25 December 2007

Homily - Nativity of our Lord - Christmas Day

With special thanks to my good friend Pr. Weedon. He gave this homily out at our Pericope Study for possible ideas, and the whole thing was just too good to pass up. So I adopted and adapted, tweaking some things here and there and adding other points along the way.

God Locates Himself
John 1:1-18

In the Bible, God loves to locate Himself somewhere specific. Of course, He’s always present everywhere, but He also promises to be at a certain place so that His people can find Him and receive the gifts He comes to bring.

God located Himself in the days of ancient Israel. He let the people know where they could and would find Him. He was in the Tent. If you were an Israelite, you only had to go to that special tent called the Tabernacle, and you could find God there. He would be there to receive your prayers, and in that very place He would shower you with His forgiveness, His grace, and His truth. Later God located Himself somewhere more permanent: the Temple. It did not move around the land. It stayed put in Jerusalem. In that specific place all of the promises that God made for His people and attached to the Tent remained in effect. God would be there to receive their praise and worship, their prayers and supplications. God would locate Himself in that place to give out His gifts of salvation – His glory, His grace, His truth.

But the people abused both the Tent and the Temple. They thought that since God promised to locate Himself for them at that specific spot, they had God locked up and on their side. Instead of faithfully following Him and receiving the gifts He came to give, they went their own ways. They thought they could worship Him in any old way they wanted, that they could use any old statue or image they might make or choose. So God chose to abandon the Temple. Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord leave. It was a sad sight. The cloud of glory picked up and moved out of the Temple, out from the city of Jerusalem. Then it hovered for a few moments on the Mount of Olives, as if sadly looking back, and then it was gone [Ezek. 10-11]. Simply gone. And no one at the Temple even seemed to notice. Very sad.

And still, God loves to locate Himself somewhere. He’s not just a God “out there” somewhere. He’s much more than merely the “man upstairs.” God does not want His presence, His glory, His grace, or His truth, to be unanchored and un-located. The Tent and the Tabernacle were merely pictures and shadows of a greater reality that God was planning – sort of like black and white sketches of a more vibrant, colorful reality yet to come. God would inaugurate His new reality in a stable in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago.

A Virgin had carried a Child. A Baby is born. Mary gives birth to her only Son. But this is no ordinary child. This Child is none other than the Eternal Word of the Father – He through whom all things were made; He who still holds all things together in Himself; He who is “begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” That’s who this Child is. And the very flesh of this Child becomes the true Tent and Tabernacle of God. God located Himself somewhere specific, all right. From that moment of conception, from that holy birth, and for all time to come, anyone who wants to find God will find Him only in the flesh of the Man Jesus.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That word “dwelt” is most interesting. In Greek, it’s the word for “pitched His tent.” The Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us. Find the flesh of Jesus, and you find the Tent of God – the very place, the specific somewhere, where He promises to be, receiving our adoration and praise, hearing our petitions and supplications, but most of all giving out His gifts of grace, mercy, and truth.

“And we have seen His glory.” Glory goes with the Tent and the Temple. “Glory” is another way of saying God’s brilliant, radiant, life-giving presence. It’s the glory that Moses and the Children of Israel saw in the wilderness, hovering over the Tabernacle. It’s the same glory that the Apostles saw in the flesh of the Man Jesus. They knew He is “the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

But they did not see that glory at Bethlehem. They weren’t there then. And, to tell you the truth, there wasn’t much glory at Bethlehem anyway. A baby wrapped in swaddling cloths may sound like a precious sight, but it’s really no different than wrapping a baby in a warming blanket in the hospital today. The miracle of Bethlehem is that this Baby is true God as well as true Man, but we have no Biblical hint that any glory was visible there. Then what about the halos and nimbi we see in the pictures? They’re imported by the artists.

But the Apostles did see the glory shine. And they saw it shine through the very flesh of Jesus Christ. It happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. John, along with Peter and James, saw the very flesh of Jesus Christ gleam like the sun, only brighter. For that brief moment they saw His divine Godhead united with the flesh that He assumed from the Virgin’s womb. It was a sight they never forgot. With this glorious event in his mind, John looks back on the Baby in the manger. He is overawed by what he sees. After all, it is our flesh that this Baby has – flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, identical with ours. And it’s this flesh stuff that is glorified in Christ Jesus beyond all imagination.

Think of that as you look at people around you. They share the same flesh – the very flesh that our God honored so highly by taking it into Himself. And once He put it on, He has never taken it off. He is still clothed in that flesh and blood that He received from Mary’s womb. It is exalted to the highest place, and yet it is still the same flesh as ours. When we see that God has honored our flesh in this way, how dare we dishonor it by treating each other shamefully? If you cannot find something good to say to or about that other person, then at least say this: “This person has the same flesh and blood as the Son of God.” And then behave toward them accordingly. Whether they know it or not, whether they realize it or not, they are blood relatives of the King of heaven.

You see, that’s why He came among us. He came to make a new beginning for the whole human race. He came to share our flesh and blood. He came to bleed and die for our sins, and thus make atonement – that is, reunite us – with God. But even more, He came to unite our weak, corrupt, and dying flesh to His flesh, His flesh radiating with strength, purity, and life. In this way He overcomes our decay and death with His glorious flesh and resurrection life.

So, the glory of God is located in the flesh of Jesus, flesh full of the life and light and grace and truth of God. And God does not leave you to find that flesh on your own. No, He locates it somewhere specific for you: “Take and eat, this is My Body. Take drink, this is My Blood.” Behold, the Tent and Temple of God! Behold, the glory and grace and truth and life and light of God for you! It’s all right here, hidden under the bread and wine, located on this very Altar. And when you eat and drink it in faith, it’s all hidden in you too. Yes, your Bethlehem Lord makes you His Temple too. He pitches His tent in you by putting His Body and Blood into you. He pours His endless life into you. He unites you to Himself as a branch to a vine, as a body part to the body – the Body of Christ, that is.

Jesus knew that His body, His flesh, is the new Tent and Temple of God. After all, He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:19). Yes, His flesh, His body is the very Temple of God. And here we worship and adore Him with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” Here He comes to give us His grace, His truth, and His life. Amen.

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