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Christmas Day Homily – John 1:1-18

December 24, 2013

December 25, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And 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.”

Sin Tree and Grace Tree: that’s what we call these two decorated trees that stand in the chancel for Christmastide. I’m not sure where that custom started of placing a tree full of apples and a tree full of roses in the front of the sanctuary; I’ve seen it in a few older Lutheran congregations in the Midwest, so it’s probably a German tradition of some sort. Regardless of where the practice originated, it preaches the message of salvation quite well.

IMG_0959You see the Sin and Grace Trees in the chancel, and immediately your minds should be brought to think of Eden. Trees have long had a part in human history. The taking of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a dreadful event. And from that moment, humanity was identified as full of sin and lies and death. Mankind took on the character not of its Creator but of its Deceiver. What the psalmist lamented was the common action of humanity: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” Plotting against the LORD and what He established was the norm. Mankind kept eating of the fruit of the Sin Tree, gleefully collecting its harvest.

That human history includes you. You’re part of that long line that goes back to Eden. You have been born of blood, born of the will of the flesh, born of the will of man. That will has been set against the LORD and His ways. So you have been numbered among the nations and peoples who have plotted in vain. Your place has been among those who have found the fruit of the Sin Tree tasty and delightful.

On this day, this Christmas Day, you are given to know about another Man. You hear of another Man who stands in the long line of human history. But this Man is different. His origin is different. His character is different. His will is different. That is what the Evangelist tells you: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…. And 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.” 

Such a strange description! And rightly so. This Man is not ordinary. It is the Creator who has become human. Through Him, mankind retrieves the character of its Creator. The Epistle Writer notes this: “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, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.” That is the identity of the Man whose birth we celebrate today.

“Full of grace and truth”: that is how this Jesus is described. Though He is truly Man, He stands in distinction to you and Adam and any of the men who have lived before you or will be born after you. He possesses greater things than you do. He is eternally begotten of the Father’s will. He does not plot against the LORD, but always does the Father’s will. And when this Jesus “full of grace and truth” comes into the world, He has a purpose—to exercise that grace and truth for His fallen creation’s benefit: “After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” He has worked, so that you can become children of God: “But 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.”

The order lost in Eden begins to be restored. There is a message of joy and gladness that declares that the Deceiver and Usurper no longer stands in control and that the plotting of the nations and the people will come to naught: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’… The LORD has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” The LORD who reigns and has brought His salvation is present now for you. He continues to work for your deliverance. His grace and truth are made known.

This Jesus stands as the Grace Tree for you. The blooming rose on Jesse’s branch produces the fruit that you need. He is the source and supply of righteousness and innocence and blessedness for you: “From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” That grace is given to you each time that you are connected to Him, as you partake of His gospel. Instead of gleefully collecting the harvest of the Sin Tree, eating of its fruit, you are given something much better, something spiritually nutritious that sustains true life. When you hear the work that Jesus has done for you, you eat from the Grace Tree. When you receive baptism for the forgiveness of sins, you eat from the Grace Tree. When you are absolved of your guilt, you eat from the Grace Tree. When you sit at the banquet table that is set before you on Sundays and festival days, you eat from the Grace Tree.

You eat from the Grace Tree so that you can have the life that Jesus brings to this world: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” From Him you receive grace, truth, and life. You are given what Jesus possesses as the Eternal Son of God. Even on this day when focus is placed on Jesus’ birth, the focus is also placed on you. Jesus’ birth was not purposeless; the reason why it took place was so you could receive benefit from the LORD. The grace, truth, and life that mankind lost is now restored to you. It is yours to keep.

As you are regenerated, renewed, and restored by Jesus’ work, you now retrieve the character of your Creator. Eating from the Grace Tree, you are made different. But this change is not just for the Christmas Season. That is why you will hear that prayer prior to your eating from the Grace Tree again this day: “Bless us, Your children, so that all we who partake of Christ’s holy body and of His precious blood may be filled with Your heavenly peace and joy; and also that we, in receiving the forgiveness of sins, together with the gifts of life and salvation, may be sanctified in body and soul and spirit and have our portion with all Your saints in light.” As Jesus who is full of grace and truth works in you, that prayer will be answered positively. It is your promised inheritance as the children of God who are born of Him.

As you eat from the fruit of the Grace Tree, it works in you. But the change that happens is not just for eternal life. The grace, truth, and life that have been restored to you are yours to keep, but not to be locked away to be opened in the life of the world to come. The life that is in Jesus is in you, so that you also become lights in the darkness of this world and in this time. Just as Jesus shone as the radiance of the glory of God in this world, you also reflect Him in the midst of sin, lie, and death. Set free from the bondage of sin, you begin to have Jesus’ character. That is shown by your works, by your actions, by your thoughts, by your speech. The change effected in you brings you new tastes, so that the fruit of the Sin Tree becomes repulsive and disgusting. Instead, the fruit of the Grace Tree becomes your delight. You begin to stand out from the rest of humanity that has yet to be born of God. That happens, so that others may be drawn to what you have been given, so that it may become theirs.

That is what this Jesus has brought about in this world. He is the LORD’s holy arm that has been bared to this world, so that all may see the salvation that He brings. The Sin and Grace Trees are a good reminder of that change that Jesus brings to this world. The Sin Tree brought your ruin, giving you nothing but sin upon sin. But Jesus, the Grace Tree, has brought your salvation, giving you grace upon grace. That’s the heart of the matter which we celebrate this Christmas Day: “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.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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