December 25, 2007

Sermon for Christmas Day

John 1.1-14

There was a man who once served a king. But that man was disloyal and plotted treason; he wanted to make himself king. His crime was discovered, and he fled far from the king's land. He wandered in a desert. He grew hungry, but what food he could find was not nourishing. The sun burned his skin, and his feet grew rough and calloused. He began to be disoriented, and couldn't find the way back to his former land. He blamed the woman that was with him; he spat at her and said the cruelest things, and in turn she reviled him. In his anger and self-centeredness, she saw he was no longer a true man, even as she had lost her beauty. The man's breath stank, and his mind grew bitter. He became irrational, almost as an animal, and he hated the king, hated the woman, hated everyone he encountered.

The man was captured and made a slave. His life became a living hell, and his captors tormented him with promises that he could gain his freedom, gain wealth and privilege and even his own kingdom. But the promises were empty, and each lie plunged him deeper into delusion. He snarled at his fellow prisoners, and gnashed his teeth in the darkness. He felt his end drawing near, and began to realize that there was no way out of the prison.

Suddenly, without warning, into this darkness flashed a Light, brilliant. The man's eyes were blinded at first, for his eyes had grown unaccustomed to anything but artificial light. He saw that the Light was a Man; into this prison had come the King against Whom he had long ago plotted rebellion. He saw his tormentors fleeing, and he was afraid. The King came to him, and the man was certain punishment was coming, retribution for his disobedience and disloyalty. He cowered, assuming that the King would draw His sword and slit his throat, or make him an example, suspending his naked body to become a laughingstock and a byword. He acknowledged he would deserve this. He cried out to the King, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!"

Incredibly, the King flung wide the prison door and invited the man to freedom. He smiled at the rebel and led him from the dungeon. He invited him to His Table, and the man thought, "I am not worthy to be this King's waiter, to shine His shoes, or wash His feet." Unbelievably, the King set the traitor at a place of honor at the table, put on a servant's robe, took a towel, and began to clean the man's filth. He put new sandals on those raw, bloodied, feet, placed a gleaming ring on his finger, anointed his head with scented oil, filled his cup with the finest of wines, and served the man a meal finer than anything he had tasted or even imagined.

Perhaps you know the man's name. His name is Adam, and his name is your name. All this your King, Christ the Lord, did for you, and it is why we celebrate Holy Christmas. Bow the knee at the Name of JESUS; He is your King.
Today, your King comes to you - yes, even you.
Behold, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation.
Your King comes to you out of the womb of a pure virgin in order to give you a new birth.
Today, as long as it is called "today," do not harden your hearts, as you did in the rebellion
Today He comes to set you free.
Today He comes to restore what you lost.
Today He comes to raise man up from the dust.
Today He comes in flesh and blood, to remove from men their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh.

But all this happened some time ago, and the darkness of our hearts can begin to cloud our memories, such that we wonder if it is still really true. What does God really thinks of us? How does He really regard me? So this glorious day comes year after year, inviting us to look again to the Child Jesus, our King; and John's Gospel gives our King a special name, calling Him the Word of God.

Why the Word? Because words reveal what is in a person's heart. Jesus, our King, the Word of God, announces to us what is in the heart of God, how He really regards us, how much He cares for us and wishes to save us. When we look to ourselves, we can find nothing but damnation, despair, disappointment, sin. But now in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son; His body in the manger will be His body on the cross, and will be His body risen from the grave, and in all of this is His simple speech, His plain message to us: "God is love."

Throughout Advent, we have been warned of the wrath to be revealed when Christ comes in glory. Today, we are shown a completely different message: God who comes to us in this way--as a little Child--will not be wrathful. As strong as His righteous anger against sin is, stronger still is His love. So rejoice, O sinner, for the omnipotent God comes to you not in a cloud of terror or in a blaze of fire, but as a tiny baby, to draw us in to His love.

O children of Adam, today God comes to make you His children! Today, your King comes to set you free from this prison-house, this earth which has become a mass-grave!

On this glorious day, we remember that the Word became flesh and effected a great and happy exchange. He became a man so you could become a perfect human. He is wrapped up in swaddling clothes so that you will be freed from your grave clothes, wrapped up no more in death. There is no room for Him in the inn, yet He builds for you a mansion in the kingdom of God. Though He was rich, He became poor for your sake, in order to give you riches not found in this world.

In Him is life. Everything not in Him, then, is pure death. Why do you insist on living apart from Him? Will you stay in your prison? Living apart from Him will end in dying; but dying in Him will end in living. Beginning with Adam, the whole human race tore itself from the Word of God, and lost its life. Today, out of infinite kindness, the Word takes on flesh in order to bring flesh to life again.

Today we sinners are freed from sin.
Today on you who dwell in darkness, Light has dawned.
Today you who are hopeless are given hope.

"Come to Bethlehem," the carols call to us - but we cannot bend time and space to journey there. "Oh, that we were there!" the carol says - but we cannot go there. Amazing and beautiful beyond our understanding, Bethlehem comes to us, the Child comes to us, the Word made flesh comes in His flesh into our flesh. His life becomes our life, His righteousness becomes our righteousness, His obedience becomes our obedience, His resurrection becomes our resurrection. "God was Man in Palestine and lives to-day in Bread and Wine."

So today we pray: O wonderful King, how can we thank you for taking on our flesh, for coming into our prison-house, for touching our leprosy, for doing everything we could never accomplish? We could not approach Your majesty or behold Your glory, so you came and tabernacled among us, embracing all humanity in Your tiny arms. Make us like Your mother, that we may keep all of this in our heart. Make us like the shepherds, that we may worship you. Make us like the Magi, that we might offer you the gifts You already gave to us. Make us like Simeon, prepared to die in peace. Since You, O Lord, have been made like us, make us like You; forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. You who were born of a pure virgin, sustain us in the new birth of water and the Spirit. You who rose from the grave, bring us through the valley of the shadow of death, that we may dwell with You forever.

No comments: