Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

Sermon on John 1:1-18
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
December 24, 2008 (Eve of the Nativity of our Lord)

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness He called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.” “Now, wait a minute, Pastor,” you might be saying, “this is a Christmas service. Why are you reading from Genesis?” The reason is that the creation story in Genesis forms the background to what John tells us about Jesus in our text.

You see, what John gives us is not all the details about Christ’s birth, which Luke and Matthew talk about. Instead, John tells us “the story behind the story.” John tells us Who the Baby in the manger really is: the Son of God. The Son of God existed from eternity. He is true God as well as true man. As such, He was the One through whom the Father created everything. He is the Word the Father spoke to bring everything into being, and at His birth in Bethlehem He is the Word the Father speaks to restore everything to its original perfection after mankind had disrupted it by falling into sin.

The first thing John calls Christ is the Word. When someone speaks a word, that word tells others what is in his heart. Christ is the Word of the Father. He shows us what is in the Father’s heart. When God created the Heavens and the Earth, He did so by speaking His word. John also calls Christ the Light. When God created the physical world, light was the first thing He created. We could not exist, we could not live, without light. Not only would we be stumbling around, bumping into things, but we would have no food, because plants need light to grow, we would have no fuel for heat, because fuel comes from plants, and so forth. The energy for life to exist on earth comes here by means of light from the sun. This is how God sustains our lives. Christ is called the Light because it is through Him that the Father gives us what we need to live eternally.

God created the world perfect, but it did not stay that way. Mankind fell into sin. Satan tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, telling her, “You will be like God!” What does that mean, “You will be like God?” God is the one who gives us everything we need to support this body and life. This is part of what He does as Creator. If we think that we are the ones who provide for our own needs, then we are making ourselves into our own Gods. Now, of course, in the physical world God gives sunshine and rain and so forth even to those who think that they don’t need God to provide for them. But God won’t do that forever. God will eventually destroy this world, and when He does those who rely on themselves will be cut off from God’s help and will go to eternal torment.

So much for the atheists and the agnostics. But what about us? We know there is a God, and we know He gives us everything we need. Are we any better off? Well, if we rely on ourselves to please God, no we aren’t. Not only is God the one who gives us physical life, He is the only one who can save us from the sinful condition we are in. He is the One who gives us everything we need for our spiritual lives as well as our physical lives. If we rely on our own good works to try to earn His favor, we are cutting ourselves off from Christ, the Light of the World, and rejecting Him. If we think we’re pretty good people who only need to come to Church on major holidays, that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of our relationship with Him. Being a Christian isn’t a matter of living a pretty good life and only coming to Church if you need extra motivation. You can’t live a good enough life to be saved that way. Being a Christian is realizing that selfishness corrupts everything we do, even the things we do that look like good works, and that only through His promise of forgiveness, which comes to us through His Word, are we able to be reconciled to Him. God has given His Son to save us. If we think we can save ourselves, which is what we’re doing if we treat the opportunities to hear His Word carelessly and only show up every so often, we reject Him.

However, God is so gracious that He sent His Word, His Light, to save us from our sins. On the cross, Christ took upon Himself the punishment we face for our sins and for our self-righteous attitude. This was the entire purpose for God to send His Word to take on human flesh and dwell among us. He became one of us in order to be punished in our place. By doing this, he showed us the love in the Father’s heart.

When we don’t talk about what is in our heart, our family and friends have no way of knowing what we are thinking. It’s the same way with God. If He hadn’t spoken His Word to us, we would have no way of knowing what was in His heart. Sometimes Christians try to find out what God thinks about them not by looking to His Word but by looking into their own hearts and seeing how they feel about God. They figure if they have the “right” emotions about God, feelings of peace, joy, love for God or whatever, then God probably loves them. But there is no way to be sure of this. Our feelings can and do change, even though God’s love for us does not. The only way we can be sure that He loves us is that He spoke his Word to us, that is, He sent his Son to bear the punishment for us.

Because Christ has suffered in our place, He is the one we look to for the forgiveness of sins. Instead of our own good works, we rely on Christ to reconcile us with the Father. He is the only source we have of spiritual life. He is the only source we have of eternal life. That’s why He is called our Light. When we hear the Word and receive the Sacrament, we receive this Light, which gives us the ability to live. We receive the ability to do genuine, selfless good works and to thank and praise God in truth. We receive the ability to share this Light with others by speaking the Word of the forgiveness of sins. We receive nothing less than eternal life itself, where there will be no darkness nor will there be a need for the moon or the sun, because Christ Himself will be all the light we need. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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