The Gift For Everyone | 12.24.20 | Brighter Still (Advent and Christmas 2020) Pt. 5
Chris Tweitmann   -  

Luke 2:1-20
Pastor Chris Tweitmann

 

At last, it is Christmas Eve.

The earth falls silent for the time has come. For weeks now we’ve been pacing back and forth in the waiting room of Advent, in anticipation of a delivery.

Other gifts
have been bought
or arrived in the mail.

They sit wrapped,
waiting to be opened
later today
or tomorrow morning.

But one gift
has yet to arrive…

This gift cannot
be found online or purchased at the mall.

This gift cannot be bound with paper and string.

This gift cannot be hung
in a stocking by a fire

or placed neatly
under a tree.

This is a gift that is
a long time in coming;

promised to us
centuries before
by prophets
and sages of old.

It is a gift that arrives
not by notification
via email or text,

though it does come
by messenger

– by word of mouth
thanks to the proclamation of a heavenly host
of angels.

It is a gift heralded by a celestial spectacle rivaling any past, present, or
future Christmas light show.

And yet, it is a gift
whose announcement
did not, at first, go viral

– not much outside of
the little town of Bethlehem

– because it was delivered to a such small audience

– shepherds watching
their flocks by night.

Still, as the saying goes, “good news travels fast.”

For it wouldn’t be long before talk of this gift
would make it
across the globe

as a brilliant, shining beacon of its coming
alighting the night sky,

would guide some astrologers from the East
to come and see
for themselves
what had been delivered,

And so they will journey bringing gifts of their own
in celebration.

Through the years
since it’s first delivery,
we are still talking about
the giving of this gift.

For this gift has influenced
the rise and fall of nations.

This gift has altered
our perspective of time

as we speak of the years before and after its coming.

This gift is why there
is even such a thing
as Christmas at all.

But what exactly is this gift we have been given?

Let us like the daring magi, follow the star,
and draw near to find out.

Let us, like
the curious shepherds,
go and see for ourselves.

And as we do,
we will stumble across
this gift in the
most unexpected of places.

It will not be found amidst all the lights and the tinsel of our decorations.

It will not be discovered
in the shiny and sanitized nativity scenes

that adorn our fireplaces, curios, coffee tables,
or front lawns.

This gift is hidden in the
last place we’d look for it

– in the muck & the stench of a cold and dark stable,

– in the squalor of poverty, wrapped only in a blanket
and laid in the straw that animals feed upon,

– in the scandal of
an unwed mother
carrying a child that
does not belong
to her future husband.

This gift is delivered unto us through the inexperience

and yet
courageous faithfulness
of a teenage girl

who brings life
into this world
without so much as
an emergency room,
a midwife or an epidural.

As we gaze upon this gift
– the gift of Christmas,
upon what do our wondering eyes appear?

This gift
– the greatest gift
the world has even known

– is a baby,
a baby named Jesus.

Now, most everyone
loves babies.

They’re cute and cuddly.

But what’s so special
about this baby?

What child is this?

Why is the gift of this life any different,

any more special
or significant than
the birth of any other life?

By way of an answer,
among those who recognize and believe
in this child,

a name has been given
for this particular,
this special gift.

The Incarnation.

Incarnation –
that’s a big, fancy word
we rarely use in
our everyday language.

It derives from
two Latin words:

in and carne, meaning, quite literally, “in fleshing.”

So, to break
this down further,

to incarnate means
to give flesh to something

— to give form & substance
to an insubstantial quality.

For example,
an extraordinarily empathetic person

might be called
the very incarnation
of compassion.

Their sensitivity,
their generosity,
and their kindness
give substance to
the quality of compassion.

Such a person embodies what compassion looks like in the flesh—in practice.

With this understanding,
what then is this child
the incarnation of?

Let us brace ourselves

– for as astonishing
as it is to believe,

as hard as it may be
to wrap our heads around,

this child is
the incarnation of divinity.

Not just any incarnation
but THE Incarnation.

Not merely divinity
in a generic sense,

but divinity in a
very particular, absolute, and personal way.

