Christmas Eve Homily: Joy of the Incarnation

For the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Providence Church.

When we think of Christmas, one of the first words that usually comes to mind is “joy.” We hear it in our carols, we read it on Christmas cards, and we hear it in the angel’s proclamation to the shepherd’s. For many people today, however, joy is one of the last things they feel during this time. Stress of planning gatherings, family strife, and unmet expectations rob us of our joy.

The Nativity of our Lord, however, is one of the greatest causes of joy. The news of the Incarnation is “good news of a great joy that will be for all people.” (Lk. 2.10) Christmas comes during to darkest time of the year with the joyful news that the Light has come.

The Nativity Icon

Christmas brings us joy because it is the news that God is with us. Isaiah prophesied that the virgin-born Messiah would be Immanuel, “God with us.” (Matt. 1.23; Is. 7.14) In the Incarnation,God tabernacled, or dwelt, among us.

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. (John 1.14)

In the Old Covenant, God’s presence was always veiled. But now, in Christ, John says “…we have seen his glory…” In the person of Jesus, God took on flesh and revealed himself to us and took residence with us, humbling himself (Phil. 2.) And, in entering our world, he entered into our suffering and pain. He was fully God and fully man. As Kevin Bauder recently said,

He was also born with a completely human body—specifically, a male body—that had all the appendages intact and functional. He experienced human growth as a human child in a human family, gained human insight through human learning, expressed Himself in human language, endured human hunger, thirst, weariness, and pain, felt human love, joy, compassion, fear, sorrow, and anger, experienced human betrayal, died a human death, and ultimately gained a human resurrection.

Jesus entered into humanity, in all our pain and sorrow, in order to redeem us from sin and death. The incarnation was necessary for our redemption.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2.14-18)

The Son of God took on human flesh because a human sacrifice was necessary for human sin. But only One who is eternal could fully bear the weight of God’s wrath against our sin. Jesus, the God-Man, is both the sacrifice and the priest, offering himself before the Father on our behalf. (And, as the author of Hebrews points out, he continues to intercede for us and help us in our temptation, because he faced the same temptations as a man.)

Jesus not only dwelt among us, but He did so in order that we might dwell in the Godhead. The Incarnation unites the divine and human in Christ, and (in union with Christ) in us as well. In Christ, we are brought into the eternal fellowship of the Trinity (1 John 1.) We are brought into fellowship with God, and with one another. And this fellowship is a fellowship of complete joy. God in Christ came to dwell with us, and he brings us into the eternal indwelling of the Father and Son in the Spirit; and we, now, are called to indwell one another. Here what Peter Leithart says about this ‘mutual indwelling’:

For Jesus, incorporation into the communion of the Father and Son by the Spirit overflows into the life of the community. The church is not only the tabernacle of God in the Spirit, but each member makes room for every other. Christmas is good news, but like all good news from God it comes with a demand: God dwells with you; dwell with one another. God made room in humanity for Himself to make room in Himself for humanity; therefore, stretch our to make room for others in yourself. God tabernacled among you; stretch your tent curtains so others can pitch near you.

So, this Christmas, make room in your heart and life for Jesus; take joy in the eternal communion of the Triune God. And follow Jesus’ example in entering into the lives of one another, bringing the good news of joy in Christ.

Advertisements

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today we remember the killing of the male children of Bethlehem by the cruel Herod. Matthew’s gospel gives the account of Herod becoming furious when he realizes that the wise men are not returning to him and his plan to put an end to the Messiah who would challenge his power is foiled; thus, he slays the innocent children. This children are often described as the first martyrs for Christ.

The observance of Childermas takes on new meaning in our day when millions of children are killed in abortion the United States, and particularly as this year the feast day falls two weeks after the killing of school children in Sandy Hook. With Rachel, we weep for the innocent children, both those slain in Bethlehem and in our own day; but we rejoice knowing that King Jesus conquers every Herod, and He will bring justice for His people, not forgetting any of His children.

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy
innocents of Bethlehem by the order of King Herod. Receive,
we beseech thee, into the arms of thy mercy all innocent
victims; and by thy great might frustrate the designs of evil
tyrants and establish thy rule of justice, love, and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,, one God, for ever and
ever. Amen.

Christmas Day 2012

SAMSUNG

The Collect

Almighty God, who hast given

us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 1662)

The Gospel

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. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 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.

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 ofgrace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For 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. (Gospel of St. John, 1.1-18)

Prepare the Way

Sermon, 3rd Sunday in Advent, December 16 AD 2012

Luke 3:1-20:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize youwith the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.

Introduction- Advent, Repentance and its Fruits

What do you think of when you hear the word “repentance?” Many people think that repenting is the same as saying “sorry.” Often, growing up, when I was disciplined for disobeying my parents, I would apologize, only to go back and repeat the offense later. I would hear “If you were really repenting, you would stop doing it.” I may have been sorry, but I was not truly repenting. A drunk can feel bad about his drunkenness, but still keep getting drunk. Repentance, however, changes people.

The Christian life is a life of repentance.  This doesn’t mean we are expected to go around feeling bad about ourselves all the time; it means we are called to recognize our sin and God’s wrath, turn to Christ, and live faithfully to Him. As we observe this season of Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, repentance is one of the means by which we prepare for Christ’s coming.  The mission of John the Baptist was to prepare the people of God for the coming of the Lord through “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” But when John calls people to repentance, he is calling for more than a one-time event; repentance is to set a new course for our entire lives. True repentance bears fruit.

Faith Rooted in History

Luke opens this section on the ministry of John the Baptist by establishing that this story is an event which took place in real history.  He carefully records rulers of Rome and the high priests of Israel not only to demonstrate the historicity of the faith, though; he is establishing for us the idea that John’s message is for all people, for Gentiles as well as Jews.   It’s in this time that “the Word of God came to John,” an Old Covenant prophet with a New Covenant message.

Preparation through Repentance

John the Baptist was sent as the herald of the Messiah; his mission was to prepare the way for Christ (Lk. 1.17).  Luke quotes Isaiah to show that John is the one prophesied to be the forerunner to the Messiah, preparing the people for the coming of the Lord. The setting of John’s ministry is important: Luke tells us three times that John is preaching “in the wilderness,” and specifically near the Jordan. This would have evoked vivid historical connections in the minds of the Jewish audience of God leading His people through the wilderness and across the Jordan. God is bringing a New Exodus to His people, meeting them in the wilderness. He is again bringing them to the Jordan for baptism.

John’s call is to “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” For Jews to come to John for a repentance-baptism meant that they were leaving their old way of life and believing that the day of salvation was coming. John’s baptism brought people into a new life of preparation for the climax of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. It cleansed the people of sin and set in motion their new life towards Christ. They still awaited, though, the baptism of Christ that John tells them is greater than his: He would baptize them “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” But we have the greater baptism of Christ. This same message is picked up by Peter after Pentecost in Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

We see then that preparation for the Lord means repentance. As sinful and defiled people, we need to be cleansed to be in God’s presence. When people encounter the Holy One, cleansing is required: think of Isaiah, and of John the Evangelist in Revelation. This is why we confess our sins and receive God’s pardon each week as we come into His throne room in the liturgy of the Lord’s Service.

Repentance is a turning from sin towards the Lord; from a wicked life to a righteous life (Lk. 1.16-17). As we have received Christ, we are to be turning from sin and pursuing righteousness. From the text quoted from Isaiah, we see that preparing the way takes the form of making straight paths for the Lord- bringing the high low, the crooked straight, and the rough smooth. The Kingdom of God disrupts the ebb-and-flow of the world and rearranges it according to Gospel ethics. When Jesus comes, He brings the proud down and raises the meek; He crushes the powerful and unjust and strengthens the weak and oppressed (Matt. 5).

The Fruits of Repentance

As we continue in this text, we find that when John calls people to repentance, he means more than simply a one-time event. He is talking about a turn-around, a change in the direction of one’s life from sin to God. It’s a way of life that, if genuine, will bear fruit.

The crowds around John were counting on their “Jewishness”, their physical descent from Abraham, for their salvation. John, however, says they are in reality not Abraham’s descendants but descendants of the Serpent: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” John is saying that they are in the wrong line: there is an offspring of the woman who would bless and save the world, and there is the offspring of the Serpent who would be crushed by the woman’s offspring (Gen. 3.15.) In this new era being announced by John, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God,” that is, salvation is extended to the Gentiles.

The crowds presumed that they were true Israel because of their physical lineage, but John says that they are known by their fruits: “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Someone who is truly repentant will not remain unchanged. Repentance is an inward change that necessarily bears outward results; it is the root that grows and bears fruit, and for everyone who claims Christ but does not bear the fruit of repentance, the coming of the Lord is a day of fearful judgment (v. 9.)

John’s audience was in danger of presuming that they were safe because of their Jewish lineage (v. 8.) But what they did not know was that what shows that they are a good tree or bad tree is their fruit, not their family tree. God was at work pruning the olive tree of His people; the Gentiles were now being grafted in, and dead branches removed. We, too, must beware of presuming on God’s grace. Our place in God’s people is not shown by our church affiliation or our family, but by the fruit borne out of our lives.

When we hear that repentance must bear fruit in our lives, we automatically want specifics: what does that fruit look like? Fortunately, the crowds around John wondered the same thing. “What then shall we do,”  they asked. John answers with the basics of Kingdom ethics: be generous, be just, and be content. The fruit that befits repentance is borne out in our daily lives. It is carried out through mercy and justice, through loving God and loving our neighbors. We are called, then, to exercise justice and integrity in our business, family life, and community. And we are called to radical generosity, sharing with others what God has given to us.

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, the repentance we are called to is more than simply saying we are sorry for are sin. If we are truly repentant, our lives will bear fruit that matches that repentance, the fruit of the Gospel. We have in this text the Gospel preached to us: baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (v.3, 18.) We are baptized into a life of repentance. So let us live lives that bear fruit; not simply “feeling bad” about our sin, but really changing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Be generous, be just, be merciful, and be content.

The Cosmic Gospel: Col. 1.15-23

Sermon, Christ the King Sunday, November 25, AD 2012

Introduction

People today tend to find their identity in what they call their story. Our postmodern culture is fascinated by personal narratives, or the “story” of one’s life that makes that person who they are. In this culture, everyone has their own story, and that story defines their “truth.”

But, if our lives are simply a bunch of individual and unrelated narratives, what meaning do our lives have? If that’s true, then what’s important in your story might not be important in mine; what’s true in my story might not be true in yours. However, there is an over-arching story, a meta-narrative, that binds all of our stories together. It is a story that gives each one of our stories meaning. That story is God’s story.

In this text, St. Paul tells this story. The plot moves from creation to new creation, the reconciled cosmos. It centers on one figure: Jesus, the “Beloved Son” of God. It is in this story about Jesus as the Cosmic Lord who reconciles the broken universe that we find our place. We are Christ’s body, objects of His grace, and agents of His reconciliation.

This story reshapes our idea of the gospel. The gospel is more than simply how Jesus saves you, or how Jesus saves people in general. It is that, but it is far greater than that. The gospel is the story of how Jesus saves the universe. This gospel is a cosmic gospel. Paul gives us the big-picture gospel.

Summary of the Text

Colossians 1:15-20 is often considered a hymn or poem, and Paul gives the poem a two-fold structure. The first, vv. 15-17, describe the lordship of Jesus of the created order; the second, vv. 18-20, describe His lordship over the new creation. Paul’s main message is that Jesus, the revelation of God and the Captain of the universe, is the creator and sustainer of all things. Through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, He is reconciling the fallen universe to Himself through His body, the Church. As reconciled people, we are called to live holy lives and persevere in the hope of the gospel.

 Main Body

Jesus is Captain of Creation: In this first section Paul establishes Jesus’ lordship over the created order. He identifies Him as “the image of the invisible God,” and “the firstborn of all creation.”

Jesus is, Paul tells us, is the revelation of the Father. No one has seen the Father at any time, St. John says (Jn. 1:18.) God’s face was veiled from view in the times of the Old Covenant. In the tabernacle, the Holy Place and the Most Holy place were sectioned off with veils. But in the incarnation, God has revealed Himself in His Son. When Phillip asked Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus answered “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9.) Jesus came to make the Father known (Jn. 1:18.) He is the image and reflection of God. In Jesus we see who God is. If we want to know what God is like, we have simply to look at the life of Jesus.  He is God-with-Man, the Word Incarnate. He is the New Tabernacle, where God and Man meet. To see Him is to see the Father; to know Him is to know the Father.

Being the “image… of God” also reckons back to Adam, made in God’s image. Jesus is the Image of God and  thus the Second Adam.

Jesus, the God-man, is called by Paul the “firstborn of all creation.” This does not mean that Jesus Himself is a created being and simply was created first, but rather that He ranks above all of the created order. In Psalm 89, a psalm about Christ, the offspring of David, God says of Him “I will make Him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” (Ps. 89:27) So, Jesus is the highest in rank over all creation. He is the King, or the Captain, of creation. All things are under His authority.

Why? Because, “in Him all things were created.” As the Captain of the created order, all that is was created in Jesus, that is, in His domain or under His headship. This includes “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” The entire cosmos was created in Jesus. Paul especially highlights authority structures: “… whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities…” Every earthly and heavenly authority is under Christ, whether political rulers or the angelic realm. Kings and nations are called to submit to Jesus as Lord. Psalm 2 counsels kings to “Serve Yahweh with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way.”

