Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Did You Get for Christmas? (A sermon based on John 1:1-14)

What did you get for Christmas this year? Was it everything you hoped for? Even if you didn't find what you were hoping for under the tree, you got great gifts from God in your Savior, Jesus. You have the Light of the World that shines in the darkness. You have the Word made flesh, tenting among us. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on John 1:1-14 and rejoice in the gifts you got for Christmas...

What Did You Get for Christmas?
A sermon based on John 1:1-14
Tuesday, December 25, 2012 – Christmas Day 

        Merry Christmas! I'm guessing that by now most of you have opened all or at least some of your Christmas presents. So, what did you get? Did you get the WiiU ? Did you get the new snow machine? Did you get that game you were hoping for? Did you get just what you wanted? If you haven't opened the presents yet, I hope you'll be able to pay attention instead of counting the minutes until the sermon and the service are over. Hang in there. I won't be too long.

        But the truth is that even if you were to receive no presents from your friends and family this year, you did still get some pretty great gifts. Two weeks ago the kids shared with us many of the gifts of the manger that God gives in Christ. But this morning we take a look at two of those gifts that God gives you through his Son. The first we already heard that night: He gives you a light, and not just a nice lamp to put on the end table, not a lava lamp, which I heard were making a comeback, but better: a light that will never go out. And the second gift, we haven't talked about yet: he gives you a tent, and not just a tent for you to go camping with, but a tent for him to camp among us. John writes of these gifts in John 1:1-14...  

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. 14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I.              A Light

The days are starting to get longer again! Have you noticed? With winter solstice behind us by a few days already we're gaining minutes of daylight each day. In one sense it's still a season of darkness. But in another sense it's a season of light. We put up Christmas lights, light candles, and rejoice that the Light of the World has come in the person of Jesus. But John explains why he had to come -- to shine in the darkness.  

Can you imagine what the world would be like if there were no sun? You wouldn't need to wonder for long because, of course, without the sun there could be no life. All living organisms depend on the sun for survival. It allows us to see, it keeps us warm, it provides our food. Without the sun -- if it were to burn out -- it would only be a very short amount of time until we'd all be dead.

Likewise, without Jesus, life is pretty dark. "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die." Without him we'd be lost in the dark. We'd be blind to what really matters in this life. And the saddest part is, that if left on our own, we'd be like all the rest and refuse him. Still, even though we know him, how often don't we reject the light of God's word? Even though we know what's expected of us, we still choose to follow our own desires and go running back to the darkness.

We deserve no gifts from God. We deserve to be stuck in our sin and doomed to spend an eternity of miserable darkness in hell. As plants without the sun soon wither, as the world without the sun soon dies, so we deserve eternal death without the Son of God. But we don't get what we deserve. Instead the Light of the World has shined on us.

After my first winter in Alaska I went out bought a new flashlight. I bought that kind that doesn't need batteries. You know, with the hand crank on the side which operates a small generator? After you turn it a few dozen times it generates enough power to operate the flashlight. How handy that flashlight's been when lose power at the parsonage. Even if the boys have been playing with my flashlight, I don't have to worry about the batteries being dead. I still have light.

Well, that's what we have in Jesus. He's given us that light for Christmas -- or rather at Christmas. He's given us the Light of the World that is Jesus, the Light that shines in the darkness, the light that gives life! God has shined in our hearts and created faith by the power of the Word! And we know what God has done to rescue us from our sin and the hell we deserve for it. And we couldn't know that on our own. For we are "born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. " In a sense, he's turned the light on for us.

And so, now, no matter what darkness we're plunged into in this life, we have light! No matter what you do, good or bad, the sun will come up tomorrow. Likewise, the Son of God will be there with forgiveness and comfort and help in time of need, all because of his second gift to you at Christmas, the tent God gives... 

II. A Tent

I don't know about you, but I love camping. I love to get off the grid (well, mostly off the grid) for a few days to enjoy God's gift of creation. And a few years ago (it wasn't for Christmas, but) Becky and I got a new tent. The old (supposedly) four-man tent wasn't big enough for our growing family. So we got a new, three-room, three door tent with dividers -- a tent that I can stand up in and still have head room. I love it. But the tent that God gives is waaaaaay better than this one...

John begins his Gospel account with a familiar line, doesn't he: "In the beginning..." Of course, you know where we've seen that before. It's how the whole Bible starts in Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." John begins at the same point. At creation. The Word -- that is, Jesus -- "was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." John is reminding his readers right off the bat who Jesus is. He is true God in every way. Jesus is omnipotent with the power to create the universe. Jesus is eternal, there from the beginning of the world. Jesus is true God. And yet, Jesus, true God that he is, went on a camping trip.  

Jump from verse 1 to verse 14. There John writes, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Literally "made his dwelling" is "tented," or "tabernacled." You see, to the Jews, a tent wasn't just a short term shelter. It was where they went to worship God. The tabernacle was that special place where God literally made his dwelling among his people. In the form of a cloud God would settle in the Most Holy Place, that inner sanctum of the tabernacle, to be among his people. That's the picture that John paints of Jesus, who is called Immanuel, which means, "God with us."  

Jesus didn't stop being God, but took on that which makes us human -- flesh and blood. John clearly portrayed Jesus as human throughout his Gospel. He was hungry, thirsty, tired, frustrated, and depressed. Jesus was born... and Jesus died. That's the tent that God gave you for Christmas! The tent of Jesus who is God tabernacled in flesh. 

How amazing, isn't it?! That the God who made the universe would dress in skin and bones and walk among us that we might see God face to face. You can hear the marvel of it all in John's words, "We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father..." What a tent God gives us on Christmas! It's not one of canvass or fabric or nylon, but one of flesh.  

But more impressive than the fact that the God of the universe could become a man and walk among us, is the reason why he did it. It wasn't to strike us down with his own hand because he was so disgusted with our sin. No! He came "full of grace" John says. He came to save us!

A modern drama portrays Joseph, the carpenter, building a crib for baby Jesus the day after he's born. As he does, he replays in his minds eye the celebration of the night before with the giddy shepherds singing their praise, telling about the angels they had seen, and treating Jesus like a celebrity. Joseph then asks, "If this is how they treat him when he's just a baby, how will they treat him when they find out he's the Son of God?!" Then the lights quickly dim and all you hear is the pounding of the hammer and the nails as Joseph continues working on the crib. But with no visual all you can think of is the sound of the nails being driven through Jesus hands' and feet and into the cross.

In an artistic way that drama illustrates the real miracle of Christmas -- not just that God became man, but why God became man -- to set us free from our sins so that we might have "the right to become children of God." What a great tent! What a great gift from God! John later wrote in 1 John 3(:1), "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" That is what God has given to us at Christmas!

And what's more, he still tents among us on an extended camping trip. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus promised his disciples of all time, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." He is still Immanuel,  God with us!

What great presents we've received from God! He's given us the Light of his Word that can never go out, the light of faith that he turned on in our hearts! He tented among us in the flesh to live and die in our place! And he tents among us still taking care of us every step of the way! Maybe you didn't get what you were hoping for. Maybe you didn't get the WiiU or the snow machine, but you still got some pretty amazing gifts. And for those gifts you can rejoice! For the Light has shined in your darkness and you "have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen. 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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