Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sermon Christmas Day

‘And the Word became flesh
and dwelt [tabernacled] among us,
and we have seen his glory;
the glory as of a father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

The book of Exodus records
that Moses the murderer was fleeing for his life.
In the wilderness,
he was brought up short by a strange sight,
a bush that was on fire,
but which retained its shape and its leaves and its branches
despite the light and heat that so obviously emanated from it.
He must have thought that he was out of his mind.
But a voice told him to take off his shoes,
and he did so,
because he was in the presence
of the God of his fathers,
the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
and this God was going to lead his people out of slavery.

The book of Exodus goes on to record
that the people of Israel,
their feet barely dry from their crossing of the waters,
came to Mount Sinai in the Arabian peninsula,
and there Moses went up to the mountain
and met God,
and came down with his face shining like the sun.
The Israelites were to make a tent,
and the tent would be in the center of the people,
and the Law would be put in it,
and the altar for sacrifice,
for God was in the midst of them
as they moved toward the promised land.

The book of 2nd Samuel reports
that David the King was at rest from all his enemies
and that he desired to build a house for God.
The prophet Nathan told David
that God had been quite happy in his tent for many years,
and that instead God was going to make of David a house,
a dynasty,
a dynasty that would last forever.

Not David’s fault, nor Nathan’s,
that they didn’t quite understand what God meant at the time,
but the building of the house for God would wait until Solomon.
It was in Jerusalem that the tent came to rest,
and maybe that was the issue,
for God could never really be at rest,
despite what it says in Genesis 1.

The book of 2nd Kings tells us
that the Babylonians destroyed the temple
and carried the sacred vessels to Babylon.
The book of Daniel reports
that King Belshazzar had a party
and had his servants set the table with the sacred vessels of the temple
and that things didn’t go so well for Belshazzar after that.
The book of Ezra narrates the return of the Israelites
to the Promised Land
and that the Israelites began to rebuild the Temple.
Yes, it was on a smaller scale,
but the pleasing odor of sacrifice to God
began to rise up again.

Josephus, the historian of the Jews,
records that Herod the Idumean,
desiring to make a name for himself
and secure his status as ‘King of the Jews,’
built a magnificent temple on the site of the original Temple,
admired by people all over the world,
a center of pilgrimage,
a place of sacrifice.
The Gospels of the Church report that Jesus of Nazareth
was not overly impressed with this temple,
disrupting its commerce and predicting its end.

Josephus tells us that in what we now call the year 70,
the Romans broke the siege
and poured across the walls
and fought the revolutionaries in the streets of Jerusalem.
In the midst of the fighting,
Herod’s temple caught fire
and burnt to the ground.
The vessels were rescued from the temple –
the menorah stand and the shofars and the table for the manna
and they were paraded through Rome
during the triumphal parade for the victorious general.

If you go to the Eternal City,
you can still see the image of the procession
carved in stone on the Arch of Titus.

You may well be asking yourself,
‘What does all of this have to do with Christmas?
Well, the Gospel of John tells us
that the Word became flesh
and dwelt among us.
But the word in Greek is ‘tabernacled.’
God dwelt among us in a human body
as if in a tent among a pilgrimage people,
the very presence of God himself
in the midst of the people.
How would Moses have understood,
or David or Nathan,
or the prophet Daniel or even the historian Josephus,
that this is finally how God chose to reveal himself?
As a child born of a human mother
who would grow to be a man
who died on a Roman cross?

Perhaps they saw the shadow of a reality yet to come.
The burning bush, the fire on the mountain,
the temple, the altar, the sacrifice,
they have all become for Christians
the signs of the God in our midst,
the one who became flesh.
God with us, God for us,
God in the midst of us.

Do we begin to comprehend
that we are in the presence of the living God?
Or have we been so deadened
by the noise of our society,
by the so-called miracles of technology,
which are of course the works of our own hands,
perhaps not even as impressive
as the golden calf the Israelites made
at the foot of the holy mountain
or the triumphal arch of Titus
or that Temple of Herod,
all made in the days without fossil fuels or microchips?

Maybe it is because the Word became flesh
without a lot of fanfare, without laser beams and fireworks,
silently, peacefully, anonymously,
the only announcement a dream of angels appearing to poor shepherds
and a strange appearance in the sky that tickled the imagination
of some Eastern astronomers.

Do we begin to comprehend
that in this Word and in this bread and wine
the Word-become-flesh
comes to us as well?
Here in this place,
far from burning bushes and holy mountains
and magnificent temples,
we celebrate the Creator who takes the form of the creation,
the Word who robed himself in flesh,
the God who tabernacles himself still in our midst,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit
one God, now and forever.