The truth that defines a Christian celebration of Christmas

Sermon for Christmas Day

Hebrews 1:1-12  +  John 1:1-14

Dear Christians, saints of God and siblings of Christ our Brother: Christmas Eve, which we celebrated last night, tells the story of Jesus’ birth and reveals to us who He is: a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Christmas Day digs deeper into those key truths about the Child who was born to Mary and placed in a manger. It identifies for us who the Christ of the Bible really is; it defines the celebration of Christmas and it separates the Christian celebration of Christmas from the secular traditions that have corrupted Christmas and turned it into a Christ-less abomination.

So consider with me for a few moments, on this Christmas Day, what St. John, and especially what the Epistle writer to the Hebrews reveal to us about the Christ, so that ours may truly be a Christian celebration of Christmas.

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.

Dreams. Visions. Theophanies. These are some of the ways God gave His word to the prophets in the Old Testament, bits and pieces of knowledge, snippets of revelation. In some cases, we don’t even know how exactly God gave His word to the prophets, who then preached that word to our Old Testament fathers and revealed to them what God wanted them to know about Himself and about His demands and His promises. But from the moment Jesus came into the world, God had a new and better way of communicating with mankind. Because God didn’t have to send His word to Jesus or reveal Himself to Jesus. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

Unlike the prophets of old, Jesus, the Word-made-flesh, didn’t receive the word of God. He was—and is! —the word of God. Jesus didn’t speak from God some of the time, but all of the time, in every word, in every deed, and gave us the perfect revelation of God’s Being and of God’s will, and especially of God’s grace.

whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds

Those two phrases don’t seem to go together. If God the Father made the worlds—made the whole created universe—through His Son, then isn’t the Son already the co-owner of all things, together with the Father and the Spirit? He is! So why does He have to be “appointed heir of all things”? This is the mystery of the incarnation. According to His divinity, Christ already possesses all things from eternity. But Christ, the co-Creator and co-Owner of the universe who pre-existed the universe, was born in time and took on human flesh in order to become the Redeemer of humanity. And so, according to His humanity, born in time as one of us, Christ has to receive everything from His Father, just as we do. As a man, Christ owned nothing until the Father declared Him the Heir—the human Heir of all things.

And of course, if the Son of God is the heir of all things, then there is nothing left for anyone else to inherit, is there? If the Son of God inherits all things, then what is left for anyone else to receive from God? Nothing! And yet Scripture speaks many times of the “inheritance of the saints.” How does that work?

Understand what it means to be made a believer in Christ Jesus. It means that God brings you into the body of His Son, as Scripture often uses the analogy of Christ being the Head of the body, and the individual members of His Church being His mystical body. As a sinner is converted by the Holy Spirit and united with Christ through Holy Baptism, he is now counted by God as being a part of the Son of God, so that everything that the Son of God inherits, the converted sinner who believes in Christ now inherits, even a place in God’s house, even the inheritance of all things, together with Jesus, and never apart from Jesus.

Back to Hebrews. It says that Christ is the brightness of His (the Father’s) glory and the express image of His person and upholds all things by the word of His power

Can you separate the brightness of a light from the light itself? Can you separate the image or the appearance of a thing from the thing itself? And yet that’s how the Bible describes the relationship between God the Father and God the Son—distinct Persons, and yet one God, so that when you see Jesus, you see exactly what God the Father looks like, and when you hear Jesus, you hear exactly what God the Father says. That’s a little bit mysterious and hard to grasp. The Apostle Philip once struggled with it, too. He once said to Jesus, Lord, show us the Father. Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father;

Do you see, then, why it’s utterly impossible to say that those who don’t believe in Jesus still believe in the same God in whom we Christians believe? If Jesus is the express image of the Father and the brightness of the glory of the Father, then to reject Jesus is to reject the Father.

On the other hand, to receive Jesus is to receive His Father as well. And to know Jesus, the express image of God, lying humbly in a manger, showing mercy to sinners, dying on a cross for our sins, is to know God the Father as well. And so, by faith in Christ, we are made children of God.

when He had by Himself purged our sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high

The writer to the Hebrews connects Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Ascension for us. Christ the Lord, who was born at Christmas, purged our sins by His death on the cross. He rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father—all of this according to His humanity. First His humiliation, then His exaltation. It’s our Brother who reigns over all things.

having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they

There was a bit of angel worship was going on in the first century, as we also learn in Colossians 2. But the writer to the Hebrews shows us how foolish that is, because in the Person of Christ, we have the eternal Creator, who took on human flesh for us, who died on the cross for us, who now reigns over all things. And we are invited to trust in Him and to worship Him and to call upon Him as the God-Man, our Brother, who is the one Mediator between God and man. He is far superior to the angels according to His divinity. He has become far superior to the angels also according to His humanity. Why on earth would anyone pray to an angel or worship an angel or think of the angels as anywhere near as important as Christ?

No, the angels themselves don’t want anything to do with being worshiped. They themselves bow down and worship Christ, even as they came down from heaven and worshiped Him when God brought Him into the world on Christmas, because they know who He is: the Son of God, who is also called God and Lord and Yahweh/Jehovah, as the rest of the verses from the Epistle demonstrate, the Son of God who, out of pure grace and mercy, took on human flesh to save His fallen human creatures. That makes Him worthy of all praise and honor and worship, from the angels, but even more, from us whom He came to save.

And so we have come today to praise Him, to honor Him, to worship Him who took on man’s flesh to save man from sin and to bring us to God. And the highest and best way to worship Him is to hear what He says about Himself, to believe it, to believe in Him as our Savior, and to receive the body and blood He gave for us and now gives to us in His Holy Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins. Let us praise the Lord God for His grace revealed in Christ Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the virgin Mary. This is the truth that defines a Christian celebration of Christmas. This is the truth by which we must be saved. Amen.

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