“Grace and Truth in the Flesh”
Sermon, Christmas Day, Gospel, John 1: 1-20
I remember a scene from a movie or television show where the camera starts on earth, then the imaginary camera zooms out to include the moon, then further back to see planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, then still further back until the sun looked like a small star, then to the galaxy, and then to multiple galaxies. The movie was beautiful, sort of a God’s eye view of the universe. And it had an intended effect. That effect was that it was to make the viewer feel, small and insignificant. The earth and all that were on it and that had ever been on it disappeared in the teaming lights of “billions and billions” of galaxies. But even more amazing than the unimaginable size of the universe is the thought of a Creator who could make something so large. There is nothing so big, that God is not bigger.
Seeing that video was a humbling experience. It brought to mind the words of King David in Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4, ESV) David looked at the starry heavens and wondered why God cared for him, or any man. Why had God taken a boy born in the little town of Bethlehem and anointed him king over all Israel? What could he possibly see in him, or any man? What could the God who created the suns and planets, solar systems and galaxies find of interest in our tiny planet, in a tiny nation, in a tiny town, in a tiny boy? But God does care about the tiny. Martin Luther said that we all know that there is nothing so large that God is not larger, but there is also nothing so small, that God is not smaller.
Imagine now that video shown in reverse. We start with hundreds of spiraling galaxies and galaxy clusters hanging like glowing ornaments from an invisible tree, then we start moving in. We get closer to the galaxies until we see only a dozen, then five, then one spiral galaxy, then we move closer to the outer arms of the galaxy, then we are surrounded by suns, thousands of them, then we see dozens, then a handful, then one tiny star. As the star gets larger we see other bodies, little planets, then a belt of asteroids, then the giant planets, then the blue planet, then the continents, the Mediterranean, the eastern coast of the sea, the hills running north to south, the city of Jerusalem with lights coming from the Temple and palaces and inns, then south of the city a little collection of houses with only a few lights, and then a stable with a lamp, and then a manger with a baby in it. The God who created the cosmos has come to this little place to take on the flesh of man, because men and women and children, you and I are not insignificant. In truth, we are significant of God’s infinitely great grace and love, and His infinitely focused and particular love for you and me. He came at midnight into a darkened world with His light, a light for everyone and for one person in particular one–you.
That is the wonder. “What am I, that you care for me?” Let’s get something out of the way first. God did not come for you because you are better, or nobler, or worthier than your neighbor in His eyes. He didn’t come for you because He saw potential in you, that with a little help you could make something of yourselves. Thinking like that will get you to the point that you may believe that you are pretty good, and only need God a little, only need a Savior a little, that Jesus didn’t really need to die for you, maybe for others, but not for you. God saw potential for you all right—potential for hell. He saw what you could make of yourselves alright, slaves to sin, to selfishness, to pride. For without His grace and His truth you are lost, in the dark without a light, pursuing the lies that Satan whispers in your ear over and over.
No, God came for you and for me because He loves you and me for no reason we can ever know. He sent His Son, the Word, through Whom the world— the cosmos— was made, He sent Him to Bethlehem two thousand years ago to live in the tiny, confining body of a baby, wrapped tight in swaddling cloths. He sent His Son that all who receive Him in faith should have eternal life. He who made the swirling nebulae and star clusters cares for us— tiny clumps of cells moving around on the paper-thin surface of a molten rock. And He not only cares for “humankind” in the abstract, but for you in particular. He knows the hairs on your head, the thoughts of your heart. He knows everything you have ever done, or ever will, and still He cares for you. He knows your doubts, your fears, your weakness in faith, and still He came for you, and for me. This is grace, the undeserved gift of God, especially the gift of sending His only Son to dwell with us while we were still His enemies. And not only to dwell with us, but to be mocked and ridiculed for us and by us, to carry our sins to the cross and nail them there in His body. This is the grace of the Son, who willingly, joyfully, came from His throne of majesty in heaven, beholding the dance of stars and galaxies created through Him, and came to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem, to Rome, to Germany, to your Baptismal font. And He comes this Christmas morning to Kansas, to Wellington, to 1300 N. C Street, to the sanctuary of Calvary Lutheran Church, to its altar, and to the bread and wine on the altar this morning, with the same body that came to Bethlehem two thousand years ago in a manger, with the same body that hung on a cross, and with the same blood that flowed through His veins on Easter morning and still flows through His glorified body seated at the right hand of God in heaven.
“How can this be?” Don’t ask me. I don’t know how. But I trust the testimony of the men and women who saw Christ risen from the dead, in the testimony thousands of ancient manuscripts recording His life and teachings, more documentation than any other historical person of ancient times has. I trust the testimony of the apostles who willingly went to their deaths because they had seen the risen Lord. But mostly I trust that God cares about tiny me because He gave me His Holy Spirit through the hearing of His Word of truth in church, in reading Scripture, and from the hearing the Word from my pastors, parents, Sunday school teachers, and seminary professors. That Word, the same Word that created the cosmos, created faith in me the same way it created faith in you. That Word connected to the water of Baptism washed away yours and my slavery to sin, the great lies of Satan, and replaced it with the robe of truth and grace and righteousness, not mine, but my Savior’s.
And the grace and truth that washed over you and me in Baptism, is inexhaustible. The Son, as John says, is full of grace, overflowing with grace. When we feel the weakness of our faith we return to the source, the fountain that never runs dry, the living Word of God. We return to the altar to eat and drink forgiveness of sins, to share the infinite tininess and the infinite greatness of our Lord’s love for us, tininess to the knowing of the hairs of our heads, greatness to giving us eternal life.
So, like the shepherds who looked with wonder on the baby in the manger in Bethlehem so long ago, kneeling in awe of a God who would send an army of glorious angels, more glorious than all the stars of the night sky to announce the birth of an ordinary looking baby boy, let us also kneel in awe and rejoice that we are neither too tiny, or insignificant in the grand design of the cosmos, for God to come to us in all our ordinariness, in all our tininess. For just as there is no sin too great that God’s merciful heart in Christ is not greater, so there is no person too small in spirit and sorrow that God will not lift up for His Son’s sake. God is with us! Emmanuel is here, to dwell in these little hearts of ours forever! Blessed and merry Christmas! Amen.
Preached Christmas Day, 2014, at Calvary Lutheran Church, Wellington, Kansas