Pastor James Hopkins wrote this sermon for the Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Day, 12/25/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Christmas Day Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Day, click here.
The birth of Jesus Christ not only shows the redemption of creation, but also affirms the goodness of creation. Some of what was good was lost when Adam took that lustful bite and plunged the world back into chaos, but it is not all lost. Apples bruise and get eaten by worms or disease, but they still taste sweet and they still provide vitamins and sustenance and even blossoms in the spring. All of creation, even apples, groans under the strain that we have put upon it by our sins. It longs for the revelation of the sons of God. But still there is goodness in creation: kittens and sugarplums, cranberries and video chat. Creation was and still is the object of God’s love, created by His Word, and that is good.
God loves His creation. Thus He made an immediate promise upon Adam’s fall: Satan would not win. He could not have them. He could not have the apples or any other cool stuff, and, most significantly, he could not have Adam, Eve, or their offspring – save one. What God made belongs to Him. Satan tried to steal it, but he cannot have it. The Lord takes it back.
Still, the Lord is just. He will not steal back what was stolen. He will pay a fair price, even if it was ill-gotten gain for hell. And it is the one offspring of Eve, an impossibly uncreated seed, a man born without the will of man and without Adam’s sin, who is handed over. He is the ransom and the scapegoat. He is the victim and the priest. He is the Son of Mary and the Son of His Father Almighty. He will give up His life to gain back the deceived and stolen souls of men. But in the act, He will crush the serpent’s head, who bites off more than he can chew and is undone.
Adam and Eve had wanted, in their greed, to become like God. So God became like them, was incarnate, was made man: the Word became flesh. Thus did the Lord make them, and us, more fully human. It also made them, and us, more fully His sons and daughters. He promoted them, and us, beyond Eden to heaven itself. He makes new heavens and a new earth.
Some might ask, “If God is so in love with the earth and if He promises ‘peace on earth’ at the Savior’s birth, where is it? Where is the peace?” It is in the manger: God in the flesh, the Prince of Peace made subject to Satan’s tyranny. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the perfect lover. He does not force Himself upon the earth. He will take back all the apples and gerbils, sharks and trees, but He will not take back by force any person who does not want Him. He loves you so you are free. If you do not want Him, if you want to go where there is no perfect equality, no hierarchy, no dependence on another, no sacrifice; if you want to be where things are fair and to be alone, you may go there instead. The lord is a lover, and not an attacker. He has made you and He has bought you, but you are not a slave. You are a bride. He was sold for the price of a slave, but He doesn’t buy you as one. His purchase was not your price, but your ransom. He would have you love Him and rejoice in Him, so He leaves you free.
It is that freedom that allows humanity to engage in all sorts of evil. Nations wage war, men fornicate and commit adultery, liars lie, some people purposefully spread disease, and the economy crumbles because God loves the world and will not force Himself upon it. He does not win the world by violence. He loves it and redeems it by suffering violence. He does not force you away from your stuff or your sins, even from the devil. Instead, He joins you in your sorrow. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He comes not simply to show you a better way – like Ghandi or Socrates, though He certainly does show you a better way, a fuller and more satisfying life – but more than that, more than showing a way, He comes to actually bear your burden, to suffer the consequences of your sins, to defeat death on your behalf. He wins you back by sacrifice and you are free. He is wooing you. He is loving you.
That is the peace He brings. That is the peace by which He rules. It is peace between Himself and us rebels. It is the end of war with heaven. Some might think it is not quite good enough or all that it could be. They want peace here and now. They want the Lord to end all sorrow instantaneously or at least end it for those who love Him, like the perverted fantasies of Timothy LaHaye where believers get to check out of creation for being good. But our Lord does not do that. That is because while the Lord loves you, He does not love only you. He does not only love the believers or good people. He loves all the world. To love Him back is to also love what He loves – to love apples and snowbanks and mountains and birds; Palestinians and Peruvians; Chinese and Chilean; good and bad, greatest and least. He didn’t give up on you. He is not giving up on them. He did not force you. He will not force them. And He gives you a part in this love, in His kingdom, by giving you duties and services to perform for those whom He loves, even giving you crosses to bear.
His love is not shallow, so He does not keep you from sorrow. Compassion is born of sorrow, and freedom always suffers abuse. If the Lord put an end to all hunger, he would also deny you the joy of feeding those you love and those in need. And without hunger, there also would be no feasting.
The Lord leaves you free. He suffers the consequences and inevitable abuse. He leaves you free because He loves you. He waits and He loves. You are worth it to Him. You are worth the risk, the pain, the disappointment, and the sorrow. For like a woman just delivered, He forgets the agony for the joy set before Him. He delights in you. Listen and you’ll hear Him say in the delivery room, “Open your eyes so that I can see you.”
That is what mothers of newborns frequently say when they can see all of their babies except for the eyeballs. Why is it that they want so badly to look into their newborn’s eyes? Because they want to know their children. It is not any kind of a stretch to imagine St. Mary holding Jesus in her arms and saying, “Open your eyes so that I can see you.”
That is very much the sentiment of Jesus who says to us, “Ask and it shall be given unto you.” It is like a mother’s desire to look into her child’s eyes. He wants to know you. That is why He loves your prayers. You are free and unique. Your prayers are different from everyone else’s, even as your story is different and wonderful. You delight Him. He adores you and wants to look into your eyes, to know you.
Still there is more. The Lord loves creation. He has redeemed it that you, like Him, would have someone to love. It is not just that you receive love. He has also redeemed you as a lover. You love people and stuff around you. St. Francis was on to something with his talk of “brother bird.” The Lord redeemed creation even as He created it. He made it lovable. But even more so, the Lord redeemed humanity, the Word became flesh, so that you might look across the aisle or the ocean or your screen and see not enemies or foreigners, but brothers and sisters. He places the solitary into families. He took up flesh to love you, that you would love one another. That love is not shallow or cheap. Children always break your heart. But if they didn’t, what good would they be?
He is still Emmanuel, still God with us. He is still a man. And He still loves creation and loves you. But He is no longer in the manger. He has grown and died, risen and ascended, yet He is not gone. His is here on the earth, in creation, in bread and wine, in water and Word, in brother and in sister, shining in the darkness, not just to redeem but also to affirm. For He has made and declared them good. This is the peace that passes all understanding.
He has come unto His own. He has come to you. By grace you receive Him. You are His child. God be praised, evermore and evermore.