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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sermon from December 25, 2010: Christmas Day

“It Is Good”
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen (Texts: John 1:1-14)

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

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless
void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God swept over the face
of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that
the light was good. (Gen. 1:1-4)

In the beginning it was good. In the beginning, God spoke light into being. God spoke matter into being. God spoke, and created a universe. God’s Word, God’s intention for existence, made existence possible.

And it was good. Again and again God said “it is good.”

So what are we to make of what we hear this day? We live in a world that clearly is not good. There is wickedness and neglect and brokenness; we who are the dominant species on this particular planet have fouled our nest and destroyed not only many of our fellow creatures and species but also jeopardized our own future; there is hunger and disease and ignorance among many of our kind; there is hatred and war and violence and oppression. We cannot see much that is good.

But what we hear this day from John is that God’s Word which created all things, God’s intention for this world and for the universe which made all existence, has engaged this world once again. John echoes those words from Genesis:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He
was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him
not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was
the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome
it. (John 1:1-4)

Thus far he simply recasts the vision of Genesis and clearly names God’s Word as the creative force of God. But then he tells us this: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John tells us this morning that God’s intention for the world has become one of us, has lived with us, literally has “set up his tent among us.” That God’s Word has brought light into the darkness of this once good world, and that light cannot be overcome.

And I say again, what are we to make of what we have heard this day?

What John is saying is almost incomprehensible.

He is looking at this Jesus of Nazareth from a distance of a few decades, at his teaching, his work, his healing, his signs – and at his brutal death and subsequent resurrection. And this is the conclusion he makes. This Jesus, John says, is God’s Logos, God’s Word for all time. This Jesus, John says, is the center of God’s intent for the universe. This Jesus, John says, makes God known to us.

And what we know, John says, is that this Jesus, this Word of God who was present at creation, intends to bring the entire creation back to God’s joy and grace. God so loved the cosmos – the entirety of creation – John says, that God sent the Son, not to condemn but to save. To be lifted up and draw all people to God.

And it’s almost more than we can deal with. We can understand Jesus as a man. We can even worship him as the Son of God. But to understand that he is the embodiment of the Triune God’s creative will, that God has literally taken up a home with us now, this is beyond our capabilities.

But perhaps John has given us a gift in his tying Jesus to the Word of God which called life and creation into being in Genesis. Maybe on this Christmas Day John is inviting us not necessarily to understand how God does this and is with us. But simply to believe and marvel at what it means that God has done this.

What that will do for us is cause us to re-think how we see humanity and this world.

Lutherans are a very practical and honest branch of the Christian family tree when it comes to what we think of human capability and reality. Our view of humanity, our anthropology, is pretty low. We typically are not among those who think humanity is progressing and improving, because we don’t see evidence of that very often. Instead, Lutherans will typically expect the worst of humanity. We’ll not be surprised when power corrupts even good people, because we expect that. We’ll not be surprised when people do things that seem inhuman, because we deeply believe that our core human nature is broken and marred.

It isn’t that we hate ourselves and humanity – but we ground our theology in the Scripture that says we are so broken, so far from God, that we cannot reach God ourselves, or please God. We cannot help ourselves – so if we are to be helped, God will have to do it. We are captive to our sinfulness and brokenness unless God breaks that captivity. Unless God’s grace comes to us.

So to put it in terms of Genesis 1, we Lutherans look at the world and see that it is broken, and not the good it once was. We look at humanity and see that it is fallen. And we aren’t surprised at further examples of this. This can get us the reputation of being heavy on the guilt, on the idea that “I am a poor, miserable sinner.” And while we don’t want to walk around with hair shirts on ourselves all the time, we’d claim that we’re being realistic and honest with humanity and ourselves.

Now there are deep ties between Lutheran theology and the fourth Gospel, perhaps more than any of the Gospels. So it’s good that we Lutherans reconsider this first chapter of John today. Because John has something astonishing to say to people like us.

Listen carefully: In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, God spoke, and it was created, and it was good. And now this Word who created this good creation has become one of us, has entered our broken, flawed, enslaved humanity. We who expect, who know, that there is much wrong with the world, and with us, we need to hear this: God’s creative Word has become one of us.

Now do you understand? When God’s Word creates, it is good. And now God’s Word is one of us. God has entered a broken, sinful, flawed, captive humanity. And God is saying, “It is good.”

This is the gift of the Incarnation. This is what we are to make of what we have heard this day: in coming to be with us, God is reaffirming the goodness of creation, and reaffirming that we are, or can be, good. In coming to be with us God enters the darkness of a world once filled with God’s light and grace and says, “I can do something about this. I can save this. I can save them.”

This is the marvel of this day.

God has come to be with us, to call us good, to make us good. When God comes to us in light, our darkness goes away. When the good Word enters the bad world, it is the world which changes. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. When you open a door between a lighted room and a dark room, it is the darkness which flees from the flowing light. This is what God has done – opened a door between God’s light and our darkness. And nothing will ever be the same.

What moves me beyond description is that this is the opposite of God’s action, God’s decision as told in the story of the flood. Then God saw all the darkness, all the wickedness, and decided the only answer was destruction, wiping the slate, starting over. Except for the animals of the world and one good family, God saw nothing redeemable.

But the ancient Hebrews do something with this story that I’ve not found in others of the many cultural versions of a great flood story: they describe what looks like God’s remorse. After the flood in Genesis, God says “never again.” As if God was shocked by this result, by what happened. And the rainbow is the sign that God will not do this again.

So coming to us in Jesus is the logical end to God’s decision after the flood, to the gift of the rainbow. From choosing Abraham and Sarah, through building a nation, giving the law, speaking through the prophets, God was preparing the world, preparing us, for this. To come in person, not only to show us how to live, how to be truly human, how to have life again in love of God and neighbor, but also to make us good by reclaiming humanity into God’s heart.

Here is the marvel John declares: instead of looking at the world’s darkness and wickedness and destroying all while saving only a few, God now becomes one with the wicked ones to save them all. Of the Father’s love, of the Father’s heart is begotten this Son, who in being one with us saves all of us.

That’s what we are to make of this day, of what we have heard.

And it is almost more than we can bear. But it is the best news we could ever imagine. I am convinced that no human theologian could truly invent this idea without God actually doing it. We’re much more comfortable with God doing wrathful destruction – hence the hundreds of flood stories in the cultures of the world. It’s the way of power, the way of the world, the way most people in history imagine their gods acting.

But the true God, the creator of all, has come to be with us. And says, “It is good. I can fix this. I can save them.” And from the Father’s heart we find what we never hoped to find: love and grace and hope. Because if God’s Word says it is good, it is good.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

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