Beyond the Tinsel
Today we push beyond the tinsel, beyond all that glitters and flashes at this season in the world. Today we talk about the res the thing itself, the essence of Christmas.
In going beyond the tinsel, we start with the "the beyond that is within." The Beyond Within is the title of a 1964 book on LSD. The phrase also describes the spiritual viewpoint of Disney's repeated mantra "you've got to believe in yourself" and Ralph Waldo Emerson's, "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies with in us." You recognize "the beyond that is within" is a foreign and dangerous concept to true Christianity. From Jeremiah's judgment that the human heart "is deceitful and desperately wicked," "to Paul's conclusion that "in me dwells no good thing" to Jesus' verdict that, "Out of the heart proceeds every kind of wickedness," "the beyond that is within" is rejected by Christianity. Yet it's still there.
Hear me out. Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that "God has set eternity in our hearts." That is an incredible statement. In our time bound hearts God has put eternity. Our finite minds have a sense of the infinite. C.S. Lewis said the fact that all humans everywhere have something or someone as their god proves the existence of the true God because how could they invent the idea of God if he didn't exist? How could we have a concept of eternity in us unless an eternal God put it there?
"Deep calls unto deep" says the Psalmist. The one eternal God has an echo in the human soul because God has set eternity in our hearts. But don't get the idea that the beyond within is where we go for salvation. Actually it's quite troublesome. My seminary professor said the fact that God has set eternity in our heart means we have all of God's questions but not all His answers. Isn't that the truth? How many questions prick, pinch, ache our hearts that we have no answer to? Why? How? When? echo out of the depths of our souls into the depths of eternity. "Deep calls unto deep."
Moreover, not only do we have unanswered questions from the beyond that is within, we have unanswered accusations. Though we can ask questions befitting God, think high, lofty, divine concepts, we fall short not only of God's glory but of the beyond that is within. O like a country song says we have our moments. Days in the sun when we do, say or think noble things, but still we come up short. In the words of Romans, "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualitieshis eternal power and divine naturehave been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."
The "beyond within" which paganism trumpets, secularist see as proof of their divinity, and spiritualist seek out, not only troubles us with questions but accuses and condemns us. We don't think of God according to His own natural revelation of Himself. We make Him like us. He can only do what we think He can. He can only answer the questions that we can answer. He must make sense to us or He makes no sense. He must meet our ideas of love, fairness, and justice or He is unloving, unfair, and unjust.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. And He did. He rescued us from the beyond that is within by the beyond that is akin. John states it in simple language. The Word that in the beginning created all things, the Word that was with God, and the Word that was God became flesh and literally "tented" among us. You'll recall that God did this among the O T Church. He pitched a literal tent, called the tabernacle. He dwelled there in a cloud above the ark of the covenant, but only the high priest could go into His presence and only once a year carrying the blood of atonement.
The tent God pitches in the New Testament Church is the body and blood He takes from a virgin named Mary. Everyone can approach this tent. Shepherds paw and pinch their Savior in the manger; Simeon carries Baby Jesus around like a pot roast; and old Anna talks of Him as if He's her grandchild. Here, in the Body and Blood of this Boy Divinity is safe for humanity to use because Divinity is clothed, tented, incarnated, enfleshed in humanity. But I'll show you something greater still.
Solomon tells us, "God has set eternity in our hearts," which is troubling for fallen sinners. The incarnation tells us that the eternal God now has humanity in His heart. The Athanasian Creed says the incarnation was not "the conversion of the divinity into flesh, butthe assumption of the humanity into God." This is the finite being taken into the infinite; this is time being taken into eternity; this is humanity sharing in the counsels of the Holy Trinity. Rather than peering into heaven and seeing an Eternal Light that can only blind you or an Eternal Fire that can only burn you up, from Christmas on you can peer into heaven and see a Lamb before the throne, a Man with arms outstretched to welcome you. You see Him; you see God and aren't blinded. You touch Him; you touch God and aren't burnt.
