2022-12-25 Christmas Day
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bethlehem. 2 hour walk south of Jerusalem. Birthplace of King David. In the ancient southern Kingdom of Judah. The valley to the East is where the story of Ruth took place. It’s name literally means “House of Bread.” And, to this very day, a church still stands there —perhaps the oldest in the world—built by Constantine the Great in 339AD called the “Church of the Nativity.” For despite all of its amazing history, the greatest fact by far is that it is the site where Jesus Christ was born! Sure beats the “world’s biggest” turtle in Turtleford or dare I say it, in the face of all the heart broken Norwegians, the world’s biggest Moose in Moose Jaw! No matter. For it cannot top Bethlehem’s claim to fame! “Birthplace of the Son of God!”
And this really is the miracle, is it not? Our Almighty and omnipotent God does the unthinkable in that He becomes man for us and our salvation. He enters humanity. He joins the human race. Divinity puts on humanity. The Word is made flesh. And, we think nothing of it. For us Christmas is all presents, shepherds, wisemen, lowing cattle, a baby, some white snow and maybe some reindeer for fun and good measure! But we’ve had 2000 years to come to this distilled point about Christmas. However this wasn’t always the case. In fact, there was major controversy in the early days of the church about little baby Jesus.
The first part of the controversy came from a guy named Marcion. He was a second century ship builder and a once-prominent member of the church in Rome. He had a hard time believing that Jesus actually became man. He struggled to believe that God in His perfection could ever have any part of evil and corrupted human flesh. He said that Jesus “appeared” to be human, but was not actually subject to birth, suffering or death. However, he was totally wrong. Tertullian of Carthage went on the offensive and began challenging Marcion and his wrong conclusions about our Lord. “Come, then,” Tertullian writes in his treatise “On the Flesh of Christ,” start with the birth itself, the object of aversion, and run through your catalogue: the filth of the generative seeds within the womb, of the bodily fluid and blood; the loathsome, curdled lump of flesh which has to be fed for nine months off this same muck. Describe the womb—expanding daily, heavy, troubled, uneasy even in sleep, torn between the impulses of fastidious distaste and those of excessive hunger … “Undoubtedly you are also horrified at the infant,” he continues, sparing nothing, “the infant which has been brought into the world together with its after birth.”
With this graphic and detailed critique, Tertullian slaps Marcion around big time. He makes the case: how else are people born but in this same messy and mucky way?! And who doesn’t live in a chaotic world that is overflowing with all manner of pain, disease, disappointment and sorrow?! This becomes the amazing significance of the Incarnation. This is the world and situation to which the King of Glory came.
Here we truly see that God sets His glory and power aside to be Emmanuel, God with us. In wee baby Jesus, God takes on the fullness of our humanity so that we may become partakers of the Divine nature (2Peter1:4). All of our ups and downs, hopes and fears, triumphs and tragedies, all the experiences that are part and parcel of life in this world, God willingly experiences them all for us. Our redemption is made up of this stuff. We have a God who can relate to us in every single way.
So the conclusion we draw from the ancient Christmas controversy is two fold. One, God is a loving God to Whom we can turn to at any time, in any place with anything. Any fear or any distress, any complaint, any calamity, we can take them all to our Lord and know He hears us. And, two, we can never forget all that God went through to do this for us. It’s nearly impossible for us to wrap our minds around it! But in response to human sin and weakness, God doesn’t run away, leaving us on our own. And, He doesn’t wave His magic wand of the cosmos to make our lives into bowls of cherries. Instead, God enters our world and fights the good fight for us and with us and in us. He joins us in our struggles and gives us hope, peace, joy and love through all of life.
This is the unsung part of Christmas. We can’t perceive God on our own. St. John in His Gospel says “No one has ever seen God” (1:18). This becomes all the more reason for the Incarnation. God Almighty becomes tangible, physical and visible. Not only does He know us, we are now able, by the Holy Spirit, to know Him. The unknowable God becomes knowable for us and our salvation in Jesus.
Martin Luther regularly said that Jesus reveals the Fatherly heart of God. And Christmas becomes exactly that. It reveals the Father’s love for His fallen creation. The unknowable God of the heavens is revealed to be a loving parent, desperate for all of His beloved children to know Him and His great love. As St. John Chrysostom said in his Christmas sermon: “The Word of God became flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His virgin mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the magi may more easily see Him.”
This all powerful, all present, all knowing eternal God becomes a vulnerable little baby. This is mind blowing, really! It defies all logic and reason, from an earthly perspective. And yet, here we are, as are billions of people all over the planet, celebrating this mystery of mysteries! God has become vulnerable for us. And we know that this vulnerability would make it possible for God the mighty maker to die, which He did do on the cross of Calvary. But it also makes it possible for God to rise from death. Which He also did, providing victory in the place of sorrow over the grave.
And so we come full circle, back to Bethlehem, back to the names and places of human history that God has forever joined to His story of our salvation. The House of Bread gives birth to the one who gives Himself for food and drink. Here this morning as we gather around the table of the Lord, we receive for our salvation again the vulnerable, incarnate God in the bread and in the wine. His Advent fills us with hope, peace, joy and love. His presence fills us with forgiveness, life and salvation. His inexpressible grace is made known to us in the fullness of time.
The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. Thanks and praise be to God now and forever more. Amen! Merry Christmas!