Preach December 24, 2012
Titus 2: 11–15
St. Luke 2:1–14
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
After weeks of preparation, we have come to the actual feast of Christmass, the Christ Mass, perhaps the most hyped holiday of the whole year world wide. If we have managed to keep our focus on Christ, rather than on all the distractions of the world, we are most fortunate, because this is an event of greatest importance.
So what have we actually come to? St. Paul addresses this in our Epistle lesson when he says, Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. We have come to the birth of the Messiah, the one who brings salvation, not just to the Jews but to all mankind. This Messiah is the grace of God, come in human form, the Incarnation of Almighty God. We struggle with the concept of God taking human flesh, God becoming man like us, and yet remaining fully divine in every respect.
Let us return to the second article of the Nicene Creed which we recited a few moment ago and reconsider the words we said, words we have said many times before:
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Be gotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man.
The phrases God of God, Light of Light, etc. need to be understood as God from God, Light from Light, etc. Hippolytus says, “When I speak of Son as distinct from the Father, I do not speak of two Gods, but as it were, light from light, and the stream from the fountain, and the ray from the sun.” The point is the identical unity between the Father and the Son, even while they are still distinct from each other.
The work Incarnation is from Latin meaning “taking on flesh” which is really quite descriptive. It describes the doctrine presented in the Last Gospel that we read on most Sundays from the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel, where we read in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That Word that is referred to here is capitalized because it refers to God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and this is saying that the Son has put on flesh and blood in order to take up residence among us here on earth. That is what is happening here at Christmass time.
But note that, the Son has taken on a pure human nature, and in so doing does not cease to be divine as well. Thus He now has two natures, one divine of His Father, and one human of His Mother, Mary. He retains these two natures forever, without confusion.
Let me engage you in a bit of speculative theology. Why did Christ come to earth in human form? Well, we are immediately drawn to the response that He came to save us from our sins. We might turn the question around and ask, “If there had been no sin, would Christ have come to earth?”
The Incarnation is the greatest honor ever given to mankind by God our Father. We can conceive of no greater Gift that the Father could give us. Is is due only to our sin? If we imagine a world without sin, would Christ have still come into such a world?
It is hard for us to imagine a world without sin; sin is such a part of our daily existence that we can hardly imagine what it would be like to have a world without sin. But let us try for a few moments. Put yourselves back to the Garden of Eden before the Fall, if you will.
Man has been created as the highest creature on earth. Higher than the great seas and mountains, higher than the trees and plants, higher than all the plants. Man is partly material as all of these things are, but man is also partly spiritual as are the angels. Man has been chosen by God to represent all of the material creation because man is closest to God Himself. There are hints in the New Testament that God planned from the beginning to send his Son to man, a plan in place before the Fall. The sad occurrence of the Fall changed the nature of that visit to some extent, but there is reason to believe that God planned to come to us at Christmass, even before we fell into sin!
Now you are no doubt thinking, “Whoa! Where is this evidence?” Let me read a few passages from St. Paul that suggest this idea. While none of them spell it out clearly, taken all together, they seem to suggest that this may have been part of what the Apostle was saying. Let me caution you that you really need to look at the whole group together to get the picture.
Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Ephesians 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
Ephesians 1:22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
Colossians 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. 21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
Hebrews 2:10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
Thus we have some reasons to think that Christ would have come to us, even had there been no sin, simply for the purpose of uniting all mankind more perfectly with God our Creator. This may well have been God’s original intention for the Incarnation before sinful man created a need for a Saviour, a rescue mission. If we see the Incarnation in this light, as the original intention of God to bring mankind closer to Himself, we then see the Incarnation as God’s great act of love for mankind that even our sinful rebellion did not quench.
God does love us. He loves us enough that He has sent His Son, His only Son, even to sinful mankind. Let us rejoice and receive the Son that He has sent to us, the Son that comes to us in blessing to renew our lives and to restore us to the Father. Perhaps it was not the original plan that we would need such radical restoration, but the Son comes to do for us whatever is required to reconcile us to the Father. This is what the Incarnation is all about.
In the words of the well known hymn, then let us turn in our thoughts this day to —
Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant;
Oh, come ye, oh come ye, to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.
Oh, come, let us adore Him, oh come let us adore Him,
Oh, come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.