Thursday, December 27, 2018

The glory of the Lord. . .

Sermon for the Nativity of Our Lord, preached on December  25, 2018.

    If some of you notice, you may wonder why your senior pastor wears the dalmatic – the vestment of the assistant in the liturgy.  It is a curious thing that ordination to a higher office does not erase the lower offices that precede it.  Even the Pope can serve as humble deacon or even acolyte.  That is not how it is in our world.  Presidents do not take turns cleaning toilets in the White House – glory flows one way and once you have it, you do not let it go for anything.  But that is not the case for God.

    The holy Incarnation of our Lord did not cause Him to cease being God.  It did not require Him a leave of absence from His place as the eternal Son of the Heavenly Father nor did it mean that His glory and power were no longer His.  He sets them aside to fulfill His saving vocation to you and me and for the sake of the whole world but that does not mean He has given up His place as God’s Son or that He is no longer worthy of the glory that belongs to Him as the Son of God.

    God is forever confounding us with the mystery of His love.  He overturns the laws of nature at will – parting seas, multiplying loaves and fish, healing the sick, and raising the dead.  So the God who made all things has determined to become the Savior to redeem His fallen creation.  We may see it strange that the mighty God of heaven comes into the womb of the Virgin, is born in a stable, laid in a manger, and manifested in flesh.  But God does not.  This is strange only to those who think glory is a river that flows only one way.  But God’s glory has dwelt among us and we have seen Him, the only Son of the Father, in flesh as ours and blood, to be our Savior.

    Even the angels cannot fathom how God works.  They can only kneel before Him and adore Him.  So why do we think that we can fathom the awesome mysteries of God and plumb the depths of His wisdom or sit with Him as equals sharing conversation?  Like Job of old, we are reminded.  God’s ways are not our ways and our ways are not God’s ways.  We cannot presume to advise Him nor can presume to get Him.  It is ours to worship Him, to kneel before Him, to adore the Word made flesh, and to rejoice that this is happening not for Him but for you and for me.

    All things work together for our good.  That is what St. Paul says.  But we see this verse to apply simply to the realm of human choices – where we go to college, what career we choose, where to work, who we marry, if we have children, where to invest, and when to retire.  This is small thinking.  The things that work for our good are time and history, from the creation of the world to the patient love of God who bore with us sinners who deserved only His wrath to the God made flesh to be our Savior.   

    We think too small if the good we seek is an easier or better today, a healthier life, a richer bank account, more pleasant experiences, more or better things, or a life without disappointment and with a great deal more happiness.  It is like the child who chooses the bigger coin over the smaller one of greater value.  We think too small.  For the good of the Word made flesh is an eternal tomorrow, a new heavens, a new earth, and a new you and me, rendered righteous and holy by the blood to dwell in the presence of the Most High without fear and with great joy forevermore.

    God has displayed the great and grand mystery of His glory.  He loves you.  He loves me.  Not because we are lovable or because we can do anything for Him.  He loves us in spite of the fact that we are unlovable, worthless, and stained with sin and tainted with the stench of death.  He does not hold His nose to dwell among us or come quickly to get it all over with.  No, His glory unfolds over centuries and with promises so hard to see until finally the pieces are in place and we see God in the face of Mary’s Son.  His glory is to love, not with the shallow love that has limits beyond which it will not go but with the boundless love that is willing to be stretched out in suffering, rendered unclean by dwelling with those unclean, and dying to set the captives free from death.

       The Lord’s glory is to love you.  You are worth it to Him.  Look in the mirror and you will behold the mystery.  Any reasonable God would have dismissed you as not worth saving and gotten on with it.  But not the Lord.  The world chooses between nature and the desires of man but not the Lord.  He has not chosen nature but sees one creation with you as its crowning glory.  In all your weakness, in all your sin, in all your brokenness, in all your need, and in all your death, it is the glory of the Lord to come for you, to hide His glory in flesh until even that flesh can no more hide it.  You are not lovable but He has loved you and this is the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of His once for all sacrificial suffering, the mystery of the God of life who dies for the dead, the mystery of the life that death can no longer threaten or snuff out.  This is the Word made flesh, the glory of the eternal Father, manifested in His Son, who is born to save us.

    This Lord will always be Emmanuel.  His ever still the God who is with us.  If sin and death cannot keep Him from us or His love from saving us, we rejoice today to acknowledge that this Lord Jesus is and always will be our Emmanuel.  But He is not in the manger.  There is no baby waiting for you.  He was born in flesh, He grew into manhood, He died and rose again.  We remember the manger but we do not look for God’s glory there.  The risen Lord has ascended on high and even so He is not gone.  He has not abandoned us.  In His glory He dwells among us still – not in the fragile fold of feelings or dreams but in the concrete splash of water, the voice that speaks forgiveness, the bread that feeds us eternal life and the blood that cleanses us and makes us holy. 

    The Light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  The glory that saved us still shines like a beacon into the world where death and despair still reign.  The hope that cannot be disappointed still triumphs over evil and wrong, satan and his demons.  That is the glory that beckons to you this day.  He has come to His own, to you and to me, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit we have seen Him, received Him with faith, rejoiced in Him, and abide in Him today and forevermore.

    The presents are shadows of Him who is present with us, whose glory dwells not out there but in here, and whose great mercy still opens eyes, transforms minds, and makes holy the sinner.  This is what we speak to our children as we tell them Luke’s precious story.  This is what is hidden in every gift exchanged.  This is what is symbolized in every holiday meal just as it is fed in the holy meal of this altar.  This is the voice of singing learned from angels and the wonder learned from sheperhds and the worship learned from Magi.  The glory of the Lord is that He loves you, He has borne the full measure of your sin and died its death and now you are free.  Free to behold Him in His glory, His glory now and the eternal glory to come.  And for this, God be praised.  Today.  Tomorrow.  And forevermore.  Amen. 

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