Christmas (sermon)

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Hebrews 1:1-12          John 1:1-14

 

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us
full of grace and truth."

Joy has begun to enter our bones this morning as we sing these songs we know well, and sing them together!

Christmas celebrates the historical reality of the birth of the Jesus over 2000 years ago, in a particular place and time.

We started to sing the Gloria today in our liturgy, which is an ancient hymn beginning with the words the angels sang to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth:  Glory be to God on high, and in earth peace, good will towards men.  These words are inscribed in Latin on the dome above you.

The peace that is promised by God through the angels, is not first between nations – though we pray for that and we long for it – but the promised peace is a peace that enters the individual soul.  It is the peace that comes with being fully reconciled and in love with God our Maker and with our neighbour, with the people who live around us – our spouse, our family and friends, and indeed our next door neighbour!

Christmas proclaims that somehow this peace comes about because of the birth of Jesus.  Jesus is not just a remarkable man, but we believe He is also God, who took flesh to live on earth as a man.

We’re guided in this understanding of who Jesus is by this remarkable Gospel reading today – the first verses of John’s Gospel, which is called the Prologue to John’s Gospel.  It is the prism through which we open up the meaning of the whole of God’s revelation in the Bible.

John begins his gospel by a sentence that parallels what is going on in the first chapter of the first book of the Old Testament.

Genesis says,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

John says,

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 anything made that was made. 

Logos, is the original Greek word translated into English as “Word”: it is the Wisdom of God or the reason or the meaning behind all things.  Through that Word, God creates all things.

It is like when we have an idea first in our mind only, and then it becomes an outward reality as we speak it and act on it to bring it into existence.  Even so God creates through the Word.  That’s why it is important to be careful with what we think, and what we say, and what we bring about into the world – good or ill.  And God said, Let there be light! And there was light.

And John concludes:

And the Word was made 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 the teaching of this Bible passage is that Jesus is fully God and fully man.  Not that God stopped being God in heaven, or was shrunk down into a man, but that God in heaven took also human flesh and dwelt on earth at the same time.

For His followers, Jesus brings about profound transformation, filling every stage of our lives with a holy significance, giving us peace and bringing an underlying joy.

My wife Daniëlle says that I must speak about the Incarnation in the light of my experience of having our little girl Eva, 11 weeks ago.

Well, you today who are mothers, you know something of the love of Mary for Jesus. Silvia Hoogendijk told me she loved having her infant children in her arms around this time of year.  She felt this correspondence with the divine plan.  Mothers, did your minds ever turn to thoughts of Mary and the baby Jesus as you held and nurtured your child in your arms?   Does your mind return there today?  Fathers, you (and now I) know something of Joseph’s frantic love to provide shelter and to protect this frail Mother and Child – feeling, of necessity, one step removed, and yet wanting to do something to help?  God shows in a moment, by His Incarnation, what is most important in this world – not the building of earthly kingdoms, and arriving in pomp and glory – but the tender moments of new life, because He took flesh of the Virgin Mary and was made man.  We enjoy reading and singing about the humble origins of our Lord, born in a stable, to people who were on the run from the tyranny of Herod, who sought to kill this child.  The Holy Family fled soon after Jesus’ birth to Egypt until the tyrant was dead.  We know that God knows our predicaments, the fragility of our lives here on earth.

To all who care for young children, Jesus says, remarkably, If you receive one such child in my name, you receive me. [Mt 18:15] The profundity of this statement can hardly be grasped.  But Jesus identifies himself with the humble child who looks for instruction and he gives dire warnings to anyone who would offend a child.  He turns upside down what the world sees as most important – fame, power, wealth, our careers – these things pale in comparison with the young soul being formed in our midst – there you can receive Christ Himself!

You here today who are in your teens, do you remember when Jesus was a teen (we will read this story two Sundays from now)?  Jesus went to the Temple and sat among the teachers, and they were astonished at His understanding and answers. [Lk 2:41-end] But who else can tell us on earth of the deep things of God except He who came down from heaven?  Or which other human being has such purity of heart and mind as Jesus to perceive the mysteries of Wisdom that elude us?  Jesus gives us hope that we too, might see more deeply into the things of heaven, through the purifying he offers us, because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us?

And Jesus says we can expect, if we give drink to those who are thirsty, food to those who are hungry, when visiting the sick, and those in prison, we can expect to encounter Jesus Himself. [Mt 25:31-end] These simple encounters – not great political intrigues, or the building of personal empires – but rather our kind attentions to one another, we are told, are known forever in heaven.  But our knowing this and our being able to do it, to be generous, to be loving, become possible because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

As we stumble in our lives trying to follow Jesus, we know more and more the need for a Saviour.  We have come to trust in the offering of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins.  But it’s only because we believe that Jesus is not only a man, but also God, that His suffering and death on the Cross, we are sure, is the sacrifice sufficient for the sins of the whole world.  There could be no more pure, more holy, offering, and He has done it for us, in the flesh.  Getting the smallest things right in our souls, with God and other people, are important to us and made possible, because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

As we age, all of us suffer in the flesh.  Our bodies will be broken in time.  Which one of us, as believers in the Incarnate Word, have not received relief and renewal of hope, as we think upon Jesus who (says Paul in Hebrews 2:10) was perfected through His suffering in the flesh? Which one of us, feeling forsaken or betrayed, has not remembered the words of Jesus on the Cross and found strength once again to commend our souls to our heavenly Father.  We know that our God knows us in our sufferings and loves us.  He was there, he bears on his risen body the imprints of love in His hands and feet and in His side.  We know our sufferings can be redemptive because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Do you see how God’s coming in the flesh makes significant all our earthly circumstances – our birth, our childhood, our teen years, our adult years, our sufferings, even our dying?  He renews our love for one another and our love for God.  He brings profound meaning into the everyday.

God appeared to us in this passing world, in the flesh, so that we might fix our earthly eyes on Him – and so to be led, to ascend, as by steps:  First, to know His perfect humanity, and, by grace, to become more like Him.  And then, to know Jesus as God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God and come to be partakers of the divine nature.

Let us prepare ourselves now, through repentance and faith, to make our hearts a lowly dwelling ready to receive our Lord.  Let us fall down and adore him, and receive him once again into our hands, into our mouths, and so, into our hearts!

And may God’s peace and joy be the consequence!

Amen +

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Worship Address: Adventist Church, Boomberglaan 6, Hilversum

Mailing Address:  Overmeerseweg 120, 1394 BJ Nederhorst den Berg

Contact: (+31) 06 124 104 31 revdgphillips@hotmail.com

Donations:  NL75 INGB 0709 7677 49 (t.n.v. All Saints Anglican Church Amersfoort.)
(This All Saints account is designated for Ascension funds only.)

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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2