Sunday, December 18, 2016
Rotate Coeli - The Fourth Sunday In Advent (Advent 4) [Sunday School Christmas Lessons and Carols]
John 1:19-28; Philippians 4:4-7; Deuteronomy 18:15-19
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Well, we’re only seven days away from the Big Day. Some of you have been planning and shopping and preparing for this since Black Friday. Others of you began on December 26 last year! There’s so much to do: Cards to send, gifts to purchase and wrap, parties to attend, feasts to prepare, family to visit, lists to make, and more. And yet, too often you end up disappointed. They weren’t as excited about your gift as you had imagined they would be. They didn’t say thank you. They didn’t give you a gift in return. The kids managed to make it for dinner, but that’s all, then they were off to the in-laws, or to their own interests and pursuits. You got what you wanted, but now it doesn’t seem as special – just another thing to take care of, to store away, to realize you didn’t really need in the first place, to wear out, to fall out of style, or to become outdated and obsolete. And, let’s face it, for many Christmas is not a happy time. Many are lonely. Many are poor. Many have strife and conflict in their families and the holiday season only punctuates that fact. Many have lost loved ones this year and are experiencing their first Christmas without them. For many, the pain of loss robs the joy and peace and hope that Christmas promises to bring.
I don’t mean to be all somber and depressing at such a joyous time. Nevertheless, you know that this is true. You feel it – if not now, then later, when the wrapping paper is all over the floor, the kitchen and the dining room are a shambles, the family and friends have gone home, and the loneliness creeps back in (or rises up again, for it was there all along). We are a lonely people. Even when surrounded by family and friends, by those we love, by masses of strangers in the city, at work, and in the shopping malls, even at church – we feel alone, cut off, isolated. We want, we lack, we crave, we need. But, what? That’s the question we long for an answer to. The world and our flesh will offer all sorts of answers, but none of them fulfill and satisfy; none of them make us content. What is it that we hunger and thirst for? What is it that we want and desire? There is One who knows, the One who made us in His own image, the One who loves us even though we run from Him when He calls and rebel against Him again and again. God knows what we want for and what we need, and He is every ready to give you His Christmas presence.
Yes, that’s pres-ence, not pres-ents. Your God’s gift to you at Christmas is His presence. Your God and LORD comes to you, to be with you, as your Father, as your Brother, as your Bridegroom. He comes among you as one of you, taking up a flesh and blood body like yours, feeling your want, suffering your loneliness and pain, dying your death, and being raised to life again that you may have life in Him eternal. He promises you that you are never alone, for He is with you always. He comes to fill your every want and need with His presence so that you will never hunger or thirst. He doesn’t promise you happiness, but He promises you contentment and peace, which are far more satisfying and precious.
This is the meaning of the Incarnation, this is the meaning of Christmas: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” In the beginning, God dwelt with our First Parents in the garden. He walked with them and talked with them as they were righteous and holy, bearing His image. But, they sold out that personal relationship for a lie and selfish pursuits. Sinful and unclean, no longer could they endure the holy and righteous presence of God. However, God so loved them and the world that He had made that He created new ways in which He could be present with His people. God spoke to Abraham through His Holy Angel. God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai in a cloud and fire. God filled the holy place of the tabernacle with His presence veiled in a cloud, and He lead His people in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God’s presence was with the Ark of the Covenant in the holy place of the Tabernacle and Temple. Yet all of these ways in which God was present among His people were but a foreshadowing of the presence He would establish in His Son. “In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now in these last days He has spoken to us by His son.” “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” God became a man that man might become God. In the Incarnation, God fulfilled all these foreshadowings and types, and He went a step further – He eliminated the need for intermediary means to be present among His people, for in Jesus Christ, God dwelt among His people as one of them: God became man that man might be brought into the full presence of God through baptism and communion in Jesus Christ.
“The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” To not want is to lack no thing at all. This is an unimaginable concept for us, for to be human after the Fall is to be wracked with near continual want, desire, and longing. We hear this sentiment in our popular music: Mick Jagger can’t get no satisfaction, Bruce Springsteen has a hungry heart, and Bono still doesn’t know what he’s looking for. And, we feel this want, desire, and longing no time more than at Christmas, which has become all about fulfilling our selfish wants, desires, and longings with fleeting material, worldly, and fleshly pleasures. But, these are like bandaids and junk food, they only comfort for a short while and they only treat the symptom without healing the disease. In the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God began to heal our disease of sin and guilt. He redeemed our flesh by taking it upon Himself. In our flesh He fulfilled the Law’s demands in holiness and righteousness that He might take upon Himself your sin sickness and guilt and die for your transgressions that He might give you in exchange His life and Sonship with the Father. But, that is not all. In the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, God has reestablished His presence among us, a personal and fleshly presence that cannot and will not be revoked for those who believe on Him and bear His fruits in love. Jesus is not just God for us, but Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, as one of us, now and forever. As we sing in the beloved Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel!” This is God’s present to you at Christmas – His presence among you as one of you, as your Father, your Brother, your Bridegroom, your Savior, and your God. “Highest, most holy, Light of Light eternal, born of a virgin, a mortal He comes; Son of the Father now in flesh appearing! O come, let us adore Him – Christ the Lord!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.