The gift of this child
is the gift of God

– not the gift from God
but the gift of God
– God with us.

It is the gift of our Creator
who formed the universe and all that it contains,

—angels without number, stars without limit and galaxies uncountable,

coming down to earth
as close as our skin,

being conformed to
the confines of
our flesh and blood.

It is the gift of the God
in whose image
we are created,

embodying His
pure and perfect character

– His wisdom,
His righteousness,
mercy, grace, truth & love

in the countenance
of our humanity.

It is the gift of the God
who is Light

– the Light of the World,
the Light of Life

– the Light from which
all creation has been made

– all that was, that is,
and that ever will be

– being narrowed into focus through the radiant face
of an infant child.

The gift of Christmas,
the gift of the Incarnation
is not something that

any of us
ever have or ever will
completely comprehend.

It is a gift of miracle
and mystery

that confounds our logic

even as it defies
our expectations.

As we scratch our heads
in amazement,

as we ponder in our heart, how this can be,

it is an impressive gift indeed, we cannot argue.

But, not to be rude,
and in the interests
of those who
do not observe
or celebrate Christmas,

who asked for
this gift anyway?

And who needs it?

Why is this
THE gift of Christmas
– God become human?

Why is this gift that
may not be
on everyone’s list,
still the one and only gift
we need?

Because humanity
has a big problem.

It’s hard for us to deny this after a year like 2020.

A global pandemic worsened by
a divided rather than
a unified response
to the crisis.

A widening economic gap between those
who can afford to live
and
those who are being
left to die.

National, civil unrest
and violence
erupting both from

protests against
racism and injustice
and denials that either exist.

A contested election
still rife with accusations
of fraudulence

and continuing to be marked by a less than
peaceful transition
of power.

Doesn’t anyone on
this earth actually believe
this is the way life
is supposed to be?

Can’t we at least all agree that something is not right,

that something is
inherently wrong
with our world?

And for those of us
who think this is
just about 2020,

who are convinced
the turn of the clock
at midnight on
December 31st

is going to
radically change anything,

do not all the prior chapters of human history
suggest otherwise?

To be sure, we can speak of the progress of humanity

– of advancements
in human thought, calculation, invention,
and enterprise.

But in terms of
human behaviors
and human actions,

the more
we seemingly progress,

the more we’re still
the same as a species.

The more
we prove ourselves

to be depressingly consistent
in falling victim to personal
and systemic selfishness,

in letting the insecurity of our fears
become our justification for inequity.
and inequity and fear.

True, lasting, beneficial change
continually eludes us because
we are our own worst enemy,

always getting in our own way

instead of becoming
and experiencing
the fullness of the life
for which we were made

— the best within ourselves,
the best we were created
to be together.

Now, there’s a name for
our fatal flaw

the one that
constantly eclipses
our very best
individual intentions,

that repeatedly corrupts
our finest, our noblest collective aspirations

so that we do understand what we are doing,

so that end up not doing what we ought to do,

even as we continue doing what know we shouldn’t do.

There’s a name for
this fatal flaw.

It’s not a popular word.
It’s a hotly debated term.

But here it is. Sin.

That’s our problem.

Whenever we rebel
against our Maker,

whenever we go
our own way
rather than follow
the way of our Creator,

whenever we reject
God’s rule for
our own self-rule,

that’s sin.

And our sin
has consequences
– ones that reach
far beyond us.

Sin – life apart from God
– shatters the order,
the balance,
the beauty, and the joy
with which all things
were created.

Sin – life apart from God
– fractures the unity,
the peace, and the harmony we were meant
to have together.

Sin – life apart from God
– is no life at all
– and therefore,
results in our death.

Death that bears its sting through sickness, suffering,
divorce, loss, disaster,
and finally, ultimately,
the expiration of our bodies.

Sin is why we die
rather than truly live.

Sin is why this world
in which we live is broken.

Sin is why,
despite being created
with great potential

for goodness,
for fruitfulness,

all creation is
continually sabotaged
by evil and always overshadowed by ruin.

