27 December 2018

Homily for the Nativity of Our Lord-Christmas Day (2018)

"Our Divine Dwelling Place"
John 1:1-18

Christmas and home just go together. Bing Crosby made the words famous in 1943, and Michael BublĂ© still croons them: “I’ll be home for Christmas / You can count on me.” Other well known pop singers title their holiday album “Home for Christmas” or sing songs such as “Christmas Is Coming Home.”

Home is a treasured thing, to be sure. We pray that our homes may be “a shelter for the defenseless, a fortress for the tempted, a resting place for the weary, and a foretaste of our eternal home” with God Himself (LSB Agenda, 70). Home is not just a physical space; it gives us roots, identity, security, a sense of belonging, and a place of emotional wellbeing. At home we can laugh without being shy, and our tears can dry at their own pace. Our feet may leave our homes, but not our hearts. As someone once quipped, “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”

Treasuring home and longing for home, though, are much more than sentimentality. They go to the very core of our being as God’s created people. We are created to be at home with the living God. He is our truest and best home. But we come from a long line of people looking to leave home, strike out on their own, and even run away from home. Sure, Adam and Eve were given their eviction notice from the Garden of Eden and compelled to leave, but truthfully they had already run away from their true home—from God Himself—by eating that piece of fruit. Thus “The world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.” Even when “He came to his own,…his own people did not receive Him.”

So the real reason for this season, and this day especially, is us homeless waifs. We wander through life searching for meaning and purpose on our own. We look for some place…any place…and some way…any way…to belong, to be accepted, to feel at home in this fallen world. But since we have left our true home, who is God Himself, our searching is vain and our wandering is aimless. We pile all of our worldly goods of self-sufficiency and self-determination into our rusty, beat up shopping carts with squeaky wheels as we wander through this fallen world. The homelessness of our human fallenness actually leads us to view our cardboard shanty town dwellings as though they were fabulous mansions. But we know they’re not. And we cannot escape the isolating illness of our sin, nor can we avoid the biting cold of death.

So the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, left His eternal home to bring us in out of the cold. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” He was in a face-to-face relationship with God the Father from eternity. ”And the Word was God.” The Word Himself was and is the same divine essence as the Father. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He took on our very skin and bones, our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members. “Dwelt among us” can also be translated “tented among us” or “tabernacled among us.” But this was no temporary “tenting” or “dwelling.” The Son of God did not become flesh only to disrobe Himself of our humanity when He was done with it. Nor did He cease dwelling among us when He ascended to the Father’s right hand.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” in order to bring us in out of the cold of our sinful rebellion. He became flesh to bring us home to God for all eternity—home where we receive His healing for our disease of sin; home where we may bask in His life-giving warmth, shielded and delivered from the coldness of death.

Moses proclaimed this homecoming long before Christmas: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27). He also teaches us to pray, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations” (Ps. 90:1). We even get to see what God’s dwelling place—our true home—looked like in Moses’ day. It included bases and frames, poles and pillars, and skins and cloth placed over them. In its central room was the beautiful golden ark with the mercy seat on top. Here’s where “the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” Here’s where and how the LORD would be with His people throughout their journey in the wilderness and into the Promised Land. Though they were wandering, they were still at home, because God was their divine dwelling place.

Even when God’s people became homeless in Babylonian exile, God still wanted to bring them home to Him. Ezekiel proclaimed God’s promise of homecoming: “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore” (Ezek. 37:27-28). That promise came somewhat true when the people returned to their own land. But it became completely fulfilled when the Word became flesh.

You see, when the Word became flesh to dwell among us—to bring us home—He came to bring us the fullness of His grace and truth. “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Gifts abounding more than under any Christmas tree and more enduring than any we can unwrap last night or today. Forgiveness for our many doubts and misplaced priorities. Life to combat the coldness of death. And salvation as the best gift of all from the Word become flesh who came to die on a cross. To all who believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God—children in God’s home, both now and for eternity.

Oh, we do not have that right by our own birth, but we do have it in the rebirth Jesus gives by water and the Spirit. We do not have that right by our own bloodline, but we do have it through the blood of Jesus, both on the cross and at the altar. We do not have the right to be in God’s home as His children by the will of our flesh or any other human plan or design. No, we only have this right because “of God.” The Word of God. The Word who became flesh and remains flesh. The Word who dwelt and still dwells with us. “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).

On this Christmas 2018, we find ourselves a bit homeless in our own building—gathering in a basement auditorium doubling as a sacred sanctuary. Despite appearances, though, we are still at home in our divine dwelling place—not the brick and mortar, but in our flesh and blood Savior. And even as we eagerly await returning to the sanctuary, we are even more eager in anticipating our eternal home. It’s the home the Apostle John heard promised for all of us: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Rev. 21:3).

Today as we celebrate our Savior’s Incarnation, and as we enjoy our various family traditions, we rejoice in our divine dwelling place. We are home for Christmas. We can count on Jesus. Amen.

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