Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas Eve Sermon

Tonight, we celebrate the incarnation — God became a man and lived among us. This provokes the question, “Why did God take on flesh; why did God become a human?” This is the great question of Christmas.

To answer this we need to go back to the beginning. We read tonight that mankind, who enjoyed holy fellowship with God, sinned and was cast out of the garden. The communion mankind shared with God and the community mankind shared with each other was lost in the fall. We are heirs of this story. Because of sin, we are separated from God. Left to ourselves we will die in our sins for the wages of sin is death.

You may not think that’s fair. You may think that you’re a good enough person to make your way back to the garden, back to communion and fellowship with God. I hate to break it to you, what God demands is perfect holiness, not a good try. The standard by which we measure our righteousness is God’s holy law. Holy scripture teaches us that if you are guilty of breaking one of the commandments, you are guilty of the whole law.

Because we inherited Adam’s sinful nature, we are inclined by nature to sin. This inclination is evident in our infancy. When you were two years old and you reached out and took your brother’s toy and screamed, “MINE!,” you blew it. When you were a teenager and you told your parents you were going to “study,” but instead went out to your boyfriend/girlfriend’s house, you lied. In the law we find God's standard of righteousness: God demands sinlessness; we quickly discover we cannot achieve it.

What are we left to do, then? Because of the introduction of sin into the world, humanity is doomed to death. Because of the fall we cannot earn our way back into a right relationship with God by our own efforts. We are exiled east of Eden unable to enjoy God’s perfect holiness. But, there is hope —because we have been cast out of the garden, God comes to us. God became man — one with us — that we might be become one with Him through his Incarnation. Jesus Christ became man that through his humanity, his union with us in our human nature, he might restore mankind to a holy communion with God. Our relationship to God is restored through his son Jesus Christ.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word, the second person of the Trinity, broke through to our timeline and dwelt in a virgin’s womb for nine months. By her, he became a man, and his name is Jesus, Jeshua, which means “salvation.” We call this the incarnation. He actually took on our flesh, God became fully 100% human while still maintaining full 100% divinity. If the math sounds wrong it’s because this is a mystery, something we will never be able to fully grasp; the Apostle Paul calls it the mystery of godliness.

On that night in Bethlehem, God became human. As a man-child he grew. He fed from his mother’s milk, just like us. He first crawled then learned to walk, just like us. He fell and bruised his knees, just like us. He even lived through puberty, just like us. And he grew in wisdom and knowledge, just like us. He was like us in every way save one — he knew no sin. He lived a sinless life yet died a sinner’s death. God became man so that we might become one with him through his incarnation, the very reason we celebrate this holy day.

Jesus is God's beloved son who takes away the sins of the world! Though mankind died with Adam, Jesus became man that we might be raised to new life. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This night we celebrate Jesus' birth because he has done for us what we could never do for ourselves — in him we become the righteousness of God.

And so we return to the great and glorious mystery of the Incarnation. For unto us is born this night in the city of David a saviour who is Christ the Lord. On this night in Bethlehem lies Jesus in a manger. Jesus is to be found in a lowly manger. As we come to holy communion — a restored holy communion between God and man — perhaps we should be reminded that a manger is just a feeding trough used to feed animals. But that night it did not hold food for animals; instead, it held food for us. That night it held our savior, the Bread of Life. Eating the forbidden fruit from a tree is what destroyed mankind; eating from the man who hung on a tree will restore mankind. We are no longer exiled East of Eden but have been restored to a right relationship with God.

One Anglican divine, Lancelot Andrewes, had a ciborium (a vessel that holds bread for communion). On that ciborium sat a cover on which was engraved the star of Bethlehem as a reminder that Jesus was to be found wherever that Bethlehem star led us. In Christ's church, at the altar, we find once again he who was made flesh for us. This altar, this table becomes for us a new Bethlehem. Friends, tonight through Holy Communion, where Christ himself comes to us, we enter one again into the mystery to be found in Bethlehem where we will dine with the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who takes away our sin.

And so, we have the answer to our question: why did God become man? God became a man so he could save us from our sins. As we celebrate the mystery of the incarnation , we join our voices with those who have come before us, singing “O come, O come emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.” God's ransom has come to us this night. In Jesus Christ God saves us from our sins. Amen.