Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent 2: Spoken to us by a Son (Hebrews 1:1-4) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Rev. Rick Warren, pastor at Saddleback Community Church, tells how one Christmas, he decided to take a survey of Christmas shoppers.  He asked, “What are you celebrating this Christmas?”  People said:  “I'm celebrating that I made it through another year,” I'm celebrating being home with my family,” “I got a Christmas bonus,” “My son is home from Iraq,” “The candidate I voted for got elected,” “I'm celebrating that I've finished all my shopping,” “I'm not celebrating anything, I'm just trying to survive.”  Some pretty good answers, I agree.  But like Rev. Warren said, most answers had nothing to do with Jesus.    Is this a reflection of our modern culture?

Advent is a season where Christians prepare to celebrate an extraordinary event, the birth of a baby, a glorious and joyful occasion.  Christmas sings forth – “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king.”   Christmas announces a miraculous birthday, the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. 

Humans have long been plagued with a haunting question – Am I alone in this universe?  Is this world impersonal, empty, and meaningless?  Am I a momentary spark in a dark abyss?  Christmas declares that an eternal light has broken into the darkness of the world.  “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”  Christmas is Christianity's answer to that question.  In Jesus, God has made himself known to the world.  We are not alone.

There are some today who see Christmas as an invention of western culture; it's a fairytale, a myth, a legend, a sentimental story about a baby.  I disagree.  Christmas is about a unique and joyous and astonishing birth.  A humble birth, and yet the birth of the Messiah, the king of kings and lord of lords, which occurred in a real world, a world of Caesar's and Herod’s and Pilates, and a Roman Empire, and a Jewish people occupied by a foreign power. 

Christmas announces that Jesus Christ is truly and fully God.   The ruler of the universe, God himself, was incarnate, in the flesh, in Jesus.  In the Gospel of John Jesus says:  “I and the Father are one.” I like the way the letter of Colossians says it: “In Jesus Christ, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”   The letter of Philippians says: “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus humbled himself, and was born in human likeness.”   The Letter of Hebrews says:  “In these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.  He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”   This is hardly a fairy tale.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit; his birth was unique, unlike any other birth, this is what sets his birth apart from all other births, and affirms Jesus' divinity.  So on the one hand Jesus is the eternal Word of God, God’s logos, God’s self-communication, God’s self-revelation, Immanuel, God is with us.   

But paradoxically, Christmas also declares just the opposite, that Jesus Christ was a human being.  Jesus was fully and truly human.   The letter of Hebrews says:  “Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus likewise shared the same things.”  Jesus was without sin, yes, but Jesus’ flesh was precisely like our flesh.  He got tired, needed rest, became thirsty and hungry   He knew physical pain.  His heart and emotions were like ours.  He experienced joy and elation, as well as discouragement, disappointment, and the pain of betrayal by a disciple.  He felt the stress of daily life and faced the same temptations which we face.   Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.  Jesus was human, born of a woman like you and I are born.

That God became a human being was a shocking claim then and it's a scandalous claim today.  The Jews considered it blasphemy, an unforgiveable insult and offense to God.  God is a free spirit and not bound by a physical body.   It was shocking to the Romans and Greeks because they held a low view of the material and physical world in contrast to the spiritual world.   The body was a prison house of the immortal soul; God would never take on a body, the claim was disgraceful.   And there are some today who deplore Christmas, they loathe it, and would like to see Christmas eradicated from our culture and will stop at nothing, including legal action, to accomplish this goal.    

What is the extraordinary claim of Christmas?  In Jesus of Nazareth, God and humanity are united in one personal existence.  So 2,000 years ago, Christmas was born in controversy, that controversy is alive today, and yet the birthday announcement and celebration continues. Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God.  In Jesus the God of the heavens stooped down to earth. In Jesus the glory of God appeared.  Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, God one of us.  In Jesus, God entered this world as a fragile and helpless baby.  At Christmas God entered our neighborhood, God moved into our town, our city, our world, God came to be in your life and my life, God came in person to be with us.
It is like a father who is a brilliant astronomer, who on Christmas morning gets down on the floor with his three-year-old boy and plays with him.  In some real sense, he becomes a child again, thinking the thoughts and speaking the language of a child.  The father could espouse lofty ideas about interstellar space, galaxies, astrophysics, and black holes.  But on Christmas morning he was a father, not an astronomer. He talks about simple things in a simple way to a little child.  Does the father lose stature when he is on the floor with his little boy? No. The test of God is not how great God is in the heavens, but how little God is willing to become, in order to reach out to us, His children.

Why did God come into this world in Jesus?  Because God loves the world, because God loves all people, because God love's  you and me.  God came so that we could see him and know him.  God was willing to do whatever was necessary to reach us.   God’s love for us never ends.  God's love is passionate and powerful.  If God had wanted to relate to birds, He would have become a bird, if God had wanted to relate to cows, He would have become a cow, if God had wanted to relate to trees, he would have become a tree, but God wanted to relate to human beings, so God became one of us.  God chose to stoop to our level, and to come to us because we could not go to God. 

The eminent 5th century Church Father St. Augustine said: “God became a man for this purpose.  Since you, a human being could not reach God, but you can reach other humans, God became a human so that following a human, something you are able to do, you might reach God.”

I think of the salient values of the incarnation.  The incarnation means the physical world has value, your body has value, your mind and heart has value, your life has value, because God in Jesus became one of us. The incarnation means God indentifies with our needs and concerns.  God is no stranger to the challenges and trials and sufferings of being human.  God understands the life we live.  For God took on human flesh and lived as we live.  The incarnation means you are not alone, God is with you.

I close with a story On Good Morning America about a family reunion.  It’s about a family from PA.  The mother is a captain in the Army and has been deployed for most of the year in Iraq.  Her husband took their two little boys, ages two and four, dressed alike in little sweaters and pants, to a mall to see Santa Claus.   While sitting on Santa’s lap they tell Santa what they want for Christmas.  Then Santa says: “I have one more big surprise for you.  Look over there.”  And suddenly, the mom steps out from behind the crowd of people; the little boys see her, yell “mom,” rush to her and throw their arms around her, with tears flowing everywhere. 

What is the greatest gift a parent can give a child?   You, your being there 100% with them.  This is what kids need more than anything else.  Loving them, dedicating your attention, time, wisdom, and your energy.   Giving and forgiving, loving and caring, disciplining and guiding, teaching and inspiring.     What is the greatest gift God could give us, coming in person to be with us.  In these last days God has spoken to us by a Son.

Let us prepare for Christmas.  Let us get ready to celebrate Jesus’ coming into our lives and into the world.  Amen!

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