John 1: 1-3, 14 (Christmas Day - 2015)
“Behold! the Dwelling of God is With Mankind”
This past Sunday I was privileged to attend an MSO production of Handel’s Messiah at the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee. The excellence in the music was astounding. The message of Christ was clear and comforting. The architecture of the Basilica was breath taking. Above the Altar is the Latin phrase “Ecce, Tabernaculum Dei Cum Huminibus.” It is from Revelation “Behold! The dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them” (Revelation 21:3). This is the message of Christmas Day! God chooses to dwell with us. The Almighty, intangible God lives in human form with his creation.
How do you teach God? This was the task the Holy Spirit assigned to John as he presented his account of the Gospel to the world. John, with the constant hand of the Holy Spirit, set out to teach God by revealing the humanity of God’s Son. In God’s Son we see the glory of God: hidden in the humanity of Jesus, Mary’s son, and also revealed in the grace and truth as God’s eternal Son.
- 1.Hidden in His Humanity
You know the common reaction when humanity meets a holy God head on. In the Christmas story we see it. Just the glory of his holy angels caused shepherds to tremble with fear. Creator and creation is not a natural blending. Can you imagine the horror in the hearts of these human souls! They were on the lookout for a wolf or two. They were counting heads to make certain none were lost. But hardly did they expect a visit from heaven itself – the glory of the Lord! They were terrified! They began counting sins, if only in their own hearts.
Like oil and water, our sinful humanity cannot be in the company of God’s glory. Angels turn their heads from our filthy sin: lies, hatred, lustful whims, selfishness; the new ways we collectively think up to sin against God’s holiness. Divinity and humanity is not a good mix. Our sinful nature waits in terror of the thought that God is out there, aware of each desire, monitoring every move of our humanity. What sin! What terror! The thought that someone knows everything scares us. When God and sin meet, the shepherds we quake in fear! Humanity and divinity do not mix well.
But there is one exception: “In Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). What is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit, the Most High for nothing impossible with God! (Luke 1). Rather than coming in the fullness of his glory and power, God chose to save the world by hiding in the meekness of a baby. He comes in humility. He comes in humanity. As he chose to give Moses just a glimpse of his glory, in love he hides his glory in strips of cloth lying in a manger!
The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: “Since the children have flesh and blood he too shared in their humanity” (Hebrews 2:14). You, who grow weary and tossed about by the storms of life, know that you have a Savior who fell asleep on a boat and still had the power to calm the storm on the sea. You whose hearts face the same temptations every day, know that you have a Savior who was tempted in every way, yet is without sin. You, who have hands and feet that are scarred with guilt, know that you have a Savior who has hands and feet pierced by nails. You, who know tears of grief, know that you have a Savior who sheds tears outside the tomb of a friend. You, who feel the fear and sting of death, know your Savior’s lifeless body broke that prison with the power and glory that was hidden in Christ since the first Christmas Day!
In his humanity – in his humility – Jesus revealed God’s love; fulfilled God’s love for you. God has revealed his glory in the saving humanity of his Son. But he has also revealed it to us by his grace in his faith giving truth.
- 2.Revealed in His Grace and Truth
Thomas, after the resurrection, needed physical evidence. But Jesus redirected him to understand a basic concept of Christian faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Jesus had in mind what he spoke of in his prayer on the Thursday beforeas he mentions “those who will believe in me through their message” (John17:20).
It was the sight of the angels that brought fear to the shepherds. But it was the message of the angels that moved their feet to Bethlehem. It was the message of the angels that gave them peace with God. It was the message of the angels that ignited their faith. It was the message of the angels that the shepherds spread abroad concerning what they had been told. It is the message of grace and truth that reveals the true God to us today. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
That is why we don’t stand outside and wait for the sky to fill with angelic glory. That is why we cringe with a rightful skepticism when we hear about people “seeing God” or “finding Jesus” somewhere else. That is why we don’t put so much weight on emotional tactics and worldly gimmicks intending to teach us about God.
When we want to learn more about God, and when we want to teach others about God, we use the source from which he promises to be taught: the Word of Grace and Truth. God reveals himself to us in his Gospel. In the Word he enlightens our faith with divine truths that squelch our human sin and humanism. In his Law he rebukes those things which are spiritually harmful to our souls. In his Law he condemns sin in sinful man. In the Gospel he quiets our burdened conscience with his peace. In the Gospel he removes fear with the confidence of his kept promises. The manger bed is the precursor to the wood of the cross. Christ Jesus is revealed in the grace and truth of our redemption from guilt.
In the spectacular array of the Basilica of St. Josaphat the architecture that teaches Christ was sadly hidden. The crucifix itself was off to the side away from the chancel, almost symbolic of those who have elevated idolatrous imagery above our Savior’s purpose in coming. But George Frediric Handel presented Christ Jesus to us. The message of Christ was encased in the music of the Messiah that has survived centuries. Christ was revealed in Bible texts that still speak of Christ: his incarnation, his cradle, his sufferings, his death, his resurrection. The hidden Christ was revealed. Above the instruments and choir was the message of Christmas: “Ecce, Tabernaculum Dei Cum Huminibus.” “Behold! The dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them!” (Revelation 21:3). And they gave him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins!
God is the expert teacher on Christmas Day. He points us to a Book. He brings us to simple water in a font and gives us the right to be called the children of God. He brings us to a table of bread and wine and says this is me for you. And in that Book and through those Sacraments he reveals a baby boy, a dying body on a cross, and a grave with no one inside it.
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
And his shelter was a stable,
And his cradle was a stall;
With the poor and mean and lowly
Lived on earth a Savior holy. (CW 50:2) Amen!