"AN ONGOING CHRISTMAS"
The Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Day)
December 25, 2018
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 (ESV)
One of my Christmas memories from the last congregation that I served is how every fall I had my annual argument with the Youth Group over when we were going to go Christmas caroling (an argument, I might add, that I never bothered to engage in here). I always won the argument and had my way, but I'm not so sure that the young people ever understood my point. The discussion usually went something like this: We'd be planning the year's activities and when we got to December somebody would ask: "Are we going to go Christmas caroling again this year?" I was always quick to answer: "Yes, that would be nice." So far, so good. The next question was: "When are we going?", and I inevitably would suggest a couple of dates that happened to fall sometime between Christmas Day and the New Year. It was then that the objections would spew forth in a unanimous chorus: "That's stupid! Who goes caroling after Christmas is over? I'll be so embarrassed!" I tried to educate them (without much success) by explaining that Christmas is not over at the stroke of midnight on December 25th, but that Christmas Day is really only the first of the legendary twelve days of Christmas--the season that begins today and concludes with the Epiphany of our Lord on January 6.
We're under a lot of pressure in this world to reach the conclusion that Christmas is over today. Many families will be discarding their Christmas trees before the day is over. In a couple of days (after the half-price sales are over) all of those Christmas displays in the stores will be replaced with Valentine's Day displays. But in the face of it all John's words that serve as the sermon text for today challenge us to see the real nature of this magnificent holiday so that we might celebrate it not only today and not only during the Christmas season, but every day of our lives. We can do this for two reasons, both of which come directly from our text: (1) In the birth of Jesus God Himself came to make His dwelling among us and (2) we have seen His glory.
One of the reasons why our celebration of Christmas often seems so empty is that it's so temporary. Think about it: We set aside the last month or so of the year for decorations, sentimental music, and all kinds of expressions of warmth and brotherhood--all of which we like to describe as "the spirit of Christmas." But what effect does all of this hoopla have on us the rest of year? Next week the decorations will be taken down and packed away. The Christmas cards will be disposed of. The expressions of warmth and brotherhood will be put on hold until next Christmas. After the season of "peace on earth and goodwill toward men" is over life goes back to normal. And what is normal? "Normal" for sinful humanity is looking out for me first--pursuing my best interests no matter how that might affect the next guy. "Normal" is getting back to dealing with all the unresolved frustrations and headaches of life that we've somehow managed to avoid during the holiday season. When Christmas has come and gone, all too often we have nothing left to show for it except perhaps some bills to pay.
The Christ who came into the world on the first Christmas didn't come and go that quickly or that matter-of-factly. John states that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The New International Version translates these words more accurately when it says: "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us" (John 1:14 NIV). In becoming flesh God entered human life to stay. He's here for good. His presence among us and with us isn't dependent on what time of year it happens to be or what kind of decorations we might be displaying at any particular time. He is one with us all the time to comfort us when we are hurting, to strengthen us when we are weak, to forgive us when we sin, to give us everlasting life when we die. What's more, He makes His presence known to us in ways that we can comprehend with our senses when He comes to us in Word and Sacrament. Jesus came to make His dwelling in you, not just to pay you an annual Christmas visit. If He is real to you only at Christmastime you're missing out on an awful lot.
The evangelist also testifies here that "we have seen His glory." What is the glory of the God who became human for us? It's not all of the festivities and fanfare that we unfortunately think of as "the glory of Christmas." It's not the decorations and the music and the gift-giving and the get-togethers. The glory of Jesus Christ is the salvation of sinners, brought about by the life that He lived in our place in perfect obedience to the Law of God and by the death that He died in our place, hanging on a cross burdened with the sin of all people. He reveals this glory when He comes to us miraculously in Word and water and bread and wine. None of that may seem to be very glorious to us, but this is indeed the true glory of the God who "became flesh and dwelt among us."
Have you seen His glory--the glory that I just described? If not, then you're missing out on what Christmas is really all about because once you have seen this glory of Christ, every day can be Christmas Day for you because every day you will receive strength in the Christ who was born to be your Savior and to be with you in every trial and temptation that you face in life to carry you through. He will be there for you next week and next month and next year just as surely as He is there for you at Christmastime. Look at His glory each day--the glory of knowing that your sins are forgiven and that you are at peace with God as you seek to serve Him in life, as you deal with all of the trials and temptations that come your way, and even as you face death.
Christmas is not just one day that will be over and done with at the stroke of midnight tonight, nor is it a shopping season that began sometime around Halloween and will end by the end of this week when the stores finish unloading all of their leftover Christmas merchandise at half price. Christmas is God intimately identifying with sinners like with us--becoming One of us and one with us--permanently making His dwelling among us--in His Son Jesus Christ. May that Christ and all of the blessings of salvation that He brings be the heart and center not only of your Christmas joy, but of your very life--not just today but every day--so that you, having seen His glory, may show it to others as well. The incarnate Christ Himself, through His Holy Spirit, will make that happen for you. That is His promise--and His promises never fail. Merry Christmas!
May the true Light which enlightens everyone, which has come into the world, shining brightly in the darkness, be your very life. And may the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ Himself, continue to make known to you His redeeming grace and truth now and always. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.