traveler in Finland.
He’d spent a day out amid wondrous scenery – towering mountains, flowing rivers, and mighty forests of trees – but the traveler returned home strangely unhappy.
In the living room of the house where he was staying were 3 canaries in a cage. When he entered the house, the birds became restless, chirping loudly and flitting from perch to perch. He went over and spoke to them, and they became quiet and contented.
Also in the house was a small dog, whining. When the traveler sat down the dog came and pawed at his knee and there was a look on his face that said, “Are you never going to notice me?” The man spoke to the dog and patted him, and the dog too was content. “Then,” says the man, “I knew why all that day I myself had been restless. I’d seen God in nature, but I wanted something more. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted a word… a touch.”
That’s what the Incarnation means. The peace of God comes into our human nature and touches us with an intimacy that’s not within the power of sky, river or mountain to convey. Jesus brings to us the intimacy of knowing we are known by the God of all creation in this tiny divine and human baby.
Christmas is this baby – is the Word of God to us. Christmas is God telling us that He is paying attention to us, noticing us and most significantly touching us. Christmas goes beyond the symbols of the season to its substance; the Word became flesh and makes His dwelling with us.
Jesus – the substance of the incarnation is the reason we can say ‘Merry Christmas’, amen.
Sermon #863 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Isaiah 52:7-10
7How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” 8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. 9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.
Epistle Hebrews 1:1-4
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
Holy Gospel John 1:1-14
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.