Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Home About Worship Music and Arts Parish Life Learning Outreach News Contact
Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sermon from December 24, 2010: Christmas Eve

“Out of the Box”
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen (Texts: Luke 2:1-20; Isaiah 9:2-7; also referencing Isaiah 40 and 60)

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Three thousand seven hundred years ago – give or take – the God of the universe, creator of a billion stars, maker of the heavens and the earth, decided to establish a relationship with the people of this planet. God came to a couple living in the Middle East named Abraham and Sarah and claimed them as a special family, a chosen people of God, through whom God would bless the whole world.

Four hundred or so years later, 3,300 years ago, this family was now huge, and enslaved in Egypt. And God once more acted, calling a man named Moses to lead this people to the land they’d been promised. And when they arrived at a mountain in the wilderness called Sinai, they experienced something world-shaking. This God of Abraham and Sarah was invisible – they didn’t even have a statue to represent this God. But there, on the mountain top, was something visible, the very presence of God in a cloud. We don’t know what this presence looked like or felt like, but it was real, tangible, and frightening. The people called it “the glory of the LORD.” “Kavod Yahweh.” Although they didn’t say the proper name of God, so “Kavod Adonai.” They’d only seen it once before, earlier in their journey – and then only at a distance – when they complained of starvation and received the gift of manna.

And they were terrified of this visible presence of God. They’d actually asked Moses to let them speak to the LORD directly instead of his always interpreting for them, but when it came right down to actually doing it, they couldn’t stand in the presence of the glory of the LORD. Thereafter, on their journey in the wilderness, once they’d made the tent of the tabernacle, the glory of the LORD – the visible, real presence of God – traveled with them, always staying in the tent of the Holy of Holies, residing (so they thought) inside the Ark of the Covenant. When King Solomon finally built the temple, they believed that the glory of the LORD entered the Holy of Holies where it stayed. The presence of the glory of the LORD was a sign of Israel’s blessing, of God’s grace upon them.

Now we move ahead another thousand years. Luke is telling a story:

And listen to these words from the second chapter:

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock
night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone
them, and they were terrified.

Did you hear that? The Glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds on the hillside. This is not accidental speech – this phrase was the same term the ancient Israelites used that meant very specifically the presence of God in the Temple, the visible reality of God. The phrase only occurs two other times in the New Testament. Luke is announcing something world-shattering.

He’s saying this: The glory of the Lord, the visible sign of the Creator of the Universe, is on the loose. Not contained in a locked room with access only to the elite, not contained in an ancient gilded box with a couple of stone tablets. God’s out. And nothing will ever be the same again.

But what does it all mean for us?

Well, if you were a first century Jew, it meant everything. It meant that access to God wasn’t controlled by the Temple priests anymore, and kept behind closed doors. For the first time in 1,300 years the glory of the LORD is on a mountain again, this time a hillside near Bethlehem, and with no priests, just smelly, vulgar shepherds – shocking.

Friends, there’s a reason the shepherds were terrified, “sore afraid.” No Israelite other than a priest had been in the presence of the glory of the LORD for 1,300 years. It would tend to shake up a person.

Now this is not completely a surprise. In fact, if the people of Israel had noticed, they’d have seen it in Isaiah: In Isaiah 40: “Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” All people shall see it together! And in Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.”

Hundreds of years before Jesus is born, the prophets are saying that someday the glory of the LORD will get out of the Holy of Holies and be among the people. It’s just that people never thought it would really happen.

It’s hard for us to grasp this in the way a first century Jew would have. But it can be done. We need to put it in a way that makes sense in our context. We are explorers, people of science, people who know more than anyone else in history the magnificent splendor and breadth and complexity of the universe – unlike first century Jews or even 16th century German Reformers, we know how immense this creation is. We’ve seen pictures through the Hubble telescope and through electron microscopes that astonish us.

And what Luke is saying to us is this: God, the creator of this amazing universe, maker of a billion suns, designer of uncountable tiny particles, has come to us in person to live with us. We may not understand the depth of the phrase “the glory of the LORD” as the Jews of Jesus’ time did, but we do know what it might mean if the creator of all we’ve discovered and learned has become one of us.

And the reason it changes everything is because now we know that God has been fully revealed to us in Jesus. Now we know what we need to know about God.

What Luke is saying – and this is confirmed with a powerful tearing as the curtain covering the Holy of Holies is ripped asunder at Jesus’ crucifixion – Luke is saying that in Jesus God is no longer confined, God is with us. Out in the world, loose. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is now a reality. Not in some vague “God is everywhere” kind of thinking. In reality.

This baby, this Son of God grows up. And in this baby, this human being, is everything God wants and needs us to know about God’s actions in the world. Everything about God – God’s power, God’s glory, God’s everything – is contained in this baby in a manger. In this man crucified on a cross and risen from the dead.

What God has said is that in the love Jesus came to bring we know all we need to know. And God will never be locked away again. God will transform the world with this love, bring in a kingdom of justice and peace for all people, where all are fed, all are loved, all are blessed. It may not come to full fruition in our lives, but the promise that is begun at the manger and redeemed in the resurrection of Jesus will come to pass.

And here’s where we have something in common with the others in time and space who’ve heard this message: it can be exhilarating. It can also be threatening.

This is incredibly threatening if you’re a keeper of the box, the locked room. Then you can control what people think about God, you can decide who God favors and who God doesn’t. You can say whatever you want about God and people have to believe it. It isn’t just priests of the temple who try to keep God locked away from others. It’s Christians, too, who love Jesus and hate people.

Too many Christians love Christmas and Easter, love the baby, weep at the cross, and then talk of God’s mighty wrath condemning people. They still want God’s glory in a box that they control, to tell others what God thinks of them, of the world.

But God has said that in this baby, at this manger, and then at the cross, and now in bread and wine, water and Word, God’s complete word for the world is given, and that word is love. We can no more put God back in the box than we can create a universe. We can’t imagine that God exists apart from Jesus’ love and forgiveness – it’s simply not possible. We can’t keep people from God, nor can we stop the Holy Spirit – the Glory of the Lord is out, and in this baby, and has told the world one thing: you are loved and wanted back.

This is Emmanuel: God, the creator of the universe, has come to be with us. With you.

And no one has the keys to God, the exclusive access. In the body of Christ, God is living and moving and changing the world. All that we need to know about God we now know. And this is the only way we could have known God, understood even the smallest thing about God, only if God came to us.

It’s going to be hard sometimes, with God just showing up in people’s hearts and lives. We’ll get confused, and sometimes wish someone had God under control. Sometimes we won’t be sure if God is leading us one way or another. But it’s the best news the world has ever known – God isn’t under anyone’s control, God’s out with us. And in this baby we learn God has come not in power, not in wrath, not in vengeance, but in love. A love willing to die for us. A love powerful enough to raise us to new life.

God’s glory’s out – and with us in love. And nothing will ever be the same again, thank God.
In the name of Jesus. Amen

No comments:

Post a Comment


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

Copyright 2014 Mount Olive Lutheran Church