December 25, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
Once again, the Nativity of Our Lord gives us reason to be glad and celebrate. One of the Church’s traditional prayers expresses this Christmas Joy: “O God, You make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of Your only Son Jesus Christ.” But the prayer takes an interesting twist, unexpected to many, especially those who hear it for the first time: “Grant that we, who joyfully receive Him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold Him when He comes to be our Judge.”
Redemption is an expected theme for prayers at Christmastide. It was so in last night’s readings from St. Luke’s Gospel about a Savior being born for you in the City of David. It is also heard in this morning’s reading from St. John’s Gospel: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” And in the Old Testament Reading from Isaiah’s Prophecy, the theme of redemption is clear: “The Lord has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”
Certainly, redemption is the theme of Christmas. It is the purpose which the Son of God fulfilled by His birth into this world. But to speak about redemption, one must necessarily consider from what he is being redeemed. What power is being overthrown? What disorder is being overcome? Who no longer shall have control and sway?
In the Gospel Reading, John gives answers in a poetic way. Speaking about the Nativity and life of Christ, he writes: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Darkness—that is what mankind is being redeemed from. But this is not the lack of electrical power or fuel-burning lamps. No, this is the great and terrible veil of death, sin, imperfection, and deception in which all mankind finds itself enveloped: a darkness of utter spiritual blindness, devoid of any virtue.
And what happens in that darkness? Nothing good. It is so when blackouts strike large metropolitan areas. It is worse when the darkness is worldwide. In that darkness is all sorts of vice which takes place. Disorder and chaos rule. People with any sort of power or ability try to impose their will over others. The Psalmist described it interestingly: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying: ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’” There is the attempt to be bound by nothing, no thought that anything is out of bounds, and no idea that anything is wrong with the whole situation.
It is into that disorder which Christ has come: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” In the midst of all the pettiness and futile attempts of mankind, Christ brings something better, something virtuous: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Glory from God comes into this sin-darkened world. It trumps all earthly ability. Even Satan with all his angelic powers has to yield.
With that glory comes something needed for you: “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Grace and truth are extended to you: grace is displayed in the pity and compassion that Jesus’ actions show; truth is revealed in what Jesus’ teachings declare. With that grace and truth, the Son of God brings your redemption. Seeing your plight, He acts for your benefit. Overcoming your ignorance, He shows you the order which the Father desires and He works to restore you to it.
This restoration which the Son of God brings is His work. He does it for you. It stems from what He underwent: humiliation, suffering, and death—when it looked like darkness had overcome the Light. It also comes from what His Father did for Him: raising Him to life again, receiving Him in His Ascension, and seating Him with total authority. The Epistle Reading refers to this about Jesus Christ: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the Name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
In this way, “the Lord has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” As the reports of this go out into the world, the darkness begins to be dispelled. More are put under the Son of God’s gracious rule, being made part of His Father’s household: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” They may live in this world of darkness, but they are children of the light.
And yet, this redemptive work of the Only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth, is not the complete extent of His purpose and role. There is more that He will accomplish. The deliverance of grace and truth was just the beginning. What is yet to come is the total and full overcoming of the darkness by the Light which the darkness cannot overcome. And that explains the petition of that Christmas Prayer you heard before: “Grant that we, who joyfully receive Him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold Him when He comes to be our Judge.” This is where the theme of Judgment comes in, even at Christmas.
The Lord promises an end to all this madness and delusion found in this darkness of sin. He scoffs at all the scrambling for meaningless power: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” For He knows what order will be brought to this world, brought not at the Nativity of Christ, but His Return. The Psalmist describes this: “Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying: ‘As for Me, I have set My King on Zion, My holy hill.” That King is His Only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him is given all authority: “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to Me, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage, and the ends of the earth Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Such a statement may not sound too Christmassy. But it is what the Son of God brings with Him. Those who spread the darkness or vainly try to reign in it are warned: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled.” Their time is at an end. Their so-called dominion shall be no more. For there is a new Ruler, a new Judge.
But for you, this appearance of Christ—the same One who came in humility at His Nativity—in all His glory is nothing to fear: “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” Blessed are you who have been brought from darkness to light. Blessed are you who have been made children of God by His will. Blessed are you who have received Him. Blessed are you because of what this Christ has accomplished for you. Blessed are you, for His Coming and His Glorious Return bring grace and truth to you.
So when He comes again, the Christ will recognize you as His own. You have His Name on you, given in Holy Baptism. You kiss the Son, as He permits you to partake of His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper. You find refuge in Him, as you turn from your sin, recognizing that only He has the power to save, and that He speaks pardon and peace to you. All of this is the fullness of the grace and truth which the Only Son of God has bestowed upon you.
Because of His gracious will, you have received Him—the Lord’s King and Anointed One—as your Redeemer. You have received Him, remembering when He came at His Nativity to bring salvation to you. So with sure confidence, you may receive Him when He comes to be your Judge, rendering favor for you and putting an end to all the darkness of sin, death, and Satan forever.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.