Preached: December 24, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
Deadness. That's what happened to this wreath over time. Deadness. Look at the bare trees outside, leafless, lifeless. Deadness that's our inborn condition. The Apostle Paul, as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1 NIV). That's you and me, dear friends. That's what we once were.
Unlike this wreath or the trees outside, we did not start alive and then become dead. We began life spiritually dead. Yes, I know, a baby seems so full of life -- physical life, but not spiritual life. Dead in sin, no power to come to God, no power to choose what's right in his sight, powerless as a dead body. Every inclination of the thoughts of our heart was only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5).
We don't like to admit this dirty truth. We like to imagine that at least as babies we were innocent or at morally neutral and guiltless, able to choose right or wrong later on in life. Only the Holy Spirit can bring us to truly confess with King David: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5 NIV).
Do you feel that power of deadness at work in you? We fail to do the good we want to do. The evil we don't want to do -- that we keep on doing. How wretched we are! How hopeless! Who will rescue us from this body of death? (Romans 7:19-24).
As you look at the leafless trees outside, remembering your inherited deadness, see a different kind of tree, not brown and lifeless, but green -- yes ever-green, ever a symbol of life. The Christmas tree.
And as you see the Christmas tree, remember him who brings you life, real life, life with God. That little Baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem is your God come to bring you life. He is the eternal Son of the Father. He was with the Father from before the creation of the world, from all eternity. He is with God and is God. Through him all things were created. In him is life -- not only the physically life of creation that flows through him to us, but also spiritual life.
When that Baby in the manger had grown to adulthood, he declared: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). Yes, dear fiend, he's talking about you. He came to bring you life, life to the full. But what does that mean? It's not a life full of stuff, all of which breaks and decays like so many of the gifts given at this time of the year; not a life full of earthly family and friendships, all of which change and fade; not a life full of years or full of fun or full of excitement.
Rather it's life in fellowship with God, in fellowship with the Divine. That's the life that knows God as our own dear Father and firmly believes that we our his true children through the Son Jesus. That's the only relationship that can fill us with supernal joy, truly filling us and overflowing. Not even the death of my body destroys my joy and fellowship with God. For Jesus declares about himself: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25 NIV). When you see a green Christmas tree, remember him who is your Life. Ponder the spiritual life Jesus fills us with -- yes fills us who were once dead in sin.
But so lost in sin were you and I that even God the Son coming into this world in the flesh as a lowly baby like one of us was not enough by itself. So serious and deadly was our sin that only the death of God's Son in our place could rescue and save us. And you know how he died. Not in military battle, not on a sickbed, not by an accident, not of old age, but on a cross made out of a tree.
See the cross in the Christmas tree, the cross on which your Savior hung. He was innocent. He was holy, sinless, for he is our God. But he willingly had all the sins of the world sins counted against him. Why? Not because we deserved it in any sort of way. We deserved and still do deserve only death, damnation, and endless hell. We have nothing to attract him to us, nothing to draw him to love us. So why? Why did he willingly have our sins counted against him? Because of his amazing grace, his love which we in no way deserve. his love that loves the loveless, his love that loved even you and me. That's grace. He came full of grace.
He willingly had your sins counted against him. So his death, nailed to the cross, counts as your punishment. He takes away your sin, for he takes away the sin of the world. Yes, your sin, dear friend, your sin that once separated you from God and made you spiritually dead, Jesus takes it away. That's why we celebrate Christmas. In him, that is through faith in him, you have life, that fellowship with God we talked about, that life to the full. For he who died on the cross for you, rose from he dead to bring you life. He is the resurrection and the life. See the cross in the Christmas tree.
But how could someone like you or me, born dead in sin, ever have faith? This, dear friends, is a serious question. For without faith, without a living, active faith, we're damned. Sin blinded us. We were lost in the darkness of this world, lost in ignorance and unbelief. We did not know the Savior-God. How could we ever believe without knowing the true God?
But Jesus came, and he is the Light. Again, as you look at the Christmas tree and see the many lights, remember Him who is the one, true, genuine Light, the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome: Jesus Christ, the Babe of Bethlehem.
He was born into our darkness to bring us his light. Only through Jesus do we know the Father as our Father. For Jesus came from the Father to make him known. Only through Jesus do we see God's truth. For Jesus came from the Father full of truth. He reveals the truth to us through his Word, the Bible. For the words of the Scriptures are the words of Jesus. Those words brings us him who is the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, who comes from the Father. Only the light of the word of Jesus shining from the Scriptures into our hearts brings us faith, a living , active faith.
After tonight, don't go back into the darkness. Walk in the light. Keep the light of Jesus shining in your heart. How? By pondering his word and believing his message, just as Mary and Joseph and the shepherds did. Don't despise preaching and is word but gladly hear and learn it. For as you cherish and guard his word, treasuring it in your heart and mind, the light of Jesus shines in you.
Think of that as you listen to the children tell you of the Savior's birth tonight. Ponder that when you see a green, lit Christmas tree. Remember him who is your life and light. Contemplate that as you now listen to the Christmas Gospel recorded in John 1.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He's the One that was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made, and without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Word became flesh and tented among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of Only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. From his fullness all of us have received even grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. God the Only-begotten who is in the bosom of the Father -- he's the One who has made him known. (John 1:1-5, 14, 16-18)
This is the word of our Lord.