Sunday, December 25, 2011

Homily for the Eve of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Eve)


Luke 2:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; Isaiah 9:2-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

This night is a vigil. It is a watch. Indeed, this night is the culmination of our watching and waiting and preparing for our Lord’s coming this Adventide. So, whether you were here last week or last year, you are here tonight watching and waiting, praying and singing in hopeful expectation, because you are not like those who have no hope.

But, perhaps you believe that this night is mostly about remembering, for He has come, long ago, as the Babe of Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling cloths, laid in a manger. And, you are right, for tonight we remember that God has kept His promise to us and has sent us His Son, born of a virgin, to be Emmanuel, God with us. And, tonight we remember how the lowliness of His coming was a portent of His humiliation, suffering, and death on the cross, and we remember how everything about Him was scandalous to human reason and wisdom, values, and expectation. And yet, His coming is not merely something that we remember, for His coming radically and permanently changed everything! The Son of God became the Son of Man, and He has borne our flesh through death into life, life that never ends. He who created this world and our flesh stepped into it, took it upon Himself, and raised it out of death into life so that His life is our life, His life is your life, and His life is the life of the world!

This night we remember the incarnation of our Lord, when the Word of creation became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. We chanted of this Truth incarnate in the antiphon to this evening’s Introit, “When all was still, and it was midnight, Your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne.” But, it was King Solomon who penned those words over one thousand years before the birth of Jesus, describing how God delivered the children of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt that night the Angel of Death passed over their homes, their doorways having been marked by the blood of an unblemished lamb, while the firstborn in all the homes of the Egyptians were taken in death. In the darkest hour of the night, when all were asleep as though dead, then God revealed His mighty deliverance by the creative power of His Word. The blood of the lamb saved the people because the Word of God said that it would. And so this night we remember God’s mighty deliverance wherein His Word became flesh, wherein His Son became the unblemished lamb of sacrifice who willingly laid down His life and shed His innocent and holy blood that the Angel of Death would pass over us, setting us free from bondage and slavery to sin and death. Indeed, the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus, made Him to be our New Moses who has led us in our Exodus out of bondage and slavery to sin and death, through death itself, into everlasting life in the promised land of God’s heavenly kingdom.

For, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” The incarnation of the Son of God has changed everything! In God’s time, according to His wisdom, He enacted His mighty deliverance; when all was still, and it was midnight, His almighty Word descended from the royal throne. While the nations were about their raging, and men were about their plotting in vain, He who sits in the heavens laughs. God’s all powerful Word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of a doomed land, a relentless warrior carrying the sharp sword of His irrevocable command. But, so enshrouded in darkness were the hearts and minds of men that they would not, they could not, see the signs of His coming. They had forgotten or they had reinterpreted the words of the Prophets so that they would not, and could not, expect a King who comes in lowliness and humility, and they would not, and could not, receive a Savior who is born as an infant lying in a manger. For, indeed, this is what is meant by the stillness of midnight, and this is what is meant by the fullness of time – the night of man’s intellect, wisdom, and ability, and the time of God’s choosing and design.

And so it was that the lives of men proceeded just as they always had, a mundane and routine pilgrimage from birth to death. A census was decreed by Caesar Augustus for the purposes of taxation. Citizens became pilgrims and journeyed to their local sees to register their residency. A young pregnant woman and her husband were amongst those who journeyed to Bethlehem. They were found seeking lodging because the inn was already full. The time came for her to give birth, and she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And, there were shepherds nearby keeping watch over their flocks by night. There was so precious little about that night that was unusual, miraculous, or even noticeable.

How silently, how silently the wondrous Gift is given! How mundane, how seemingly insignificant, how truly human is God’s gift to men given? Indeed, the incarnation of the Son of God was so unnoticeable to men that it required an angel to tell them the Good News! It was an angel that brought the first rays of light into the darkness of man’s night as a herald of the Gospel news that a Savior had been born! The angel proclaimed the Light of God’s Word first to lowly shepherds out in their fields saying, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And then, all heaven broke loose as “there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’” “Glory to God in the highest.” The incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus, is the glory of God! Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity! Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel! God with us!

In the incarnation, God has penetrated our world, our flesh, His creation, and that has changed everything! God is pleased with man in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we have peace with God and with men, for in Jesus we are one flesh, one body. This will never, can never, change! In the incarnation the Son of God became the Son of Man; He became what you are so that you may become what He is. He was born in the flesh that you might be born again. He died in the flesh that your death will not, and cannot, hold you. He was raised in the flesh that, even though you die, you will never die. He came into this world and our flesh and He destroyed the power of death; and He was taken out of this world in our flesh that we might live in the presence of God the Father forevermore.

This Truth incarnate we remember this evening and we celebrate together in joyous vigil. But, as much as we remember God’s mighty deliverance long ago, we acknowledge the presence of the Word Made Flesh amongst us now in Word and water, in holy absolution, and in bread and wine for the forgiveness of ours sins, for the strengthening of our faith, and for the wellspring within us of eternal life and salvation. And so, in receiving these gifts we receive Him. And, as we continue our vigil this night and tomorrow, and as many tomorrows as He grants us until He comes, we are well prepared as we wait and as we watch in hopeful expectation for the Advent of our King. Behold, He has come. Behold, He comes. Behold, He is coming.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: