Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth. To you is born this day a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord…
The first Christmas proclamation, over the plains of Bethlehem, to the shepherds in the fields abiding—when lo! throughout the heaven’s rang out the angel chorus. You know how it goes. This proclamation is interesting because it’s first and foremost, as is right and salutary, headed up by praise to God—“Glory to God in highest”—but then immediately moves into what that glory means for us. “To you”—The glory of Christmas is fundamentally a message for us, proclaimed to us, to us, for our sake. And this is the heart of our relationship with God, really. That this good news matters for us.
It’s one thing that God is glorious. It’s a wholly other thing altogether that God’s glory should mean something for us. Martin Luther hammers this point home in preaching on of Christmas afternoon in 1530—“This is the chief article, which separates us from the those who don’t believe, that you…may be able to boast in your heart: I hear the Word that sounds from heaven and says: This child who is born of the virgin is not only his mother’s son. I have more than the mother’s estate; he is more mine than Mary’s, for he was born for me, for the angel said, “To you” is born the Savior.” But what about what comes next? Born? What do we make of that? Not appeared. Not arrived. Not come, emerged, or sprung up. Born. What does this mean? Is it significant that Jesus was born and didn’t just fall out of heaven, fully grown? And what difference does that make to you? Ponder that as we go into the sermon today…
Would you pray with me? May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
An elephant was thoroughly enjoying himself as he splashed about the river. A mouse was perched on the shore. It was obvious that he was disturbed by something. The mouse yells at the elephant, “Come out of the water at once. “ The elephant laughs and says, “Why should I come out?“ The mouse is not about to be humiliated by this mountain of flesh. He keeps yelling and yelling. The elephant realizes that he if wanted any peace and quiet he had better come out of the water. Slowly the elephant lumbers out of the water and stands towering over the mouse. “Now, why did you want me to come out of the water?” The mouse looks up and says, “I wanted to see if you were wearing my bathing suit.”
You may be scratching your head, wondering what an elephant playing in a river and a cranky mouse and a bathing suit have to do with Christmas, but it’s rather straightforward, at least at one level. Christmas is the time we celebrate, honor, and remember God’s incarnation, God’s enfleshment as a human being. We Christians almost take it for granted that God became a human being, but when you step back and seriously consider what it means, you see just how radical and tremendous this claim is. God became a human being…The divine became mortal…The eternal became temporal…The limitless became limited. God’s incarnation as a human being just like us—not a superman or partially godly, partially human, not partially spiritual and partially material—but a human being just like us.
God’s incarnation as a human being just like us reverses the way we think things should be. It turns things completely upside down. It might seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but I’m not. When you really step back and look at the incarnation, it blows your mind what God has chosen to do in Jesus. It is easier for us to understand how an elephant could wear a mouse’s bathing suit than it is for us to understand the awesome mystery of the incarnation, God’s word made flesh. He wore our own suit of flesh—God’s body suit.
At its core, Christmas is about God’s Word—in particular God’s promise. God uttered this promise at the very moment of creation when darkness hovered over the face of the tumultuous deep. “Let there be light.” The very first words that God spoke were words of promise—a promise that brings order out of chaos, clarification out of confusion, and ultimately life from nothingness. In the beginning, in the speaking of a word, God revealed himself as one whose word does something, effects something, creates something. God’s Word makes life. It changes things. “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
Time and again, throughout history, God’s Word has proven faithful. “So shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth,” says God through the Prophet Isaiah. “It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Throughout history, when God made a promise, when God said something, God’s Word did precisely what he intended for it to do. It didn’t come back empty-handed. God’s promise always did the work he spoke it to do. God’s Word completed the assignment he assigned it. The promise to be a great nation with many descendants. The promise of deliverance from captivity under Pharaoh. The promise of a homeland desirable to all who pass through. The promise of a special relationship—to be our God and we his people. Time and again, throughout history, God’s Word has proven faithful.
