The gift of the Word given again

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Sermon for Christmas Day

John 1:1-14  +  Exodus 40:17-21, 34-38  +  Titus 3:4-7

Today is gift-opening day in the Church, just as it may be also in your homes.  It’s the same gift we open every year.  For that matter, it’s the same gift we open every week, the same gift God gives to the world over and over and over again, but Christmas – Christmas marks the very first time God gave this gift to the world, the beginning of God’s giving of a gift that both has a beginning and has no beginning at all, a gift that is the perfect union of created and uncreated, the perfect union of God and man.

Although now, through faith in the One born in Bethlehem we are friends of God, the very family of God, when God first gave His gift to the world, we were neither of those things.  We were His enemies. We had sinned against Him, not He against us.  We had written Him out of our lives and had no intention of apologizing for it, no means to make up for it, no hope of reconciliation even if we had wanted it.  But just at that moment, God took His eternal, beloved Son – God the Son!, God the Word who was with God in the beginning – and wrapped Him up in human flesh and gave Him to the world.  God made reconciliation into a tangible, flesh and blood gift, a gift that can be given and also received, and he held it out to mankind – His Son, His Son born to us, given to us – and also crucified for us – that all who put their trust in him might have light instead of darkness, life instead of death, peace instead of punishment, and joy instead of fear.

God first held out his gift to the world at Christmas, his gift of reconciliation and peace, light and life to all.  He gave us his Word! He gave us his life and his light! The Word of God took on your flesh. He took on your sin, your condemnation, your punishment, your death. He took it all on himself as your brother.  And he did it, not just for you but for all men.  All men who are born of woman have been given the right to call the child of Bethlehem their child. All the sons of men have been given the right to claim this child as their peace with God.

But not all men do. Not all believe his Word. Not all are enlightened by his light, nor do all live by his life.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

So many men try to figure out life on their own.  So many try to live their lives apart from God’s Word, and still fool themselves into thinking they’re getting by all right without Him.  So many look to their families for peace and comfort and joy at Christmas.  And families can give great joy, but they can’t give life. They can’t give peace, and their comfort is only temporary, and sometimes, fickle.

Only the Word of God who became flesh – only he can give light and life.  He’s the source of all light and life, as John says, the source of all joy and peace.  He is God’s gift to the world.  If you have him, you have everything.

But the world didn’t receive God’s gift when he gave it for the first time, and the world still does not receive it.  The world doesn’t want everything.  The world wants one thing: to be its own god.

Remember St. Stephen, the first Christian Martyr whose feast day is tomorrow.  He preached Christ and was stoned to death for it.  The world did not receive God’s Christmas gift.

Remember the Apostle John whose day is December 27th.  He was sent away into exile for his preaching of Christ, and all of his fellow apostles were put to death for the same.  The world did not receive God’s Christmas gift.

Remember the Holy Innocents.  Their day is December 28th. They are the baby boys of Bethlehem whom King Herod slaughtered in his attempt to snuff out the light of Christ.  The world did not receive God’s Christmas gift.

The world is no different today.  But here’s what’s different: Some sinners did receive him when he came at Christmas, and some still do.

Here you are – you who have received the Word of God in faith, you who believe in the name of Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of his Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the virgin Mary as your Lord; you who claim Jesus Christ as your peace with God –  all ye faithful who have come to adore him, Christ the Lord.  Here you are to receive God’s Christmas gift.  You have been given a special privilege, a special right that does not belong to all men – the right to be called children of God.

What gives you the right to call yourself a child of God?  Only this: That God himself speaks the Word that gives you that right. For to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

God’s Word has come to you and converted you from dead to living, from sinner to saint, from a child of the devil to a child of God!  This is your family, right here!  If you have no other family, so what? This one lasts forever.  This one has God himself as the Father and Jesus Christ as Brother.

And in this Christian family, you still sin every day, but every day your heavenly Father forgives your sins anew.  You are covered by the blood of your Brother.  You still carry around your sinful flesh with you, but you are not ruled by it.  You are God’s child.  God’s Word dwells in you, and each day you are being renewed in the image of the Word made flesh, your Brother, Jesus Christ.

God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.  Only you who call Jesus your Brother and your Savior have the right to call God your Father and yourself his son, his child. That’s your Christian birthright.  That’s God Christmas gift to you, first given to you at your baptism when the Word made flesh first covered you with himself.  Since then God has been renewing this gift to you again and again in the Word of the Gospel.

To you, baptized children of God, has been given another special right, a right not given to the rest of the world.  Today we celebrate again the Christmas mystery, the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that was and remains God, given to us in flesh and blood who gives his flesh and blood to you again from the humble manger of this humble altar, to you and not to the world.  Here in this “Bethlehem – House of Bread,” the Bread of life is given to you, the very body knit together in the virgin’s womb and then born in Bethlehem.  Here, too, is wine, the wine of celebration and feasting, and with this wine, the blood of Mary’s Son, the Word who became flesh so that he might have blood to shed for you.  Here he makes his dwelling among us again, not just in the room with us, but within our very bodies and souls, and gives us his life to sustain and comfort and strengthen and forgive.

Here today, the gift of the Word made flesh is given to you again, in a way that you can actually receive him – with your ears, with your eyes, with your mouths and with your heart. He has come and called you to bask in the light of his grace, to share for awhile in the glory of his cross and suffering, and then to share eternally in the glory of his empty tomb and his eternal reign.

Open God’s present.  Unwrap it. Turn it around and admire it from every possible angle.  It’ll take you a lifetime to do it.  The gift is the Person of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, with all his love, his power, his strength, his victory over sin, death and hell; his light and life, his joy and peace, his companionship, his protection, and his gracious Father in heaven.  All of this is yours.  All of this God pours into your lap on Christmas morning, and he’ll do it again next week, too.  You can count on it.  God gives you – His Word!  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. And here in his Gospel, we, too, here in this place, have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  A blessed Christmas to you all.  Enjoy your Christmas gifts!  Amen.

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