Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Evermore and evermore. . . .

Sermon for the Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Day, preached on December 25, 2023.

    Christmas Day brings out the faithful.  Christmas Eve brings out the masses.  I will admit that sometimes it seems like Christmas Eve is for a crowd largely unfamiliar to us except at Christmas.  Some would complain about that.  We ought to be glad that if nothing else will bring them from their homes to God’s, at least Christmas will.  They will hear the Word.  God is good.  He will work through that Word whether we live to see or ever know what fruit it bears.

    On Christmas Day we do not hear Luke’s familiar story with its details and drama.  Instead, we hear John’s theological framework for what happened in Bethlehem so long ago.  It is eloquent and profound.  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Much of that might be lost to the Christmas Eve crowd but we are here and we are up to John’s lofty wisdom.  Yet there is perhaps an interpreter of John who can frame John’s words about as clearly as it can be.  That man is Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, writing in the fourth century.  We know him through the translator and poet John Mason Neale.  Though you may not have heard that name before, you sang his words as the Hymn of the Day – “Of the Father’s love begotten.”  Take your hymnal and open it to hymn 384 and follow along with me.

                    Of the Father’s love begotten
                        Ere the worlds began to be,
                    He is Alpha and Omega,
                        He the source, the ending He,
                    Of the things that are, that have been,
                        And that future years shall see
                            Evermore and evermore.

Clemens is the master poet and Neale his English interpreter.  “Of the Father’s love begotten...” God is love.  He has always been love.  He always will be love.  But His love is not a feeling or an emotion – no matter how strong.  It is the driving force in all He is and all He does.  The love of God eternally begot His Son, long before creation was created and a world came into being.  The Son of God is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end.  Here is the promise and Jesus own words from the final book of the New Testament.  From Him are all things, in Him all things have their being, and to Him are all things.  The past is His.  The present is His.  The future is His.  He is the only eternal and those who are immortal are immortal only in Him.

                Oh, that birth forever blessèd,
                    When the virgin, full of grace,
                By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
                    Bore the Savior of our race,
                And the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
                    First revealed His sacred face
                        Evermore and evermore.

This God forever entered time and space.  Planted in the womb of the Virgin by the Word of God spoken through the Archangel, He is born like us as one of us yet without sin.  The God of Gods and Light of Light and True God of True God whom we confess in the creed becomes flesh and blood to a Virgin full of grace, by the power of the Spirit.  And on Christmas Day, the world made by Him first saw His face.  All creation knew to praise Him except mankind, the same mankind who had rebelled in Eden and who lived under the veil of unbelief and fear.  Angels had to beckon the reluctant and the stranger to the manger.

                This is He whom seers in old time
                    Chanted of with one accord,
                Whom the voices of the prophets
                    Promised in their faithful word.
                Now He shines, the long-expected;
                    Let creation praise its Lord
                        Evermore and evermore.

He is the embodiment of the prophetic promise, the hope of Israel in flesh and blood, and the fulfillment of every Word of Scripture.  Though a world had grown tired of waiting, God had not wearied of delivering His one and only Son.  But like the plans of God, they unfolded not with haste or surprise but with deliberate steps as the Bible made known.  The seers and prophets of old time spoke with one voice of what was coming and now they stand with the angels as the manger reveals the Son of God and creation rejoices to praise its eternal God.

                O ye heights of heav’n, adore Him;
                    Angel hosts, His praises sing.
                Pow’rs, dominions, bow before Him
                    And extol our God and King.
                Let no tongue on earth be silent,
                    Ev’ry voice in concert ring
                        Evermore and evermore.

Here we are bluntly reminded.  Praise begins on high and filters down to us on earth.  Before we see, we must be told where to look.  Before we speak, we must hear the voice of the Word.  Before we sing, we must be taught the tune.  So as the angelic choir of Bethlehem taught the shepherds who taught the Magi who taught the followers of John who taught the Jews who would receive Him who taught the Gentiles to know Him, so now we listen and then we respond, speaking back to God what He has told us, the result being a grand and glorious and eternal choir singing:  Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of Power and Might.  Though for now some voices are silent, at the end they will all sing – either willingly by joyful faith or forced to acknowledge the One who is also Judge as well as Savior.

                Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
                    And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
                Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
                    And unending praises be,
                Honor, glory, and dominion,
                    And eternal victory
                        Evermore and evermore. Amen.

Every great hymn is doxology.  All theology must sing.  All doctrine must praise.  So here we join to chant to Christ, with God the Father, and Holy Ghost, with thanksgiving high and praises without end.  If you recall, this echoes throughout the Divine Service, doesn’t it.  It is in the Gloria in Excelsis, at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, and the proclamation of the mystery of the faith.  Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is Yours, almighty Father, both now and forever.  The highest glory, of course, is not words from the mouth but faith.  Faith to rejoice in Christ our Savior.  Faith to confess our sins trusting in His absolution.  Faith to hear His voice speaking in Scripture.  Faith to approach His table and feast upon the flesh and blood of Christ.  

So, enough time here, let us move quickly to the praise of bended knee before the manger of bread and wine in which Christ comes to us and we respond with praise and thanksgiving.  For this is Christmas every Sunday.  Amen.

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