This applies to the angelic realm as well. Both the righteous and the rebellious spiritual rulers are under Christ’s authority. They owe their very existence to Him. The way that Satan to God is demonstrated in the story of Job: he cannot touch God’s servant without God’s permission, and he can do no more than God allows. The same is true of the demonic host: Jesus demonstrates His authority over the demons in His earthly ministry as “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” (Mk. 1:27) This reality should be a great comfort to us. Though Satan and his host are powerful and wicked, they cannot lay a finger on us outside of God’s sovereign will.

So, Jesus is the head of creation, and He is also the means and the goal of creation. “…all things were created through Him and for Him,” Paul says. He in whom and by whom all things were created is the end, or goal, of creation. The universe is, in fact, sustained in Him as well (v. 17). All things hold together in Jesus. All of history is to be summed up in Christ, for He is governing all things for His eternal purpose. Jesus is the center of the cosmos.

Jesus is Captain of New Creation: Paul moves now to the reconciled world. The created order was disrupted and under curse because of Man’s rebellion and covenant-breaking, but in God’s grace He re-creates and puts the world to rights through His Son.

Jesus, the image of God, “is the head of the body, the Church.” (v.18) Thus, the Church, in union with Jesus, is the image of God in the New Creation. The Church is also a microcosm of the universe. The future of the universe is bound up with the Church. As the Church is reconciled, we become the agent of reconciliation in the world. As head, he gives life to the body. He is the source of our life, he sets our course, and our actions are to serve His will.

So, the body of Christ, the Church, is the center of the New Creation. The Church is the central and most important institution in our lives. Our families, communities, and state are important, but none are more important than the Church. This is the primary institution through which God works His reconciliation. It then flows to our family life, communities, state, and the whole world.

Jesus is not only the “firstborn” of creation; He is “the firstborn from the dead.” (v. 18) He is “declared the Son of God in power… by His resurrection from the dead.” (Rom. 1:4)

Jesus is the Inaugurator of the New Birth, and He is leading a great host to follow in resurrection.  Paul elsewhere says Jesus is the “firstborn among many brothers.” (Rom. 8:29) We as His body share in His resurrected life, and will one day be a part of that great resurrection of His people. Once again, the term “firstborn” also implies rank. Paul says that the result of Jesus being “firstborn from the dead” is that He is preeminent in all things. He is the Captain of the New Creation.

Jesus is the Temple of the New Creation, for “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (v. 19) Whereas God once dwelt in the physical Temple, that Temple has now been destroyed and Jesus is the meeting place for God and Man. Thus the Church, as Jesus’ body, is the Temple in the world. In Jesus, the New Temple, all things are being reconciled to God, and the means by which they are being reconciled is “the blood of His cross.” In Jesus death on the cross, He made peace by becoming the atoning sacrifice for our sin, and He also made peace by reversing the curse over the universe. His death purchased our salvation and the salvation of the universe.

The very same things Christ exercised authority in the created order are now being reconciled in the New Creation: “whether on earth or in heaven.” Rulers and authorities and dominions are being reconciled to the Son. We may wonder how that can be when we look at the present state of rulers of the earth. Most of them are certainly not bowing the knee to King Jesus. Does that mean this reconciliation will never be manifest in this age? No, Paul says that reconciliation is a reality, but one that will be worked out progressively through Christ’s agents of reconciliation, the Church. As Jesus works through His Church, the state may begin to function under the ethics of the Gospel.

Application and Conclusion

This text brings us all the way through the story of the Son of God ruling over history. He is the Captain of creation, and the Captain of New Creation. He is reconciling all things- us, the world, the whole universe- to Himself.

In this story we find our place.

  • We, Christ’s Church, are His body and the agents of reconciliation. We are to herald the news that Jesus is King over all, calling all men to repent and bow to Him.
  • We are to work this reconciliation into every sphere of our lives, because Jesus is Lord over all of it. Our family, our vocation, our friendships, our communities, and our state are all arenas in which we can bring the reality of the gospel of reconciliation.
  • Finally, Paul exhorts us on the basis of our personal reconciliation to “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.” (v. 23) The goal of our reconciliation is to be presented holy and blameless by Jesus, but only the ones who persevere to the end will be saved.

So, let us live in the reality of reconciliation. Bring the gospel to every creature. Acknowledge Jesus as Lord over all of your life. Press on in the hope of the gospel.

Amen.