And so at Christmas, we celebrate, honor, and remember God’s Word fulfilled—but this time fulfilled in such a way that is different than we expect. When someone gives us their word, we expect them to keep their word. We hold fast with a certain level of assurance, depending on what we know about the one making us the promise, perhaps their past loyalty to their word even plays a role. Whatever the case may be, when someone makes us a promise we have a certain level of expectation that it will come true. We trust that it will turn out as they say. When a young boy’s mother tells him they’ll have cake for dessert after he finishes his Brussel sprouts, his trust in his mother’s reliability to her word is strengthened when he finishes his Brussel sprouts and his mother gives him some cake. It’s as simple as that. And so it is with all promises. When promises are kept, we come to believe more strongly.
But what of the incarnation? What of God’s enfleshment? In the beginning, when God first created life, God’s Word went out and accomplished what it purposed. In the same way, in the incarnation, God’s Word goes out and accomplishes what it purposes. For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became truly human…God became a human being.
What does this mean? This means that God himself is in the midst of life with us—in the good, the bad, and everything in between. God as a human being, Jesus—Jesus means God is no longer some abstract, inaccessible deity perched on a throne some lightyears away in a distant heaven. God is right here, in front of us, and what’s more, God is a fragile infant with all the needs of an infant. All the needs!—suckling, sleeping, crying, loving, changing…Born that day long ago, Jesus was just like you and like me as a baby. He depended on his mother and father for care. He grew up. He learned. He experienced happiness. He experienced sadness. He got sick. He ran and played with his friends. He got disappointed. He knew what it was to be a human being because he was a human being. God became truly human and lived among us.
In Jesus, God’s promise never to abandon us is made radically and tremendously clear. God desires so much to love us, to be close to us and in relationship with us that God becomes one of us and lives completely with us. God desires so much to love us, to be close to us and in relationship with us that God likewise dies completely with us. Jesus is not spared anything human, not even the cold of the grave.
But it’s for this that God came into the world—not to condemn us, but in order that we might be saved through him. God didn’t go to all the trouble of becoming human in Jesus merely to tell us how bad we are. He came to help, to put the world right again. He came to strengthen the relationship he established with us even before we were born. He came to make clear the power of his promise that light is stronger than darkness, love stronger than hate, goodness stronger than evil, and ultimately that life is stronger than death.
But what’s more, he came to strengthen our faith, the relationship we have with God—to strengthen it and assure us that indeed, darkness will not envelope us. Hate will not win out over us. Evil will not beleaguer us forever. And even so by his birth, life, death, and resurrection, Jesus dignifies our own humanity—everywhere that humanity is lived out, including in our workplaces and all our relationships. We bring God’s constant love with us, and his delight in our humanity, wherever we go, to whomever we encounter, whenever we are there.
Because it’s not just in creating us but also in coming to us, in sharing our flesh, in living among us, in in wearing the suit of our bodies, that Jesus has elevated our flesh too—infusing all that we do as human beings, with real human bodies, with the power of the God. For just as God Word is fulfilled in Jesus, God’s Word never to abandon us and always be with us—so too is God’s Word fulfilled promising us nothing can separate us from his love when Jesus, fully man and fully God, rises from death to life again. His life is our life. His light is our light. His goodness is our goodness. His love is our love. The incarnation of God in the real man Jesus Christ of Nazareth—that puts flesh on the promise of God. That makes God’s Word real for you, for me, and for all who hear it.
In Jesus, God chooses to put on a suit, a body suit, and lives life to the fullest, to the uttermost for us, amid us, for us, and with us. In the flesh of Jesus’ body, we see with our very own eyes, God’s love made real for us. In his birth, we marvel at his faithfulness. In his life, we celebrate his companionship. In his death, we mourn his absence. And in his rebirth, we rejoice at his promise—a promise made not only in words but in deeds, a promise not only given, but incarnated. For us and for our salvation, God came down from heaven and put on a body suit—our body suit.
Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth. To you is born this day a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord, our Lord—Jesus Christ, Son of the eternal Father, God made flesh.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.