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2016 Christmas Day Sermon – John 1:1-18

December 28, 2016

December 25, 2016 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.”

We have come to the Festival of Our Lord’s Nativity on this December 25. What is to be celebrated on this Christmas Day? Ask that question of our neighbors, even the 15,000 or so people who live in Silver Spring Township, and you’ll get many different answers. Some like several of our immigrant neighbors know little to nothing about Christmas, so they might say that the holiday is some sort of American festival. Others know bits and pieces, and would mention time with family or capping off the year or even Santa Claus. Even some who identify themselves as Christians will speak about the holiday as something concerning gift-giving and charity. But none of those are really the point of the Christmas Festival.

“Jesus is the Reason for the season.” That phrase might not be as popular now as it was decades ago. You might still be able to find bookmarks, cards, or pins containing that phrase. And as much as one can capture a thought in fewer than a ten-word rhyme scheme, that’s correct. But it comes off a little light. We would be better off stating the reason for celebration in the way that the Gospel Writer does: “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.” The Incarnation is what we celebrate on this day. That’s the point of the Christmas festival. It is a time to recall the great mystery of the divine assuming humanity, of the Creator becoming part of His creation.

When the Gospel Writer mentions the Incarnation, he speaks of it in terms of the Old Testament event that took place long before Jesus was born. You heard that in the Old Testament Reading for this day. Moses erects the tabernacle, finishing it just as the LORD had commanded. All the parts were set in their right place, even the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. And then what happened? “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” All of Israel could then point to that tent and say: “That is where the LORD’s glory dwells. That is where the LORD is with us.”

The LORD’s glory filling the tabernacle is how the Book of the Exodus ends. Yet, the description of the event wasn’t solely to speak about the LORD’s glory being present there. No, the author speaks of the purpose behind that presence: “Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.” The Israelites were guided by the LORD who was present with them. He gave them direction. By His presence, the LORD would lead His people to the Promised Land.

But the Gospel Writer tells us that something even greater happened centuries afterward. The LORD once again made His glory present in a local way. But this time, it wasn’t filling a sacred room. No, the local presence of the LORD’s glory happens in an even more miraculous way: “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.” That is the great mystery of the Incarnation which the Church celebrates on this day.

But that presence of the LORD’s glory in Jesus wasn’t for a different purpose than when the LORD’s glory filled the tabernacle. No, He also was present to bring great and needed blessing. John speaks of it this way: “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.” And the apostle Paul writes: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy….”

This is the point of the Christmas festival that we celebrate. The LORD comes to His people with power and glory and brings His salvation to them. That fact was heard in the statements made about the Son of Mary at the Annunciation: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” The same is revealed to Joseph, when he deliberated over what action to take: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” These declarations speak to the nature and work of Jesus. They tie Him to the ancient promises spoken by the LORD. They unveil the mystery of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, so that what was created by Him would also be redeemed by Him.

This truth is what we have received through the preaching about Jesus passed down through the centuries. We continue to confess it, as we will state about Him in the Creed: “…begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man….” We point to Jesus and say: “That is where the LORD’s glory dwells. That is where the LORD is with us.” As we have believed this, the benefit of the Incarnation becomes ours: ”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.” Or as the apostle declares: “being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

How has that benefit come to us? First, that the LORD assumed humanity and dwelt among us. Second, that Incarnate LORD with all His glory suffered for our sake. Third, that the One who has life in Himself, which is the light of men, did not permit the darkness of death to overcome Him, but overcame death instead. Fourth, that the Incarnate LORD places His glory and power in the Gospel that testifies about Him and His work—the same Gospel that we hear, the same Gospel that is attached to water, the same Gospel connected with bread and wine. Fifth, that this Incarnate LORD pours out His Spirit on us through that Gospel, so that we are regenerated and renewed, born of God, made children of the divine household and heirs of God Himself. Sixth, the same Incarnate LORD continues to guide us in the way of righteousness throughout our journey as His disciples to the inheritance of life everlasting.

So we can answer the question: “What is to be celebrated on this day?” The Incarnation is to be celebrated on this Festival of Our Lord’s Nativity. For salvation has come to us through that great mystery that we celebrate on Christmas: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. 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. And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

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

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