Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and
from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on this blessed day of His birth.
Kind of like Easter morning, Christmas morning always makes
you smile. It's so exciting to get up at the fresh new day. This morning, I was
talking to my son in Iraq and asking him how his Christmas went because the sun
was setting there at that time, and he was telling me about all the things that
they do in the dining facility…we call them "chow halls"…to make the
boys and girls, the men and women, feel like it's Christmas. There were ice
sculptures, there were gingerbread houses that are made, and there are all
kinds of food to eat, and all kinds of decorations. But he said, "You know
what, dad? You walk outside, and it's still the same dust, it's still the same
dirt, and I'm missing home." I said, "I understand."
It is the same feeling I felt when I was away from you all
as well, but there is nothing better than to be together with you, my parish
family and friends, here to celebrate the glory that has come among us, the
Word made flesh to dwell among us. That is our hope, and that is our great
faith. It was David who said, "I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us
go to the house of the Lord.'" And again, he said, "O Lord, I love
the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwells." And it
is here, His house, where we come. It's here we know He is present.
Remember in the Old Testament when the people of Israel were
"tenting it" every night out there in the wilderness, having to get
their own water and so forth? And there in the midst of them would be the
Tabernacle, and whenever Moses was in there to speak with the Lord, the cloud
overcame that area. And every morning when they needed to move, the cloud would
be there to be God's presence to keep them trusting in the midst of all the
fears, because when you're wandering for 40 years, there is a lot of grumbling
that goes on, a lot of doubting that goes on.
It's a lot like your and my life here…moments of great
triumph, seeing God work in miraculous ways before your very eyes, in your very
life, and then at other times, it is a dull and boring existence. At other
times, it's heartbreaking, questioning, "Why, Lord, did You allow those
people to be sucked up by the earth and swallowed again? Why did You allow
those people to be bit and die by the serpents?" And so on.
We can really relate to those people of Israel as they tabernacled
throughout the wilderness for those 40 years. And then, finally they were
brought to the Promised Land, wherein they built then a permanent fixture, the
Temple, and there God's presence could be pointed out. Where it once traveled
with them in that moveable tent known as the Tabernacle, now it dwelt there in
Jerusalem in that glorious structure. So, if anyone wanted to know where God
was at, He was there in that Temple.
Well, you know what happened to that Temple. In fact, now on
the very stones upon which that Temple was built now rests the Dome of the
Rock, one of the holy shrines of the false god Allah of the Islamic faith. Now
where is God's presence? That is what we talked about on the phone. It's the
same thing that brought me comfort and you comfort because there are times when
people aren't with us.
This Christmas, many of us maybe are celebrating without
someone we love whom we can call up on the phone and wish Merry Christmas, or
who isn't gathered around our table to eat with us. Where are they? Well, they
are the same place where you are at right now. They are in God's presence. They
are gathered around His presence with all the angels and archangels and with
all the host of heaven, and are singing praises to the birth of the One born for
them and for you. It is that which binds us together as one…the eternality of
the Church, which has no time span.
It is joined here in this place where God's glory does reign
and rule, just as it has for millennia. It is not with a pillar of cloud, nor a
pillar of fire, but it is here in this preached Word, and it is there at that
supper that we will gather around to celebrate. And there, I commune with my
son. There you commune with those who have preceded you in the faith. My father
and those whom you love who have died already, and you have laid to rest, there
you are joined together with them.
There is no separation for God's people. By faith, we
believe and trust in that though our eyes and our emotions scream out a whole
host of other things. That is what you and I cling to, and we shall not let go
of such things, for these are the things of the faith that you have been given
since you were a little girl and little boy.
Just like those people wandering in the wilderness who at
times asked themselves questions about God's wisdom, God's plan, so we too in
this wilderness journeying of ours ask the same questions and get the same
answer. "I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go unto the house of
the Lord.'" There we will find answers…if not understanding answers, at
least answers upon which our faith can rest and suckle and be succored that we
may grow and not be fearful.
We will be brought to the great Temple upon which the Lamb
sits upon His throne, and all those who are His people will gather around.
Until that day, we gather here as God's people, and we gather with those who
are not with us geographically or temporally, and we are one here.
When John said the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, yes,
he was referring to God's Incarnation, whose birth we celebrate today, but for
you and I who did not live 2,000 years ago, it is for us that these same words
apply. For the Word became flesh in Word and in sacrament and dwelt among His
people, and we have beheld His glory, the glory of sinners being received again
by the spotless One, the glory of people whose broken lives and dreams are
bound up again here. This is where God's glory reigns and dwells.
In the world…the world looks at us and laughs, and let them
laugh. Let them scoff. Let them bah humbug all that they desire and
wish. Do not let them take that from you. That is that which you will close
your eyes in, just as the ones whose presence we miss this year died in. We are
one in that same faith, and we shall never be parted one from the other, just
as Christ, the One who was present, through whom all things were made, through
whom you were made by His great divine command shall never be parted as well.
Merry Christmas, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Go in
peace and in joy. You have heard and you will taste the flesh of our Lord
Jesus, and behold His glory and the glory of your sins forgiven, and you will
be unified again with those whose presence is not geographically or temporally
with you. In His holy name, Amen.
He came to that which was His own, but He was not received,
yet still through Him, God's glory shone, and some His name believed. To these
He gave the right to be the heirs of heaven above, born not of human ancestry,
but born of God in love.
Lord Jesus Christ, You deigned to dwell among us here on
earth as God with us, Emmanuel, to bring this holy birth. Though rich, You
willingly became one with our poverty that we might share Your wealth and name
for all eternity.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your
hearts and minds on Christ Jesus, Amen.