Thursday, December 24, 2009
Sermon for Christmas Day 2009
“One of Us” (John 1:1-14)
“What if God was one of us?” Joan Osborne sang those lyrics in a song that reached the Billboard Top 40 a number of years ago. The entire refrain goes like this: “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on a bus trying to make his way home.”
A generic god. Just an ordinary guy sitting on a bus, trying to find his way home. An interesting thought, perhaps better left for an episode of the Twilight Zone. But this is not the Bible's view of an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God.
The song goes on to ask, “If God had a face, what would it look like? And would you want to see, if seeing meant that you would have to believe in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?”
God does have a face. He did become “One of Us.” His face is seen in Jesus, God become Man. Look at Jesus, and you are seeing God. The apostle Philip once asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” To which Jesus replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-9) Look at that Baby in the manger, and you are seeing God. God has a face. And we want to see it. And it does indeed mean that we “have to believe in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets.”
You've heard it many times. “The Word became flesh.” The theological term is “incarnation.” God with meat on his bones. God became Man when Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. So what? What does this mean for you this Christmas season?
The Incarnation is certainly one of the mysteries of the Christian faith. It is a truth clearly revealed to us in Scripture. Yet it remains a mystery because human reason cannot fully comprehend how God could take up residence in the womb of a young virgin and nine months later come forth and be laid in a cattle trough. Since it is a mystery, there is no way we can exhaust all the aspects of the Incarnation of Christ. For our sakes today, I want to divide the purpose of the Incarnation into three topics: RE-CREATION, REVELATION, AND NEW RELATION.
First, RE-CREATION. John's Gospel begins with something that should sound strangely familiar: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” You should immediately think of Genesis 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It's pretty obvious that John is drawing a direct parallel here. The Incarnation is the beginning of a “new creation.”
This is not to say that Jesus was created. As the Word, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead, he was involved in the creation of the universe. As God, he existed before all else. He was all-powerful then even as he is now.
Yet it was the start of something new when the Son of God became a Man. It was the beginning of a new creation for all humanity. John 1:4 says, “In him was life.” As sinful people, you and I are more than mere “slobs” like the song says. We face death all day long. We are dead spiritually. We need a source of life outside ourselves. And the place to find that life is in Jesus.
The text continues, “the life was the light of men.” Light is energy. When you light a flame, whether on a candle or in a fireplace, you can tell that energy is released because both heat and light emanate from the flame. A flame doesn't exist simply to burn but to give light and heat to its surroundings. In a similar way, the life of Jesus serves as our light, our life, our “spiritual energy” so to speak. And that same light “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” There is still a lot of spiritual darkness in this world. There is still a lot of sinful stuff out there and [point to heart] in here. But have you ever noticed how much light one single flame can give to a dark room? Likewise, the light of Jesus never stops shining and overcomes all the dark, sinful things that go on in our lives. The light of Jesus never stops shining and brings new life in the midst of all the dead things in our lives … our dead or dying faith, our dead or dying prayers, our dead or dying relationships. Jesus has the power to do it. His light, his life, overcomes the darkness in our lives. He brings life, strength, healing, and forgiveness.
Adam was the first man created by God. Jesus, as the Incarnate Son of God, is called the Second Adam in the Bible. When God became Man in Jesus Christ, it was the beginning of a new creation. The first Adam sinned, the verdict of death was pronounced, and was cast out of Paradise. The Second Adam never sinned, died in our placed under the same verdict of death that hung over you and me, rose from the dead, and opened the Paradise of Heaven to you and me … to all who trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17) Jesus Christ is not a new creation. But by Baptism and by faith in Christ, we are a new creation. We are re-created to live a new life with the life of Christ living in us.
Another purpose of the Incarnation is REVELATION. God is not a silent being. He wants to communicate with his creation. Look at all the times in the Old Testament Scriptures where God communicated with his people. He came directly to many of them, often in the form of the Angel of the Lord. He came to Moses directly in the burning bush and in the cloud of glory on Mount Sinai. Moses became God's spokesman to the people, the first and greatest in a long line of prophets through whom God communicated his Word.
In Jesus, a different kind of revelation of God was given. Our text says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” One way you can translate that is “tabernacled” or “tented” among us. The Gospel writer is pointing us to a great truth. Just as God's glory rested in the tabernacle or tent in the Old Testament, the divine glory of the godhead rests in Jesus. Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” And just as the Israelites worshiped God in the tabernacle where his glory rested, we worship Jesus who is True God and True Man.
There is a story of a missionary who went to a country in Southeast Asia and settled near a village to preach the Gospel. The people were all slaves of a landowner. They worked from well before sunrise until late in the evening. When they would come home from the fields, the missionary would leave his house outside town, walk into the village, and would go from hut to hut seeking an audience. No one would listen because they were all simply too exhausted to do anything, much less listen to a foreign man tell them about some God they did not know.
It wasn't long before the missionary realized he had to do something drastic in order to communicate with the people of the village. He sold his house and belongings and gave himself as a slave to the landowner. He went out to work in the fields alongside the other slaves. Only now … as he rubbed elbows with the people while they worked … was he able to communicate witht hem the Good News about Jesus, and many of the slaves became Christians.
This is what Jesus did for us. Jesus is “The Word of God” because he desires to communicate with us. He is “The Word Made Flesh” because he love us. The Incarnation is a revelation of God's love for us. The Son of God left his heavenly throne and humbled himself by taking on human flesh to “rub elbows with us.” He loved us so much he was willing to die for us with the sins of the world laid upon him. Jesus himself told his followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Finally, one other purpose of the Incarnation was to show our NEW RELATION. By faith in Christ and through Baptism, we are adopted into God's family, made to be children of God and heirs of the riches of heaven. Jesus, as True Man, is our Brother, and he won for us the right to be called God's sons. The Gospel writer makes this very clear when he writes, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) And just as a child has nothing to do with its own natural birth, we have nothing to do with our own spiritual birth. It is completely and totally a gift that God gives to us.
We are brought out of the devil's kingdom and brought into God's kingdom. We receive life, salvation, and forgiveness through faith in Christ. And we also see our final destiny in Christ. His death was our death. His life is our life. His bodily resurrection is the promise of our bodily resurrection on the Last Day. His ascension is the promise of our ascension into heaven. What he has inherited, he gives to su. We don't have it all yet in all its fullness. But it's a promise that's as good as if it's already been given, because it's a promise from our faithful God.
Our text from St. John ends today by saying, “And 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 Jesus, we see God's glory. He was the human embodiment of God's grace, his initiating love, his love that is so undeserved by us, yet given to us nonetheless. And he is the truth, the final, authoritative revelation of God to mankind.
What does the Incarnation of Christ mean for us today? RE-CREATION, REVELATION, and a NEW RELATION. Today's Epistle reading nicely sums up our theme: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Heb. 1:1-4)
And old pioneer had travelled westward until he came to the Grand Canyon. He gawked at the magnificent sight before him as he stood at the rim. There before him was a vast chasm one mile down, eighteen miles across, and more than a hundred miles long. In awe, he gasped, “Something musta happened here!”
A visitor to our world at Christmas time would see all the lights and decorations, parades and parties, numerous people gathering together at churches, and would exclaim, “Something musta happened here!”
Indeed, something did happen here. God became “One of Us.”