Christmas Day

C0 - Mystic_Nativity,_Sandro_Botticelli

Hebrews 1:1-12       John 1:1-14

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

 

All our Advent preparations are done.  The day of celebration has arrived.  It brings us joy just to be together.  But to be together in the worship of Jesus, on the celebration of his birth, heightens our joy, it is a taste of the life of heaven.

So let  us rest in this moment.

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In the past few weeks our daily readings have been from the book of the prophet Isaiah from about 800 years before the birth of Jesus.  In that book God reveals to Israel its unfaithfulness – from the lowliest person to the leadership by corrupt kings and priests.  But God promises to deliver the people from their darkness.  A key passage is from Isaiah 9:

You’ve heard these words if you listened to Handel’s Messiah, as I have this past week…

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:
they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined…. [2]

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. [6]

These are verses 2 and 6 of Chapter 9. But in between those verses Isaiah prophesies of the way God will do this:

For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.

Isaiah is saying that God’s deliverance of Israel will not come by a military victory, but as in the day of Midian.  Do you know the story of Midian?  It was in the time of the Judges, 500 years before Isaiah, God chose Gideon to go and save Israel from their oppressors.  There were few Israelite warriors compared to the large army that was encamped in a valley close by.  So Gideon was guided by God to tell his warriors to go at night and spread themselves out on the hills that were around the army.  They were to light a torch hidden in a clay pot in one hand, and to hold a trumpet in the other.  And on the signal, they all smashed their clay pots to reveal the torch and they blew their trumpets.  The army encamped below them in a valley suddenly woke up and thought themselves surrounded by vast numbers and fled in terror, even turning their swords on one another in their confusion.

How is God’s salvation in Christ like this?  Well, we’ll come back to this.  It’s a cliff-hanger…

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Our Epistle reading today is from Hebrews. St. Paul starts this letter by pulling out all the stops!  He writes,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, [of course the Jews reading this letter would agree] but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, [the Jews would have understood this as the promised Messiah] whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

What?! Through whom also he created the world?

Paul continues, He [that is, Jesus, the Messiah] 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.

What?!  The exact imprint of [God’s] nature, and…and upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Do you see what I mean about pulling out all the stops?

And just to make sure we get it – he then quotes from various parts of the Old Testament, words that are said in prophesy about this Messiah, this Son of God: that reveal that He is greater than the angels.

Think about this – in creation, there is a hierarchy of beings.  Inanimate things like stones at the bottom of creation, then plants, then more and more complex and intelligent creatures, animals, then human beings and finally angels are at the summit, spiritual beings unseen but more powerful than human beings – they are next to God.  Yet this Son is said to be higher than the angels, and the angels are commanded by God to worship him.  It is only right for them to do this, if this human being Jesus Christ is also God himself.

We have this figured in Botticelli’s The Mystical Nativity (on your service sheet) – the angels worshipping Christ, this is a statement that Jesus is not just the greatest human being, but also God in the flesh.

Paul saw it – Jesus is both God and man – it was very clear to him, and yet it is such an astounding teaching that the Church struggled in the first few centuries before it could state it clearly in our creeds.

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In our Gospel this message is also proclaimed.  We have the words of John.  He writes,

IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made through him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

These statements are written by John to relate Jesus to the Jews, who knew the revelation of God in the Old Testament (it parallels the first words in Genesis – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…).

And these statements are written by John to relate Jesus to the Greeks, the next part of the world to be evangelized.  The Greek word that John uses, that we translate as “Word”, is “Logos”.   It means the Divine Reason or Wisdom.  The Greeks, through their greatest philosophers, using human reason, had come to conclude that God must be the divine Reason or Wisdom behind all things.

John says, He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 

All people are made in God’s image and likeness.  So why was Jesus not known by the world into which he came?  Why did many of the Jews, His own chosen people, not receive Him as their long awaited Messiah?  Why do many people today not receive Him who hear this record of his appearing?

It is not just because God is so beyond us that we cannot comprehend the Light.  God is Truth and we would rather back away than go through the painful process of the unveiling of our self deceptions and confessing our waywardness and need of help.  We hide ourselves even from ourselves.  And we’ve been hurt so we trust less and so love less.  We’re hindered in receiving God because of our confusion and perhaps because of our shame, even our fear of the Holy One.

We are made to want God, but at the same time we are frightened to face God.

So God chose a way to sneak up on us, to come by stealth.  And this brings us back to the prophesy of Isaiah – that our salvation would happen as in the day of Midian.

  • Remember the clay pot, the warriors held in their hands, it is a figure of human nature – the lit torch hidden in a clay pot, is a figure of God hiding His divine light by taking our human nature upon Him – unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.  He came into our midst hidden as a humble, lowly, vulnerable infant to poor parents – not a threat at all.
  • Remember the warriors shattered the clay pots to reveal their torches – it is only after Christ’s death upon the Cross – the shattering of his human nature – and Resurrection, that His divine nature is unveiled.   Only then is he seen even by his disciples to be God in the flesh.  Only after Jesus’ death and Resurrection can the Holy Spirit, God’s Light, be revealed and poured into our hearts. And He shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Isaiah is saying the Messiah will be both man and God.
  • The trumpet that the warriors held is a figure of the Gospel, the Word of truth by which this battle against the world, the flesh and the devil is overcome – both within us as individuals and into the societies where it is proclaimed.  As the Gospel is proclaimed it causes division, confusion, within each soul and a clash with the cultures in which it is preached.  But the battle for our souls and for societies is won, not with confused noise and garments rolled in blood, not with the lifting up of the sword of war, but by the Truth – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

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.

God appeared to us in our midst, that we might fix our eyes on Him in a way that we could see him – in the flesh – in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  If we look on Jesus we are led, by steps, to know first his perfect humanity, and then, to no longer think of him as human only but also as the Son of God.  We come to know Jesus as God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God – as we will soon proclaim in the Creed.

To all who did receive him, who believe in his Name, to them gave he power to become children of God…

If we believe and have been baptized, we have received Jesus and been born again, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. We walk with one foot on earth and one foot in heaven.  Of course we are far from perfect, we stumble, but we are on our way.

If we have not been baptized or believed, we can turn to Jesus, even today, making our hearts a humble home, ready to receive Him.  We can turn to Him with the simple trust of the young Virgin Mary.  When the angel Gabriel told her she would give birth to Jesus, she said be it unto me according to your word.  Our willingness is enough, and he will be brought to birth in us.

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, like the shepherds and wise men, and receive him into our hands, into our mouths, and so, into our hearts!

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

Happy Christmas to you all!

Gezegend Kerstfest!

 

Amen +

 

 

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Worship Address: Adventist Church, Boomberglaan 6, Hilversum

Mailing Address:  Robijn 13, 3893 EN Zeewolde

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

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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