The Nativity of Our + Lord, Christmas Day
December 25th, Year of Our + Lord 2011
Do you have a favorite Christmas, one that stands out as particularly wonderful? Maybe a Christmas when you had all of your favorite people with you, or when you were able to be home for the first time in a long time? Maybe a Christmas morning when you were not only completely surprised by the gift you received, but even more, the gift was so perfect, so above and beyond your expectations, that you were filled with wonder and awe?
Today is that special Christmas for Emma and Tristan, because on this Christmas Day, Christ tabernacled with them. Today, on this December 25th, as the world once again celebrates His birthday, Jesus came and joined Himself to Emma and Tristan, giving them rebirth through the washing of the Holy Spirit. Outwardly, the Baptisms here today happened because Dennis and Amanda asked for them to happen, but in truth, God has moved all the players to this place, and God has done the eternal work, the divine work of salvation, the delivery of Christ to sinners. Based on what God has said in His Word, we confess that Tristan and Emma have truly been born of God today. Merry Christmas indeed!
To celebrate this very Merry Christmas, the Church has picked out some very Baptismal readings, to help us all grasp what has happened here today.
From Exodus, we hear about Moses erecting the Tabernacle, the tent which the LORD had directed Israel to construct as their mobile house of worship, the place where the LORD Himself would come to dwell with them, sanctifying them with His glorious presence, accepting their offerings and absolving them of their sins. Hidden in cloud by day and fire by night, the LORD tabernacled, or dwelled in the tent, with His people, providing them with mercy, and protection, as they lived out their lives in the wilderness, waiting and wandering until they could enter into the promised land. Despite the elaborate rules and the requirement for so many different sacrifices, the Tabernacle was in the end truly the LORD’s grace place, the location of salvation.
And so we begin to gain a better understanding of John’s Gospel this morning. For the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us, the new and eternal location of salvation, in the flesh of Jesus Christ. Tabernacled is the literal translation of what is typically translated ‘dwelt among us.’ The Word, who is God, tabernacled, or tented, if you prefer, dwelling among us, in the man Jesus Christ. He is Immanuel, God with us, whose birth we celebrate this morning. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s dwelling with Israel in the Tabernacle of Moses. Jesus is the Word, both distinct from God and at the same time one with God, the true God from eternity, the only begotten eternal Son of the Father, come to tabernacle with us. Revealed to the world as a little baby, born into the humblest surroundings, Christ came to bring light and life to us, sons and daughters of Adam, dying in the darkness, to bring truth and grace to us, who have been fooled by the lies of Satan, to provide mercy and protection to us flesh and blood sinners.
But must we really bring up sin, death and Satan, on Christmas? Baptism is such a lovely thing, and Christmas is such a nice day; why even mention sin and death and the sadness and suffering Satan has inflicted on humanity through them? Why bring up evil on this happy morning?
Why bring up evil on this happy morning? First, because evil and suffering do not go away, just because it’s December 25th. Evil and suffering do not go away, just because we ignore them. Second, we can fearlessly speak of evil, because today of all days, we have the means in front of us to truly defeat evil.
And we do need evil to be defeated, no doubt. We were created for good. We were created for close, everlasting fellowship with the Source of all good, the LORD God. But our goodness did not last. There are far too many different ways to prove this, but for today, let’s just remember that this happiest of holiday seasons is also a peak time for depression, substance abuse, and violence, like holiday shoppers fist-fighting over basketball shoes. Today’s Christmases are all too much like the first Christmas, when the source of all light and life came to His own, but His own received Him not. The Creator came into His Creation, but the vast majority of people did not notice, did not care, other concerns filling their time; life is so busy, you know.
I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. Christmas has spread far and wide, but for too many Christmas is just a midwinter excuse for buying toys, for decorating and for parties. Or worse, for many Christmas ends up being a season of deep sadness.
And it’s not just evil in the world that needs to be defeated. As Paul wrote to Titus, we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Paul says we were all like this once, and an honest survey of our thoughts, words and deeds reveals how we still struggle to overcome evil, continually rising up from within us.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, not by good things we have done. No, rather according to his own mercy, God saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. That’s Holy Baptism. Washed in the Water and the Word, we are justified by his grace, that is, we have been declared right with God, freely, apart from any requirement for us to earn anything, good news indeed to those who realize we cannot free ourselves from sin. All this God has done, so that we can inherit eternal life.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. The Son of God came into this world to be a human being, in order to save us human beings, but even the vast majority of His own Jewish people refused Him. Love came down that first Christmas, but the world said, ‘No thanks.’ But to all who did receive him, that is to all who heard His Good News and believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And so all who are baptized and believe shall be saved.
This is a truly special Christmas, for today God declared Emma and Tristan to be His children. By His Word and Baptism, Christ has given new birth to Tristan and Emma, right before our eyes. He has loved them all along, of course. He has been working through the months and years, moving us all toward this day, the day of God publicly claiming these children, of God declaring the cross and resurrection of Jesus are forever credited to them.
Today is also that day for you. Even if you’ve forgotten your Baptism, God still holds Himself to His sacred pledge and promise. Even if you’ve wandered away from Christ, even if you’ve never properly learned the faith into which you were baptized, still God seeks you, seeking you in this wilderness of sin, in order to bring you into His eternal Promised Land. Repent, and believe the Good News. Rejoice in the gift God has for you.
God does not stop saving you once you are baptized. Which is a good thing, since the baptized, to our great shame, do not stop sinning in this life. So the Spirit poured out on you in your baptism continues to speak, to teach, to correct, and to forgive you. Christ’s desire is to tabernacle with you forever, so throughout this earthly life He is at your side, ready to pick you up when you fall, removing your shame, drying your tears, and even loving your neighbors through you. Living as the baptized is a daily reality, a life fed by the Bread from Heaven, given to you in Word and Sacrament.
Christ is tabernacled with you, right here, this morning. Merry Christmas, indeed.
I’ll tell you a little secret: we don’t actually know for sure what day of the year is really Jesus’ birthday. It could be December 25th, but more likely not. But no matter, because for Baptized and believing sinners, every day is truly Christmas, truly the day that Christ comes, to forgive, restore and strengthen you, for life today, and forever and ever, Amen. Merry Christmas Tristan. Merry Christmas Emma. Merry Christmas, Christians. Christ is born for you, and you are reborn in Christ, Amen.