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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas and Easter Faith (John 1.14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; Christmas Eve, 2015
Text: John 1:14

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Gathering Music: Coventry Carol (Diana Horne, Melissa Lancaster - handbells) (Caulkins)
Gathering Hymn: O Come, All Ye Faithful (ADESTE FIDELES)
The Promise: Micah 5:2-4
The Word in Music: O Little Town of Bethlehem (Susan Slade, Gabby Holland, Savannah Ball - flute trio) (Holcomb)
Promised Child: Isaiah 9:2-7
Music for Reflection: The First Noel (Rick Bean, piano; Linda Jenkins, organ) (Page)
The Word in Music: Good Christian Friends, Rejoice (arr. Youngblood/Austell)
The Anunciation: Luke 1:26-35
The Word in Music: Mary, Did You Know? (choir) (arr. Schrader)
The Birth: Luke 2:1-7
The Word in Music and Dance: Welcome to Our World (Karla Katibah, dancer; Eric Vanderheide, soloist) (Rice)
Angels and Shepherds: Luke 2:8-20
The Word in Music: While Shepherds Watched (Peterson)
Candlelighting Hymn: Silent Night (Rick Bean, jazz piano)
Hymn of Sending: Joy to the World (ANTIOCH)
Postlude: Joy to the World (Rick Bean, jazz piano)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

And the Word became flesh,
and dwelt among us,
and we saw His glory,
glory as of the only begotten from the Father,
full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

If you ask just about anybody, Jesus is pretty well recognized as a wise man who lived and spoke of a humble and generous way of life. That’s true whether you are of Christian faith, another faith, or no faith at all.  Most people, even today, recognize Jesus’ adult life and teaching as something important and worth some measure of respect. Where things start to diverge, however, is at Christmas and Easter. It is there that you either have to get on board with Jesus or have to pretty well tune him out.

Since it’s Christmas Eve, I want to focus on the Christmas part of who Jesus is, but I will mention Easter along the way. I will start with a quick round-up of what we’ve been talking about for the last four weeks. We’ve been “getting ready” for Christmas by studying four themes in the Bible. These are the same themes for which we’ve lit these candles. They are: hope, love, joy, and peace. And they have everything to do with Christmas and Easter.

HOPE – from the promise of God through Isaiah to the story of the old man, Simeon, in the Temple: there is hope to be found in the dark places of life… John names Jesus as the “Light of the World.” CHRISTMAS: this light was born into a dark world.

LOVE – God’s love for the world – for you – is such that while we were yet sinners, God sent Christ to die for us. That love is so strong that nothing can separate us from it. That love also serves as example and fuel for our own love of others. EASTER: Jesus died for love – God’s love for humanity.

JOY – Joy is declaring God’s goodness and sharing it with others. It’s an expression of the experience of God’s life-saving love. It’s all about the message; we are like the angels in the sense that we (can) bear the message of the Good News of what God has done. CHRISTMAS and EASTER: the joy is the news of the experience of God.

PEACE – Most foundationally, peace is known through knowing God. It is shalom, the wholeness, healing, peace, and overflowing blessing of being aligned with God’s will and purpose. The only way that happens is through Jesus Christ. Peace with God brings the peace of God, which becomes our story in and to the world around us. God has come to us [CHRISTMAS] to make peace with us [EASTER].

That brings us to tonight’s text from John 1:14.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory,
Glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  

That’s the big deal about Christmas. Jesus was more than a man with important teaching about life and God. He WAS God. He was God among us, God in the flesh, God-as-man, to restore and heal the image of God so broken and tarnished and distorted. In Jesus we didn’t just hear about God; we SAW God – God’s glory, God’s grace, and God’s truth.

Come to church any other time during the year, and you might get Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness, justice, grace, or integrity (though we try really hard to remember the big picture every week!). But come at Christmas and you can’t miss it. What you do with it is up to you, but there is no skirting around the claim: Jesus was more than a wise man; he was (and is!) God in the flesh, who lived among us, to restore us and redeem us and re-make us.

Come at Easter and you can’t miss that he accomplished that work through his own sacrificial death. But since he WAS God, death was not the final word; he overcame even that, extending the restoration, redemption, and re-making – the Resurrection – to all who will believe.

We light candles tonight, not because it’s pretty and sentimental; we light them to symbolize and to take part in the re-telling of the story: that at Christmas God came among us, in the flesh – as Light of the World – and His name is Jesus, which means ‘Rescuer.’ Come and behold him!

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