Merry Christmas!

Leading up to Christmas, we all tend to write lists of what we want for Christmas.  We put things on our lists like toys, games, electronics, and other things we want.  But, we don’t often put down things we need, like clothing or food.  No kid I know of puts down things like soap and toothpaste and clothing on their Christmas list, even though they need these things.  I know that when I was growing up I never really appreciated some of the gifts I received.

Yet, on Christmas morning we celebrate the fact that the Lord has given us what we truly needed and not what we thought we wanted.  Many in this world live in darkness, craving and wanting money, power, pleasure, and status.  The world wants these types of presents under the Christmas tree, something glorious and shiny.

But, the Lord has given us something else instead.  He’s given us what we needed, the humble baby in the manger, born to the virgin Mary, sleeping in a feeding trough for animals, and surrounded by animals and shepherds.  This is a gift that didn’t look very valuable to the eyes of the world.  The baby Jesus wasn’t glorious or shiny.  He didn’t look like the savior of mankind.  He didn’t look like the Almighty Lord God.  And yet he was, and is.

Jesus Christ is the heir of all things, the Word through whom the Father spoke the world into existence.  He is God in the flesh, given to us in the form of a baby who would grow up to die on the cross for our sins, then rise to life, and then ascend back into the presence of the Father to take his seat at His right hand in order to pour out the Holy Spirit upon us.

But, this isn’t what the world wants.  The world does not want a suffering savior, the world does not want a God who came in the flesh to die and rise for us.  The world does not want the light of Christ, because the world lives in darkness.  But, Christ and his light is what the world really needs, because the world has a void that only Christ can fill and a problem that only Christ can solve.  For the world’s problem is sin and death and what it needs is to be cleansed and reconciled to God.  So, God sent Christ as the gift that was needed in order to do what was needed.

If left up to us, none of this would have happened.  We would have tried to fill the world with more seemingly glorious and shiny things to make up for the void we feel and try to mask and postpone the problems we face.  And we get a glimpse of this every year leading up to Christmas as we spend weeks and months, trying to fill our needs with things we want.  But, no matter how much we buy, no matter how many things we acquire, all these “wants” can never truly give us what we need.  For only Christ can give us what we need.

This all gets to the heart of who we are as people.  We are God’s creatures that He made.  He originally made humans good, in His image, but Adam and Eve enslaved us to sin and death due to their rebellion against God’s holy will.  And so we are marred by this sin, and live in a world that is fallen from the state of perfection in which God had originally created it.  We were created to be in perfect communion with God and with each other, but sin disrupted this communion.  Now we live in a world with sin, with suffering, with decay and death.  Things are not as they are meant to be.

And we as people have an instinctive feeling that things are not as they should be.  Something seems wrong.  We should not be living in fear of each other and in a state of separation from God.  We should not be turning on the news to hear about the latest violence and disorder in the world.  These things ought not to be so, and we feel it.

But, our response too often is to try to fix the fallenness of our humanity with stuff or with more rules.    We as fallen creatures often try to fill the longing and void we feel with other elements of God’s creation.  If only we have enough things, if only we have enough laws, then maybe we will feel fulfilled and safe.  So, we are driven to try to fill our longings and need for security with possessions, or with rules, or with money, or with other people.

This is because as creatures we will have a god, and so our constant temptation is to make a part of creation into our god.  To have a god means simply to look to something for all good things.  That could be our possessions, or rules, or money, or people.  But, all these things are counterfeit gods – they can not restore us to full humanity and they can not fill the void and sense of longing that we feel, because they are not the true God, they are not the Creator, they are only parts of creation, like us.

But, the Lord our God, as our Heavenly Father who loves us and who knows what we need, sent us what we need.  He sent us the only One who can fill the void we feel as fallen creatures.  He sent us the only One who can restore us to Him.  He sent us the only One who can make peace between us and God and us and each other.  He sent His Son, who “… is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” and who made purification for our sins and then sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3.)

God sent His own Son to us.  “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…”  (Hebrews 1:1-2).  God has been promising His Son to us since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin and the introduction of decay and death into the world through their sin.  God spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament, promising the One who was to come to restore us and the rest of His fallen creation to Himself.  And then, on that first Christmas morning, the promise was fulfilled, and His Son arrived as the baby born to the humble virgin.

