Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7, Hebrews 1:1-9, John 1:1-14
Father Marcus is fond of reminding me of a friendly debate he and I once had over whether Christmas or Easter deserves primacy in our liturgical celebrations. In fact, you may recall if you were here at the early service on Sunday or listened to our podcast in the last day or two that he did it again in his homily for Advent 4! While I’m very typical of the Western tradition within Christianity of placing high emphasis on the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord that we celebrate during Holy Week and Easter, I must admit that Fr. Marcus and our brothers in the Christian East do indeed have a point about the importance of the Incarnation that we celebrate each Christmas.
In fact, I was recently reminded of J.I. Packer’s chapter on the Incarnation in his classic book, Knowing God. Dr. Packer is probably the most well-known and most influential living scholar in the Reformed and Evangelical traditions within Anglicanism and is indeed one of the foremost living voices of traditional Evangelicalism across the denominational board. Like any good Reformed guy, Dr. Packer would never downplay the Atonement or the Resurrection. But he reminds us that the Incarnation is the key to the rest of the New Testament story. He writes, “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.” If we can believe in the Incarnation, if we can believe that God became Man, everything else makes sense. If the Incarnation is true, as Dr. Packer writes, “it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked his coming into this world, and his life in it, and his exit from it. It is not strange that he, the Author of life, should rise from the dead.”
In our Old Testament reading this morning, we began the passage by reading, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” As we look around the world today, it is easy to see the darkness. Granted, there are some areas where things seem to be getting better and better. For example, in the last few decades technological advances have eliminated global hunger in most parts of the world. And due to other advances in technology and medicine, infant mortality, once a tragedy that most every family experienced, has been reduced to a statistical anomaly. Yet, at the same time we have also seen our own country in the midst of the longest war in its history with no end in sight. Some of current generation of new soldiers and marines being sent to fight it weren’t even born when the war began. And our country is experiencing extreme polarization over political and ideological differences to the point that we often expect the worst motives of those who vote differently than ourselves. We’ve seen public morality plummet. We’ve seen public scandals skyrocket. Church attendance has dropped to an all-time low in most denominations. The list could go on and on.
But let’s not forget the darkness that in each of our own hearts. I don’t know about you, but there are times I look deep down into my own heart and scrutinize my own motivations and am absolutely shocked! recently saw the latest Star Wars movie. One thing I appreciate about Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and the other similarly enduring tales, is that they recognize that no one is immune from temptation. No one is so good that he cannot fall to the Dark Side. We all can be seduced by the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.
The Good News is that God doesn’t keep us there. He doesn’t leave his creation without a rescuer. In the Collect for this past Sunday, the last Sunday in Advent, we prayed, “that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, [God’s] bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us.” Our own sins, our own wickedness, has not only hindered, but severely burdened us, and we need God to rescue us from ourselves! Indeed, throughout the Old Testament, God gave hints, types, and prophecies of his rescue plan. As my daughter’s children’s bible is subtitled, “Every story whispers his name.” Our Epistle began with one of my favorite summaries of the Bible: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things.” God wouldn’t leave us in darkness. God wouldn’t leave us to wander off like lost sheep. God promised to send his Son to become one of us, to bring us light, to bring us home, and to die on our behalf.
In our Gospel passage, St. John gave us a birds-eye overview of our Rescuer, the Hero of this story:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Jesus is called the Word who was with God and was himself God. God the Son became the message sent by God the Father. God himself would become one of us, the creator would become a creature. The one who made all would be made into a little baby. The one who was with God in the beginning would be born to a virgin in Bethlehem. John continues:
In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
I don’t know about you, but I love to see the lights at Christmas. I love to drive around in Wincrest or even our own neighborhood and see what people have done to their homes to mark this time of year. There’s a reason we use lights for Christmas: we’re remembering that Jesus is the light of the world. He came into the darkness to shine God’s light. Earlier we heard from the Prophet Isaiah, “They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” It’s true that the darkness didn’t comprehend the Light of Christ. It’s true that the shadow of death is thick and we are all under its cloak. But Jesus would be more powerful than the shadow. Jesus would overcome death. St. John continues:
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
The Son of God became one of us so that we could become sons of God. This is the glory of the incarnation. God became man to reconcile mankind to God and indeed. “For unto us a child is born, and unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” God the Son would himself become our king and establish the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Right now it is inaugurated, right now we have the down payment. That’s why there still is darkness. But the darkness knows its time is short. The fullness of the Kingdom will come when he returns. All will be set to rights. “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom.”
The joys we have at Christmas, the joys brought about by the Incarnation, the glimpse of light in the darkness, when we work for peace on earth and goodwill toward men: these things are a hint of that kingdom of God to come. Just as Christ came once, he’s promised to come again. The first time was in humility, the second time will be in glory. May we all share in the glory of his kingdom as we share in our Lord Jesus Christ. Come soon, Lord Jesus.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.