Sunday, December 25, 2016
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.
There surely were few things more familiar, mundane, non-threatening, and approachable to the ancient Israelites than a tent. And yet, that is precisely how God chose to be present among His people – in a tent, the tabernacle, made by human hands. This was a radical change from God’s holy and terrifying presence on Mount Sinai in fire and smoke accompanied by thunder and lightning and quaking earth. The people, then, were forbidden to touch the mountain or even to approach it without first ceremonially cleansing and purifying themselves. Such restrictions and prohibitions were actually an act of mercy and grace on behalf of our Creator and God, for it was because of our sins and guilt that we could not abide in His presence, not because our God did not desire to be with His people. The LORD created us for communion with Him – so much more than the clichéd “personal relationship” many imagine today.
The LORD dwelt with His people, our First Parents Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden. They had access to God, for they were created in His image, holy and righteous, sharing His will as their own. However, when they succumbed to the devil’s temptation and acted upon their own will, which is necessarily not the will of the LORD, they immediately became other, sinful and stained by guilt. No longer could they abide in the LORD’s holy and righteous presence lest they be utterly destroyed. Thus, the LORD protected them from His presence, exiling them from the Garden and barring the way by a holy angel holding a flashing sword. However, the LORD still desired to be with them, therefore through many and various ways He provided means by which they could approach Him and not be consumed. First He covered their nakedness and guilt by shedding the innocent blood of animals and covering them with their skins. Later He established the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system that, by the shedding of the blood of hundreds of thousands of lambs and bulls the LORD might look away from their sin and guilt for a time. Still, none of these means ever removed or took away a single sin, but only covered them over for a time. Thus, the sacrifices had to be repeated daily, monthly, and annually until time was full for them to be fulfilled by the sacrifice they all pointed to, a sacrifice the LORD Himself would make to take away the sins of the world.
“But 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.” Blessed Christmas! There surely were few things more familiar, mundane, non-threatening, and approachable to the ancient Israelites – and to us – than a newborn child. And yet, that is precisely how God chose to be present among His people – in a flesh and blood newborn child made without human hands. Once the shekinah glorious presence of the LORD among His people dwelt in the tent of the tabernacle and behind the temple veil that no man could enter into but only the high priest, and only one day each year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and only after elaborate and particular cleansing and purifying rights and sacrifices of innocent blood. But, in the incarnation of God, the Word made flesh Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, men could now approach and handle God without fear. As we confess in the Christmas hymn Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail! The incarnate deity! Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.”
In the Incarnation, as a zygote, embryo, and fetus, as an infant child, the glory of the LORD shifted location and presence from the temple built by human hands to the virgin womb of Mary. The shekinah glory of the LORD that dwelt among His people on Sinai, in the tabernacle, and in the temple took up residence in the virgin womb of a lowly human maiden, the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos “Mother of God.” Jesus Himself made this point later in His ministry in response to the disciple’s marveling at the Jerusalem temple saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” St. John tells us that Jesus was talking about His own body. Thus, St. John proclaims in the Christmas Gospel, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory [His shekinah glory], glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Blessed Christmas!
God’s Christmas present to the world is His approachable, handleable presence in Jesus Christ. Of this marvelous, mysterious, glorious, and holy truth the preacher to the Hebrews proclaims, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The Incarnation of God, which we celebrate and remember and give thanks for this Christmas Day, has provided us eternal access to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. More than that, however, the Incarnation is the beginning of our redemption and restoration to God, that we may dwell and live in His holy, righteous, and glorious presence without fear. In the Incarnation, God became man that man might commune with God in a way even greater than did our First Parents in righteousness in the Garden before the Fall.
Jesus’ flesh became the new tent, tabernacle, temple, and veil within which the righteous and holy shekinah glory of the LORD dwelt among His people. God dwelt among His family, a human mother and father, having sisters and brothers. God dwelt among simple, sinful men and women whom He called to follow Him as His disciples. God dwelt among lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Jews and Gentiles, sinners, and the unclean, and they were not consumed and destroyed, but were forgiven and healed from their sin-sickness unto death. As a man, God took all their sins and guilt and uncleanness upon Himself and left them pure and clean and forgiven. God took all their sins and guilt and uncleanness upon Himself and nailed it to the cross. God died as a man for men who deserved to die, and He left their sins and guilt and uncleanness behind in His tomb as He rose from death, its victor, never to die again. Then He ascended back into heaven, as a man forever to remain, securing our own place in the presence of the glory of the LORD forever. A man now sits at the right hand of the Father in His glorious presence, and so shall you. Blessed Christmas!
The Incarnation of God, the enfleshment of the Son of God, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us, has literally changed everything – how we live, how we die, how we relate to each other, and how we relate to God. No longer do we fear God’s wrath against our sin and being sent to hell. No longer do we fear having or not having, what our enemies might do to us, or even death. This is freedom, true freedom – Freedom from the bondage of sin and the fear of death and hell. Blessed Christmas! Even now we enter into His holy and righteous presence without fear – though in great humility, reverence, trust, and love – and we receive Him who created the universe and all things in it, who sustains our own lives and all things still, who loves us with such a perfect and holy love that He would not see us forsaken and destroyed though we rebelled against Him and treated Him contemptuously and, sometimes, still do. We not only enter His holy and righteous presence, but we take Him into ourselves. His flesh is our flesh, His blood courses through our veins – this too is the meaning of the Incarnation – in blessed and holy communion that our First Parents would have longed for even in the Garden.
And yet still, this is but a foretaste of what is yet to come in the resurrection and eternal life in heaven. The Word made flesh is present for us to eat and drink under the lowly, humble, approachable, and handleable forms of bread and wine that we might commune with Him and receive His holy and righteous presence now to sustain us until the not yet. Blessed Christmas! “He whom the sea and wind obey doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness. Thou, God’s own Son, with us art one, dost join us and our children in our weakness.” This is God’s gift at Christmas; this is God’s Christmas presence. O, come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.