Remember how I said that having God's eternity in your heart gave you all God's questions but no answers? Will Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is all of God's answers. That's what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1: "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ." John says as similar thing in the last verse of our text, "No man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." Literally John says the Son "interprets" or "explains" the Father.
What do you find strange or mysterious about God in Christ? What do you find threatening or frightening? What do you find accusing or judgmental in Him. The hymn "Abide with Me" says in Jesus we find "tears for all woes, a heart for every plea," and a "Friend of sinners." Jesus is God's answer to your sinfulness. He is your righteousness, your holiness before the holy eye of God. Can the Father find sin in His Son? Can He find one good thing the Son failed to do? One unkept commandment? Of course not. What about the just judgments God pronounced against sin and sinners from Eden, to Sinai, to the Sermon on the Mount? What drop of the Father's wrath did the Son not drink? What pain of hell did the Son not bear? What sin of yours was not included, left out, forgotten, when Jesus went to the cross bearing the sins of the world? Not one.
The beyond that is within in is no answer and no comfort. The Beyond that is akin, God the Son in our flesh and blood is both an answer and a comfort. But unless the Beyond that is akin is within in our reach today, what good is He to us? We're not shepherds, Simeon, or Anna that could see, touch, and hear Jesus, the Beyond that is akin. They could even smell Baby Jesus. As true Man God had that new baby smell so much was He akin to us. But we can't go back in time and even if we go to that space in our time, we still couldn't do what they did. Even if we found the very manger Jesus lay in and the very cloths He was swaddled in, we would be no closer to Him. The Beyond that is akin would still be beyond our reach.
I know; we can go there by faith. We can receive the Beyond that is akin to us by faith within in us. It's true; all of Jesus and His salvation are received by faith, but once you start taking about faith doing things you run afoul of the essence of faith. It receives; it doesn't do. It's passive not active. When I hear I am to receive the Christ-child by faith, I inevitably think of my faith going somewhere to get Him, and that's contrary to our last hymn and several others for that matter. We sing, "Come from on high to me; I cannot rise to Thee."
Even though all of God is in Christ for me and my salvation, even though all of God's questions are answered in Christ, I cannot rise to Him. He must come to me as He did to the shepherds, Simeon and Anna. And come He does as He promised He would. The Beyond that is akin to me comes in Waters that touch my skin, by Words that vibrate my ear drums, and with Bread and Wine that I can not only see, touch, and smell, but even taste.
We are confronted with the same mystery, the same stumbling block that all who saw the Christ Child were. The Beyond looks so ordinary, so plain. He didn't look like anything beyond a newborn Babe. He didn't look like the Savior of the nations. He didn't look like He was able to defeat sin, death and the devil. He didn't look like anything beyond what He appeared to be.
And Baptismal water looks like plain water. It doesn't look like it is able to forgive sins, rescue from death and the devil and give eternal salvation. And the Words that come from my mouth don't seem to be anything beyond human. They don't sound divine, holy, sacred. They don't seem to be words of eternal life sending sins away from sinners. And this Bread and Wine look no different than any other earthly bread and wine. They don't look, feel, smell, or taste like they give forgiveness, life and salvation.
Most pass by the Beyond that is akin, the God who is Man who uses earthly things to give heavenly things. The Scriptures themselves show you this. Not every shepherd fell down and worshipped Baby Jesus as their Savior, most didn't. Only a few wise men traveled from the east to worship Jesus as God. And only two dim sighted old people saw Jehovah when He suddenly came to His temple as He had promised He would. Most are tripped up by the tinsel. They can't get beyond the tinsel, but tinsel doesn't do anything beyond decorate. The Beyond that is akin redeemed flesh and blood 2000 years ago, and today the Beyond that is akin is here with that redemption, here within reach of eyes, ears, hands, mouths, and noses. Now isn't that beyond, way beyond, not only tinsel but beyond anything man has ever seen, heard, or even thought? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Christmas Day (20071225); John 1: 1-18