The Reason for The Season
I have to admit that the sign on the Evangelical Free Church goaded me into preaching this sermon. There it has been on 45th Street preaching for the past couple of weeks. "Christ is the Reason for the Season." Some years ago buttons, lapel pins, broaches, bumper stickers, and coffee cups were popular with that saying on them. I suppose Christian bookstores still carry such items. The problem with this catchy saying is that it is wrong.
You think you know where I'm going with this, but you don't. You think I'm about to say that the season being celebrated today around the world is not about Christ. It's about food, drink, family, and gifts. Christ is most certainly NOT the reason for this season! Nope, that's not my point. Christ is not the reason even for the season being celebrated in the Church
Jesus didn't need to come to earth, to take on flesh and blood for His sake. God the Son was not unhappy, unfulfilled without a body as angels are often depicted in movies or aliens on Star Trek. Everything was eternally all right with Him. St. John shows us this by opening his Gospel with the words, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." The "the beginning" that John mentions is the same one referred to in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth." Before there was time, matter or space, before there was earth, man, or angels, there was God the Son, and things were just fine with Him. St. John tells us, "in Him was life." God the Son wasn't just alive; He was life itself. He needed nothing. He wanted nothing. He had everything.
Of course, soon after creation the darkness of sin and death descended upon all of the universe. But don't think this darkness reached to God the Son, the Light. No the Light went right on shining in the darkness. Darkness is no match for light. Christmas displays show this. Did you see how last night when the lights were turned off for the singing of "Silent Night" how the tree glowed? Each light is less then 1 watt, but see how it pierces the darkness of night. God the Son, who is Light of Light, went right on shinning in the darkness and the darkness did not put it out. So it was not like Jesus needed to come to take care of darkness. No the darkness could do nothing to Him.
Jesus is not the reason for this season. What goes on today is not for His sake at all. Jesus didn't need today. He didn't need to be placed in the womb of a virgin. He didn't need to be born in a stable and put to be in a feeding trough. He didn't need the praise of angels, the visits of shepherds or the gifts of wise men. He didn't need to save the world. God the Son could have scraped the whole thing and started over. You know He gave that option to Moses in the wilderness. Several times God told Moses to step back and He would smoke the Israelites and start over with Him. If Moses had that option, then surely God the Son did too. God the Son didn't have to have this season. Christ isn't the reason for this season at all.
Who is Christmas for? Ask anyone, even a stranger on the street that question and they are going to say, "Christmas is for the children." Yes, that's the reason for this season: the children. And dear friends, you and I regardless of age are the children here. Jesus according to Isaiah 9 is not just called the Wonderful counselor, the Mighty God, and the Prince of Peace, but also the Everlasting Father. Fathers do things for children not the other way around. We are the reason for the season. The season is for us as Isaiah also says, FOR US a Child is born today. FOR US a Son is given today.
The darkness was a problem for us, not for Jesus. The darkness did indeed overcome us. We were the people whom Scripture speaks of sitting in the darkness of death. You've been there. You know how death casts an ugly, heavy, dark pall over your life. What can you do as you watch your loved one slip away? What can you do to slow the march of death into your life? Onward it comes relentlessly and piteously. Jesus didn't need this season of light. We do. "The light was the life of men," says John not the life of God.
We are the reason for this season. We are the ones who were in the darkness of death and held captive by sin and Satan. You know we use the phrase "pet sins" as if we have sins that are pets. Actually, we are the pets of our sins. They own us. What can we do over against them? We mind them; they don't mind us. They have us in cages; we don't have them. They mess up our homes; we don't mess up theirs.
We're the reason for the season, but you know why so many think Christ is the reason? Many think we have all but licked the problems of the darkness of death and the bondage to sin. Medicine has made miraculous strides in recent years. It can replace organs. It can stop cancer. It can make the blind to see and the deaf to hear. Even sin is being dealt with by means of medicine. If you have a problem with stealing, they have drugs to make you stop stealing. If you have a problem with drinking too much, don't worry. They have a drug that can make you stop. Likewise, if you have problems with worrying, despair, or sexual perversions, there is something in the modern pharmacy to help you. You don't need this season of light and deliverance; Christ does.
But the problem really isn't just the darkness of death and the oppression of sin. God had made this wonderful world and placed us on it. His creation was marvelous and intricate, a perfect wedding of the spiritual and the physical. Man knew God the Light perfectly. But then Satan slithered into the world bringing dark death and seductive sin with him, and what happened. Mankind fell into the machinery of the world. Imagine a complex machine with wheels and cogs and motors and computers all being run by the laws of God. When Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, they are sucked in. The only way to come out of the machine is to keep the Law perfectly and to pay the penalty for messing with the machine in the first place. How could we then be saved?
