Sermon for the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas day)
Text: John 1:1–14
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
A year to the day after the Passover Lambs had been set apart from the rest of the flocks of the Children of Israel, the tabernacle is completed. Fourteen days before the first anniversary of the Passover, God through the leadership of Moses, the artistry of Oholiab and Bezalel, and the offerings of all the people, establishes a place for Himself in their midst. God, who made the heavens and earth and fills all things, as of this day has a residence among His people. He has a place to meet with them, to hear their prayers, to receive their sacrifices, to forgive their transgressions and to bless them. Through the crossing of the Red Sea, God has adopted the children of Israel to be His children. Thus He can say, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” The heavenly Father of Israel dwells with His son, the people of Israel.
This is all God’s grace. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are shining examples of faith, but still they have nothing to offer God. For every example of their faith, there is an example of their doubt, their scheming to do things their own way, their inability to raise a family. There is strife, there is contention, there is sin. Four hundred years later at the time of the exodus, it is not by their merit, but by God’s mercy that the cry of Jacob’s offspring is heard and God delivers them.
Likewise, it is not because of Moses’ piety that God reveals Himself to be YHWH, the great I AM, but it is divine pity that causes the living God to speak from the burning bush and send salvation to Israel that that this nation of misfits might become His holy children.
Time and time again, God had to remind His people of what He who tabernacled among them had done for them. Even as the pillar of cloud and fire led them through the wilderness, the people were quick to forget His Word, neglect His presence, and doubt His ability to save. Generations later, it was this forgetfulness, neglect, and doubt that led God to leave the temple and hand his children over to the discipline of the nations.
The temple, which replaced the tabernacle at the time of Solomon, was destroyed. Yet God did not stop watching over those who were His. He continued to send the prophets. He protected them so that they were not cut off from the face of the earth.
He even brought back a remnant of the people to rebuild Jerusalem and construct a new temple. When the foundation of the second temple is laid, the young people rejoice, but those who were old enough to remember the previous temple wept. The prophet Haggai acknowledges the concern of the Israelites that this new temple is as nothing compared to the glory of the former temple. Yet through Haggai, the Lord promises:
3 ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? 4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts,
6 For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.
9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” (Haggai, 2:3–4, 6, 9 ESV)
God would not forget His dwelling place among men. God would not leave men without access to His glory, His presence.
From the beginning, The Word was with God, the Word was God. Through the speaking of His Word, God, by His Word, made all things. Nothing was made that was not made through this Word. No life was given but from the life of the Word. And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
The glory of the Lord, which filled the tabernacle such that Moses could not enter it, has come again. No longer is the mercy seat set upon a box of wood and gold. The seat of God’s mercy is found in the flesh of the Word, the flesh of Jesus. No longer is blood carried into the temple to be poured out before God, but blood is poured out from this new Temple, the Temple of the body of Jesus, which, though it too will be destroyed, will not see corruption and on the third day it will be rebuilt, the breath of life will return, the glory of God will dwell in the body of Christ eternally.
But what does this really mean for us? Is it nothing more than showing linguistic parallels between an Old Testament story and the Christmas story? No, it is much more. For the Old Testament is made clear in Christ. The Scriptures speak of Him. At the exodus, God made the Nation of Israel His adopted Son. Now in Christ we have the greater adoption through the incarnation of the only begotten Son from the father. For To all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who was born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
He has had pity on us who dwelt in darkness that we might be moved to true piety. He has had mercy on us that we might live by His merit. We are saved and we need not fear the darkness, for the light of Christ shines among us. As the tabernacle led the Children of Israel, so now the new Tabernacle, the most glorious Temple, guides us. We follow Him through this wilderness here below. We follow Him even to death, for He alone can show us the way out of death. We know that He will not lead us where He Himself has not been so that we might be where He is. As of this day, God has a residence among men in the flesh of Jesus, and we have a residence with God, for we will be wherever Christ is.
Whatever pain you have endured this year, whatever fear you have for the year ahead, know that Christ and His glory will not depart from His people until He has led us into the Promised Land where there is life and light in abundance.
St. John tells us;
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:23 ESV)
Let us then with glad hearts celebrate the birth of our God and Savior. For He gives life to bodies in our mothers’ wombs, He gives life to our souls crushed by sin and the condemnation of the law, and in the resurrection He gives life to body and soul which will not end. Therefore in Christ you already have the perfect life of the holy Son of God.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria