Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day
St. John’s Church
December 25, 2009

In 1959, Peter Seeger wrote a song that wouldn’t be recorded for another three years, but was one of the biggest hits of the 1960’s. If I were a betting man, I would put forward a wager that many people who liked the song then had no idea that its lyrics were actually an almost word-for-word adaptation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. If you haven’t guessed by now, the name of that song was Turn, Turn, Turn. In light of the glorious readings which we hear every year on Christmas, you might just be asking yourself, where on earth this sermon going with a reference to the book Ecclesiastes in light of the words which we heard from Isaiah, Hebrews, and John?

The reason I even bring up the book of Ecclesiastes and the third chapter is because of a verse which follows the ones that provided the inspiration for the song by the Byrds. In the eleventh verse of the third chapter, the author writes some most incredible words in which he says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (ESV).

God has written eternity into our hearts.

What a remarkable statement. Back in Genesis it is declared that we are made imago dei – in the image of God. Here we have Solomon declaring that one of the awesome attributes of God is imprinted upon our hearts. Eternity finds a home in the deepest recesses of our existence. This certainly sheds great light upon the declaration of St. Augustine in his Confessions when he says, “Great art Thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no end…. Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”
We celebrate again the fact that the eternal and transcendent God who spoke everything into creation came to earth and became a part of the very creation that he made. The finite and the infinite have come together and bridged what was before an unbridgeable gap.

So what does this mean for us? How do we exult in the good tidings of great joy that have been declared unto us?

We must first come again with a spirit of humility and kneel before our Lord’s manger, in awe and wonder that God would take our nature with the intention that it would never be undone. St. Athanasius in his treatise on the Incarnation said

…the Word of God Himself...assumed humanity that we might become God. He manifested Himself by means of a body in order that we might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father. He endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality. He Himself was unhurt by this, for He is impassable and incorruptible; but by His own impassability He kept and healed the suffering men on whose account He thus endured. In short, such and so many are the Savior's achievements that follow from His Incarnation, that to try to number them is like gazing at the open sea and trying to count the waves.

This early Church Father and Doctor of the Church makes a most profound declaration here, and wants us to recognize that the only way for the Spirit of God to walk in the garden in the cool of the day again was to take on our humanity so that we might be able to return to our origin, our very Source of being.

We must also contemplate what brought this into being. That which we inherited from Adam is not something that we can simply brush off, or remove at will. We have inherited a terminal illness in the form of Original Sin. This illness cannot be cured save one source and that is from God alone. The debt that none of us could ever repay was paid once and for all by God’s incarnate Son. As St. Paul declared to the Christians in Corinth, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Finally, we must forever remember that which motivated God to do something like this. “So God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And,

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

Love is the only thing that allows any of this to make any sense. A quotation that has often been attributed to the Church Father Tertullian declares, “I believe it because it is absurd.” The very fact that the King of kings, and Lord of lords, would have come in the most unassuming and least majestic of forms has the fingerprints of God all over it. All throughout history, God has acted in some of the most unpredictable of fashions.

He has done so with one motivation and one alone. He first loved us, and seeks and desires our love as well. He also desires that the love which he manifests toward us we go forth and show to our fellow man as well. This is the central focus of Christmas and our common life as followers and disciples of our Lord.

May the light that comes from the Word becoming flesh shine brightly within each and every one of us here; and may that light so shine so that others might see who we are and whose we are and give praise, glory, and honor to our Father in Heaven – our Father who has written eternity into our hearts so that we might come and dwell with Him forever.

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