Do you think it's simply a matter of not dying? We're dead already. The moment Adam and Eve fell they were dead. We, says St. Paul, are also dead in our transgressions. So what if medicine can keep us alive 70, 80 or more years. Death is still at work within us. Death still has to be defeated. And do you think any pill that treats the symptoms of sinfulness: worry, despair, stealing, drunkenness or sexual perversion, can really treat the systemic disease of sin? Do you think symptomatic relief of the symptoms of sin is enough to get you into heaven? Think again.
Man's best medicine is no match for death and sin, and neither are the common miracles of Christmas. Do you think a jolly old St. Nick can really just "ho, ho, ho" death away? Try it and see. Try "ho, hoing" in the face of the death that stalks you. That's no different than the boy who walks through the woods whistling to stave off his fear of the darkness. And what of your sins? Do you think the so called miracle of Scrooge can help? Do you think you might be able to be scared straight, have the "hell" scared right out of you? Think again. The kind of change that came over Scrooge could only be worked by a miracle.
Ah, then the answer must be the birth of Jesus? You know we tell our kids and grandkids that Christmas is Jesus' birthday. But already in the early church, pastors were warning their flocks about celebrating Christmas as if it was merely the birthday of Jesus, as if Christmas was no more than the celebration of a great king's birthday. No, something much more grand and glorious happened today. Not just a birthday, but an incarnation. God jumped into the machine of His creation to rescue us from Law that condemned us to death and the sins that we had to pay for.
You know the rabbis for centuries before John would not dare to speak of God doing this or that. Instead they would say, "The Word did this; the Word did that." Imagine the shock when good Jewish people read John's Gospel and he says, "The Word became flesh and dwelled among us." The Word who was not only with God but was God descended into flesh and blood, into the very machinery of His creation. The Light came into the darkness. The Life came into death. The Holy came into the sinful.
Here is something to set against the darkness of death and the oppression of your sins. Here is Someone that death cannot swallow as Easter proves. Here is Someone that sin cannot oppress as the Great Temptation proves. Here dear people of God is your Savior from death and sin. Here is Someone who tasted death for you as Hebrews says. Here is Someone who came into the world to defeat the works of the devil, your sins, as Hebrews also says.
It matters not that you still feel and see death very much at work in and among you. God has spoken. His Word has come forth and spoken life to sinners dead in their sins. Your body, your medical chart, your funeral plots all speak of death, but God speaks life in the face of all these. What God says happens. It matters not that you still feel and see sin very much at work in and among you. God has spoken. His Word has come forth and said, "I will forgiven their sins and remember their sins no more." God has descended into the machinery of His creation, into the very flesh and blood you carry around, and said, "Though they be sinners all their lives; I've forgiven their sins." What counts with God is what God has said.
Christ and Christmas is for you. You are the reason for the season. Be not like those John speaks of. "He came unto His own and the "idiots" did not receive Him." Our word "idiot" comes directly from the Greek word John uses there. Friends, let us not be idiots who think our death is too dark or our sins too heavy for God the Son now in flesh and blood to deliver us. Let us not be "idiots" who think that God can only do what we think He can. Though we see or feel that our death and sin are undefeatable let us not believe that God is limited by what we see, feel, think or even believe. God came from the far reaches of heaven to deliver sinners from death and sin; you can be sure He was successful.
And let us not celebrate this day as Puritans who outlawed every sign of joy or happiness. This is a day of bright lights and special food. This is a day befitting laughter and happiness. God has fulfilled His promises. He has sent us a Redeemer into our flesh and blood. Things are different now. Because of Christmas you must put God on earth struggling with you against sin and death, and you must put Mankind in heaven safe from sin and death. If that doesn't call for the fattened goose to be cooked and the bottle of champagne to be opened, I don't know what does.
And let us not celebrate this day as Christians who make this merely a celebration of food, family, and gifts. Though a person spend this day alone without food, without family, without gifts, he or she has not lost a thing. In Christ he or she has the answer to the questions which plague mankind. What about death? What about my sins? Today God's answer comes back loud and clear: In Christ though you die, yet shall you live. In Christ though you sin, yet are you forgiven.
You are the reason for the season. The shepherds were told this. Though because of their occupation they were considered too sinful to go into the temple, God sends angels to tell them, "To you this day is born in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord." You are the reason for the season. Aged Simeon and Anna also knew this. Though you get the sense from Luke that these two senior saints were pretty much ignored by most people. God went out of His way to show them His salvation in flesh and blood was for them. And so it is for all of you. You are the reason for this season, so this is a season of light, of life, of forgiveness and joy for you. Go celebrate. Amen
Reverend Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Christmas Day, 2000, John 1:1-14