Sermon for Christmas Day 2009

Text: John 1:14a
The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.

 The divine contradiction

There was a king who appointed his very wise and learned Chief Minister as his ambassador in the Middle East. He was charged with the responsibility of learning as much as he could about these far away countries. When travelling in Palestine the Chief Minister was deeply moved as he heard about Christ. He listened intently to the stories about the man Jesus and learned as much as he could. When he returned home he told the king that he had become a Christian, and that he believed in the God who had sent his own Son into the world to save sinners.

The king was very confused by all this talk about a God who became a human and made the point saying, "If I want anything to be done, I tell my servant and it is done. For example, if I want fresh fruit from my garden, I don’t have to go out and pick it myself, I just tell my servant and he does it for me. Then why should the King of Kings, the Lord of the Universe who is able to create people and save people just by saying a word come to this world himself and become a human being? I don’t understand why the majestic and mighty God of all would become a vulnerable, weak baby, be born in a stable and subject to the authority of a wicked king like Herod. That just doesn’t make any sense."

The Chief Minister agreed that the king had a good point and said that he would need a day to think about it before giving his answer to the question. He sent for a skilled toymaker and asked him to make a life-size doll and to dress it up exactly like the one-year-old son of the king and to bring it to him the next day.

The next day the king and his Chief Minister were in a boat together on the river and the king asked for an answer to his question. At the same time the toymaker came and stood on the shore with the life-size replica of the king’s son. The king waved to what appeared to be his son standing on the jetty. Just at that moment the toymaker let the doll fall into the water. Without a moment’s hesitation the king jumped into the water and swam to the jetty to rescue the drowning child.

After a while the Chief Minister said to the king, "With all respect your highness you didn’t have to leap into the water. All you had to do was to say the word and I would have jumped in to rescue your son? Why should you yourself jump in?"

The king thought for a moment and replied, "It was a father's love." The chief minister said, "Love was also the reason why, in order to save the world, the all-powerful God became a human being instead of doing it by his mere word."

We celebrate Christmas because of a father’s love. The birth of Jesus as a real human baby, or as John’s Gospel puts it, "The Word became a human being and … lived among us" is God's way of telling the world, and telling each one of us, about his fatherly love for us and what extreme measures he is prepared to go because of his love.

Basically his heart is no different to that of any parent in this church, only purer and with greater purpose. Like any parent he only wants to see his children happy and safe; separate from anything that would cause them harm and grief. Christmas, as does Good Friday, gives us a glimpse into how God really feels about each of us. We get a look into his heart and see how much he loves us.

Because of love he was prepared to put himself at risk; come down to earth in the form of a helpless baby, be totally reliant on people 24 hours a day to keep him safe and to care for his every need.

We see Jesus in danger from Herod’s death-squad.
We see Jesus bundled off in secret to Egypt.
We see God here living with the risks and perils of life in the world.
We see, dare I say it, God in a state in which he needs human help, human love and protection.

God's bold plan to come to earth and become one of us shows us that he is prepared to really experience human life in all its rawness and mess. He isn’t protected by bodyguards from those who want to harm him. He even allowed himself to fall into the hands of evil people in order to confront sin and everything that threatens the safety of his children.

Here we begin to see the great mystery of Christmas. As we look into the manger and see there a tiny newborn child we see one of the greatest "contradictions" ever. I call it a ‘divine contradiction’. There in the hay is God in the form of a tiny child. The Bible tells us that in Christ – in this child – the fullness of God dwelt bodily. To be truthful, there is no way of fully expressing the immense mystery of this. God, who is beyond and above anything we can imagine or think of, is born in this tiny body from the womb of Mary. This shows us a God who is not only great and powerful but also has a profound love for us and is deeply interested in us.

The birth of Jesus is an important part of God's rescue plan from sin. This ‘divine contradiction’ of the all powerful, totally other God taking on the frailties of human flesh, the restrictions of family life, hard work, as well as the worst horrors of hunger, thirst, pain, humiliation, defeat, despair, and death is God's way of bringing forgiveness and reconciliation to all humanity.

God came from heaven to earth and was born in poverty – in a cattle-shed and laid in a manger of hay.
He died in poverty as a criminal on a Roman instrument of torture and death.
In poverty he was buried in a borrowed tomb.
God entered this ‘divine contradiction’ because his love would not let him stand by and watch his children suffer.

Like the king who jumped into the river to rescue his son from drowning, likewise God has jumped into life in this world for us. He could have kept his distance and ordered angels to carry out his rescue plan but instead he became personally involved. God deeply desires to know us on an intimate, relational level. God in Christ has come close to us - that's why he chose to become an earthly baby in a manger.

He chose to become a brother with us in all the joys and trials of life in this world. He is right here with us, giving us the support, help and comfort that we need to face the ongoing troubles that come our way. Into our world of tragedies, of broken dreams,
of crushed hopes,
and of merciless demands,
God came so that he could heal all of our pain and give us hope. He came to walk with us, and tread the same path we tread through life. He came and he grieved and suffered and was fearful and died just as we grieve and suffer and are fearful and die.

The story of Jesus’ birth is a simple one. It’s a story that even the youngest child can relate to. Children especially feel close to the child in the manger. Here God in Christ is speaking to them, and identifying with them, and coming to them. In coming to us as a little child, Jesus is telling us that we can best know him as little children. No grand, complex and complicated ideas are necessary – just the profound yet simple faith of a child.

As we celebrate Christmas we are aware of the ‘divine contradiction’ of God coming to earth as a baby but all that we really need is an honest, uncomplicated awareness that we are loved and cared for by God. The ‘divine contradiction’ of Christmas, that expresses God's determination to do something about the mess that sin and evil are making of our lives, calls us to respond in some way. And so we are called to respond with faith and trust in what God has done for us through the wood of the manger and the cross. Just as he has loved us in an uncomplicated no strings attached way he calls us to let the same kind of love rule our lives.

As we go from here today we will say to each other ‘Merry Christmas’ and it really is a merry and joyous Christmas – ‘The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us’. As we worship the infant Jesus again this Christmas, we touch the very deepest part of God's heart. We see the majesty and the compassion of our heavenly Father expressed in a way that we can receive.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th December 2009
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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