Friday, December 25, 2015
Homily for The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Day)
John 1:1-18; Titus 3:4-7; Exodus 40:17-21; 34-38
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” There it is. That is the basis of your redemption. Without the incarnation of the Word of God, there could be no salvation for you. Because of your sin, and because of your parents’, and their parents’, and your First Parents’ sin – which is all your sin – you fell from God’s grace. No, that’s putting it too lightly. Rather, you rebelled against God’s grace. You threw it off of you like a damp blanket. You left yourself naked in your sin and rebellion before God’s holy and righteous face, and you couldn’t hide, though you tried. But He could see right through your feeble façade. God was right, and you were wrong. And, because you were wrong, there was no way possible for you to make yourself right with Him once again. God must be reconciled, and you couldn’t do anything to make that happen. Therefore, He did what was necessary to reconcile you to Himself. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” The incarnation was the basis of your redemption, but its fulfillment was yet to come.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” That wasn’t the first time, though it was the final, the last, and the eternal time. For, the LORD had always dwelt among His people in various ways. Of course, in the Garden, before the Fall of our First Parents, God dwelt with them, walking and talking with them, in the cool of the evening. But, after the Fall, man could no longer abide in God’s holy presence, lest he be destroyed in the face of His holiness and righteousness. Therefore, it was in mercy that the LORD banished the man and the woman from the Garden that they might not eat again from the Tree of Life and live in eternal separation from God and His presence. However, before He sent them packing, the LORD sacrificed an innocent beast and shed its innocent blood that He might clothe Adam and Eve’s nakedness and cover their sin until time was full and He would send His only-begotten Son into the flesh to be the sacrificial Lamb of God’s offering that would take away the sin of the world.
The shedding of innocent blood and the covering with skin, with flesh, is a key Old Testament type of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. The innocent blood and the fleshly covering are typological symbols of what would be necessary to reconcile God in His relationship with humanity. Innocent blood, blood that is not corrupted and tainted with the stain of sin, must be shed and must cover, atone for, and wash away the sin of men. Innocent flesh, holy and righteous flesh, must cover sinful men, and incorporate them into the New Man, the Second Adam, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, with whom the LORD God is fully pleased.
And so, God instructed Moses to erect a tabernacle made of wooden poles and animal skins, a tent of fleshy skins in which God would dwell among His people. Within the tabernacle, Moses placed the Ark of the Covenant containing the testimony of the LORD, the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s budding staff, and a pot of manna. The Ark was covered with the Mercy Seat, flanked by fiery Seraphim, upon which the atoning blood was sprinkled. In this way, the Glory of God dwelt among His people.
Within the tabernacle, the Priests performed animal and grain sacrifices before the LORD on behalf of the people. And, while it is true that these sacrifices never took away or forgave sin, they did indeed permit God to overlook the peoples’ sins for a time, for He had attached His Word of promise to them that He would overlook their sins and spare them. Centuries later, the tabernacle was replaced by Solomon’s temple and, later still, Herod’s temple. The LORD would be present among His people in the temple just as He was in the tabernacle, and the sacrifices would continue just as before. However, neither the tabernacle, nor the temple, nor the sacrifices were an end in themselves, but they were shadows and types of a fulfillment yet to come – the Temple made without human hands, and the sacrificial Lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” The phrase “made His dwelling” is only one word in the original Greek, eskēnōsen. It is the exact same word that is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the tabernacle. Literally, it means “pitched a tent.” Therefore, we could read John 1:14 this way, “The Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us.” The word implies an intimate dwelling together with man, a living together in a domestic sort of way, making a home together and having a family together. Yes, that is what is connoted in the words “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”
In the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Word of God made flesh, God has incorporated humanity into Himself. As the ancient Church has put it, “God became man that man might become God.” We are not God in and of ourselves, but we have been incorporated into God through Holy Baptism and faith in the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly the very best symbol the LORD has given us to understand the kind of God He is and the kind of relationship He desires to have with us is marriage. “It is not good that the man should be alone.” When the LORD made Adam, He had no intention of leaving him alone. Eve, His wife, was not an afterthought, but was God’s divine plan from the beginning. The LORD joined Adam and Eve in marriage – the LORD’s creation, not man’s, or the state’s, or the court’s. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
No, Eve was not an afterthought, and neither was marriage and family an afterthought. Indeed, one cannot fully understand the meaning of the Incarnation apart from these symbols, these types, and foreshadowing the LORD has provided. For, from the beginning, God’s plan was to receive you into Himself. Now, many have speculated, even Martin Luther, how the LORD would have accomplished this if our First Parent’s had not plunged humanity and the world into sin and death. While it is speculation, Luther believed that the LORD still would have found a way for humanity to become one flesh with God. Perhaps, Luther thought, they might have fallen asleep, as in a bed of roses, and awoken to a new and fuller life? Regardless, the point is this: Your God and LORD desires to dwell with you, to make His home with you, to marry you, and, yes, to have a family with you! That is why the predominant theme throughout the Holy Scriptures depicting your relationship with God is marriage.
The incarnation of the Son of God, the Word of God made flesh, is the beginning of the redemption of your flesh, even as the death and resurrection of Jesus is the redemption of both your body and soul. God has redeemed the Bride by sending His Son, the Bridegroom, into your flesh to suffer and die and be raised to new life with the promise that your flesh and blood bodies will be raised to unending life as well. However, you have already begun to live that new life, life that will never die. Yes, your bodies are still under the curse and will surely die – you feel that and know that each and every day of your life as you grow older and weaker. However, your bodies will be raised new and holy and will be wed with your new spirit born of water and the Word in Holy Baptism. Therefore, the incarnation of the Son of God has meaning for you now.
And so it is that Christmas is every bit as much about your redemption and salvation as is Easter. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us,” and that has changed everything, already, now! In the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Word made flesh, God has begun to remake you in His image once again, the image and likeness of His Son Jesus Christ. Though this work will not be complete in you until the resurrection of your body, you are already changed, and you will continue to be changed until then. Once you were in darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord. Therefore, put away the works of darkness and walk as children of the Light. Emmanuel, God with us, is with you, always. He has pitched a tent in your midst that He might make a family with you and bear within you the fruit of the family, love: Love for God, and love for your fellow man.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.