Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sermon: 1 Christmas (28 Dec 2008)


Sermon: 1 Christmas (28 December 2008)
(Isaiah 61:10-62:3/Psalm 148/Galatians 4:4-7/Luke 2:22-40)
The Feast of the Incarnation: Ripples of Grace

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The world has moved on – “revolved from night to day,” as the hymn sings – leaving Christmas behind. Now it is plunging head long toward a new year: toward resolutions no one really plans to keep and toward bills accumulated during the holidays that no one really wants to pay. So be it; “Why Can’t Everyday Be Christmas?” is a fine song title but an unrealistic attitude. Christmas is over and “real life” has begun anew: time to move on.

But it is different with the church. In our best moments – when we are aware and intentional – we yield up Christmas to the world and ourselves to Christmas: to families and friends, to parties and banquets, to merchants and malls, to mistletoe and holly, to Rudolph and Santa, to Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole. We enter into the festivities with gladness and abandon, and share our joy with the whole world; after all, the birth of Christ is good news, even if the world doesn’t know quite what to do with it. And our Lord Jesus never refused a good banquet himself – even if hosted by tax collectors and sinners who knew him not. Yes, we yield up Christmas to our world, but not the Feast of the Incarnation. That belongs to the church; it is ours, and if we are wise, we guard it zealously. It is the Feast of the Incarnation the church celebrates on 25 December – at least the church in the West – and on the twelve days following. And the Feast of the Incarnation – the incarnation itself – is not left behind on day thirteen. We don’t move on from the incarnation back to real life, for the incarnation creates a new and different real life – a life of the ages. The heart of God plunged into the heart of human history in the incarnation and sent ripples of grace propagating outward into all creation. And creation never has been and never will be the same again. The logos, the very Word of God and essence of God, the one by whom and through whom and for who all things were created, the source of light and life – that “Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” and from his abundance we have all received grace upon grace upon grace (John 1:14, NKJV, and 1:16, paraphrase). You do not pack that away with the decorations and ornaments, pack it away in the attic, pack it away out of mind for another year: not if you are the church of the Incarnate One.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the fulcrum of history, and at his incarnation the creation begins to tilt toward God. Everything before the incarnation looks forward to it and everything after the incarnation radiates outward from it. Isaiah saw it afar, and in words of prophecy spoke for Jesus.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations (Is 6:10-11, NRSV).

The Lord God clothed his only begotten son with the garments of salvation. And with what was Jesus clothed if not with our humanity? What mystery is this that our fallen humanity – when put on by the Incarnate One – becomes the garment of our salvation! The Lord God covered his only begotten son with the robe of righteousness. And with what was Jesus covered if not with God’s divine nature? What mystery is this that God’s divinity – when covering the offspring of the Virgin’s womb – becomes the robe of righteousness! And so the Lord God has caused righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. As Jesus was clothed with our humanity and covered with God’s divinity, so now all of us who have been baptized into the Incarnate One have clothed ourselves with Christ, so that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus, all are Abraham’s seed, all are heirs according to the promise, all are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:26-29). Blessed mystery of the incarnation!

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God (Gal 4:4-7, NRSV).

This is who we are, children of God through the Incarnate One, though our minds can scarce comprehend, through our eyes are blind to the glory. So we eagerly wait for our revelation as sons and daughters of God. And we do not wait alone.

For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children (Rom 8:22-23, NET Bible).

Through the first man Adam, sin entered the world and with sin, the curse of disobedience, binding all Adam’s children to death and all of creation to futility and corruption. And though God could release creation by fiat, by simply speaking the word, God has instead bound creation to us in hope, so that creation will not be restored apart from us, but through us – through our adoption as children of God in the Incarnate One. And so now creation stands on tiptoe, eagerly waiting, impatiently longing for our full revelation as God’s children – waiting for us finally to live as children of God. In the meantime, creation groans and suffers – groans and suffers with birth pangs until Christ is born fully in us and God’s will is done fully on earth as it is in heaven. And on that great day when the last Adam, the Incarnate One Jesus Christ, is revealed in us creation’s groaning shall cease and creation’s praise shall resound.

Psalm 148 (BCP)

1 Hallelujah!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; *
praise him in the heights.

2 Praise him, all you angels of his; *
praise him, all his host.

3 Praise him, sun and moon; *
praise him, all you shining stars.

4 Praise him, heaven of heavens, *
and you waters above the heavens.

5 Let them praise the Name of the Lord; *
for he commanded, and they were created.

6 He made them stand fast for ever and ever; *
he gave them a law which shall not pass away.

7 Praise the Lord from the earth, *
you sea‑monsters and all deeps;

8 Fire and hail, snow and fog, *
tempestuous wind, doing his will;

9 Mountains and all hills, *
fruit trees and all cedars;

10 Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and wing├Ęd birds;
[Hallelujah!]

Rarely are hymnists theologians, and more rarely still are theologians hymnists; but, on those rare occasions of convergence – when music captures truth and gets it just right – what glory we experience.

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

The incarnation is joy not to the sons and daughters of God only, but joy to the earth, to all creation, as well; for all creation now sees its future revealed through the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the adoption of men and women as sons and daughters of God – not revealed fully as yet – but revealed enough, enough to sustain hope and awaken praise.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32, NRSV).

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

This old man and this old woman are sign and symbol of the hope of all creation, incarnations in human flesh and blood of the expectation and longing of the world for the revelation of the Incarnate One. They are also sign and symbol of the faithfulness of God to his promises. Simeon and Anna see in this baby before them the redemption of Jerusalem, the glory of Israel, and a light of revelation to the Gentiles – not fully revealed as yet; it is a baby, after all – but revealed enough to satisfy hope and awaken praise.

The world has moved on – “revolved from night to day,” as the hymn sings – leaving Bethlehem, angels, shepherds, stars, magi, Simeon and Anna – leaving the first Christmas – behind. Now it is plunging head long toward a new year: toward problems no one really seems to understand and toward solutions no one really has confidence will work. So be it; “Why Can’t Everyday Be Christmas?” is a fine song title but an unrealistic attitude. Christmas is over and “real life” has begun anew: time to move on.

But it is different with the church. It is the Feast of the Incarnation the church celebrates on 25 December – at least the church in the West – and on the twelve days following. And the Feast of the Incarnation – the incarnation itself – is not left behind on day thirteen. The Word has become flesh and has dwelt among us. The Incarnate One has united in one person his divinity and our humanity and has thereby made us sons and daughters of God, filling us with the Holy Spirit and setting us on a journey of restoration into the very image and likeness of God. The Incarnate One has been revealed to all creation sustaining creation’s hope that one day it will be released from futility and bondage to corruption – sustaining creation’s hope and awakening creation’s praise. The heart of God has plunged into the heart of human history in the incarnation and has sent ripples of grace propagating outward into all creation. You do not pack that away with the decorations and ornaments, pack it away in the attic, pack it away out of mind for another year: not if you are the church of the Incarnate One.

Amen.

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