And through this humble baby, God reveals Himself to us.  For this baby in the manger is God’s Son who is also God, “the exact imprint of his nature.”  The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God – one God in three persons.  And the Father has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His Son, the Word made flesh.  We are God’s creatures, people who have both a body and soul, for that is how God created us.  And isn’t it amazing and wonderful that God came down to us also as a man; God became incarnate.  He is Immanuel, “God with us.”

And this Son, Jesus Christ, is the Word of God by whom all things were created – we see in the very first words of the book of Genesis the actions of the Triune God in creation: the Father speaks forth His Word and His Spirit then orders what is created through the Word.  We see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together to create all things.

And now today, we also see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together to recreate and restore all things.  The Father sends forth His Word in the flesh, and the Spirit gathers together a people for God and bestows upon them faith in this Word.  We are baptized into this fellowship of God as His people to be incorporated as part of His Church Israel (cf. John 1:1-18).

God is the one who is acting for our salvation.  God created all things out of His own initiative.  He sent His Son to save us out of His own initiative.  And He calls us through the working of His Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament to form us as His people, also out of His own initiative.  God is giving us what we need; He is truly a loving Father.

And as fallen creatures, we need God to restore us to Him.  We can not ascend to God, so God descended to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  For he is the true light, which enlightens everyone, who came into the world.  And “… 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 1:9-13).

This is the heart of the Christmas mercy that God has bestowed upon you.  He gave you what you need, which is salvation and restoration to Him through His Son.  And so you are God’s children not because of your ancestors, not because of your parents, and not because of your own will, but because of the will of God.  God has chosen you as His own, just as He chose to send His Son to save you.

This is the true Gospel, then, and why it is called “Good News.”  For God, out of His pure grace and mercy sent His Son to save you from your sins and thereby restore you to communion with God and with each other, your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that is the Church.  He sent His Son to restore you and all creation to Himself.  And it is truly good news, because it depends not on your blood or on your will, but on the will of God and the blood of His Son.

This is the “for you” aspect of faith.  God didn’t do all these things for some hypothetical person, He did them for you.  God’s promises are for you.  And the Lord fulfills His promises through Jesus Christ, for he is the “only God, who is at the Father’s side,” who has made God known to us.  Christ is our connection to God, he is the one who reconciles us sinful humans to the one holy Lord to make peace between us.  And in Christ himself we see this reconciliation, for he is both true God and true man, and both natures are reconciled in this one person Jesus Christ.  And likewise, this one person reconciles you to God and each other.

So you are heirs of the promise God first made to Adam and Eve after their fall into sin.  In Christ, God has united you with the Church of all times and places, with those who have come before you, and with those who will come after you.  You are all united around the Christmas gift of Jesus Christ who died and rose for you.  And God has given you these benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection through Word and Sacrament, because these are the means of His grace through which Jesus Christ continues to be Immanuel, God with us.

And Christ will continue to dwell with us through these humble means until the day comes when he returns in power and glory to finish the restoration of all things.  We have a foretaste here and now in the Church, but when Christ returns in power and glory we will have the full feast.  On that day of his return  he will raise you from your graves, join you together with the saints still living and those who have gone before you.  And you will stand before the Lord, in the flesh – body and soul – and you will no longer behold the Lord veiled through Word and Sacrament, but will behold Him directly.  And those blessings of God and His reign and power that we sing about in the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” will be fully realized as both heaven and nature sing and rejoice at the Lord’s return to restore us and all creation.

For He will bring you into the new, restored creation where you will dwell with Him for eternity.  On that day, you will be restored to your full humanity, because you will finally dwell in perfect communion with the Lord and with each other.  For also on that day, all of the Lord’s enemies – namely sin, death, and the devil – will be made as footstools for His feet, and only the Lord and His Church will remain.

So, this Christmas, reflect on what God has done and is doing through this baby in the manger, Jesus Christ, the God who is with us.  As you open your presents and as you play with what your family and friends have given you, reflect on and rejoice in what God has given you through His Son, and tell others about it as well.  For the Lord has given you what you truly need, and you have seen the salvation of your God through His Son, and so you are witnesses to what the Lord has done.  And He has done it for you as a free gift through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

 

Guido Reni 003
 
Image from Guido Reni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGuido_Reni_003.jpg