Now here’s the rub.

The problem of sin
is our problem
– meaning it’s a problem
of our own making.

Humanity isn’t
just part of the problem,
but humanity
IS the problem.

In a broken world
filled with broken people,

the solution to our problem
cannot come
from within ourselves.

And it’s
a big enough problem
that we need
more than just
a little divine intervention.

We need the gift of
the Incarnation
– of God coming down
to be with and for us.

Different people,
if they believe
there is a God,

think of God
in different ways.

There are some
who view God as some remote force “out there”

– a Higher Power
who initiated and designed all that is around us

but now remains
aloof and disinterested.

Beyond fading fingerprints all over creation,

the earmarks of
divine handiwork,

this Heavenly Architect
has left us
to our own devices.

But the real story of Christmas shatters
all such misperceptions.

The gift of the Incarnation proves God is not
a distant, remote,
absentee landlord.

God is not
just some ethereal idea
that dwells in abstraction,

some Higher Power
beyond our grasp
for whom
we must search and find.

The gift of the Incarnation
is the God who steps out
of eternity into time

in order to be found
and grasped,

in order to be
fully known by us.

And then there are
those who perceive God
as an exacting divine judge

arbitrating all life from
a posture of frustration
and anger.

They’ve been sold
and they’ve bought
the image of
a moral Law Giver

– a God whom
we must appease
by being nice
instead of naughty.

Under the watchful eye
of this God,

who always knows
if we’ve been
naughty or nice

who’s always keeping
a list of all our pros & cons and checking it twice,

we can either earn or merit the blessings we ask for

whatever presents
our hearts desire

– including, ultimately,
life after death.

Or if we’re not careful,
if we’re not nice enough,

we will keep ending up
with lumps of coal

– not blessings but curses

– until one day,
all that coal becomes
the basis of
our final resting place

– some place rather warm
& uncomfortable – forever.

But again,
the gift of the Incarnation offers us a much
different Christmas story,

a better reason
for the season.

In the birth of Jesus,
we encounter the God
who comes down

– not a chimney for
just a moment in the night

to give us
everything we want,
only to then
magically disappear.

No, in the birth of Christ,
we encounter the God
who empties Himself
of all glory

and comes down
in order to embrace
the vulnerability of our lives

in order to give us
not what we think we want

but what He knows
we need.

This God
who in Jesus becomes what He has created

comes to us not because
He’s interested in either

our being nice
or receiving niceties
from us.

No, our Creator is
all about goodness

– the realization of
all that is right and perfect

because as our Creator, God is good
– absolute perfection
and total goodness.

And as our Creator,
while our God does
give us laws to live by,

laws that reveal
a standard of perfection and righteousness

that we cannot achieve
or attain on our own,

our Creator does not
give us these laws
in order to set us up to fail

but to make it clear
the kind of life
He intended for us all

– the good, right,
true and beautiful life
for which we all long for,

the kind of life
we can experience together
in communion with Him.

And so, this God
comes down
in Jesus Christ
to embody
the realization of
all these laws
perfectly lived out.

God comes down
in Jesus Christ to flesh out

His divine vision
and our earthly hope
for a better life

– a full, abundant
and everlasting life.

The possibility of a promise becomes
the actualization of hope

through the gift
of the Incarnation

– as God descends into
the reality of our lives.

For in the birth of Christ, God humbly
submits Himself

to our difficulties,
our temptations,

our storms,
our hungers,

our burdens, our pain
– even our mortality.

For the gift of Christmas, the gift of the Incarnation
does not stop
at the manger.

What we celebrate today is
only beginning of the story – a story called the Gospel.

Just how far
God has come for us
shall be eclipsed

by just how far God
will go to be with us.

The Gospel,
the good news
that Christmas brings,

starts with our Creator
adopting the weakness
and helplessness of our birth,

the blood, sweat, and tears
of human existence.

But the crescendo of Christmas
culminates with
this same God
walking through
the darkest valley
of our suffering
and injustice

– embracing
our terminal affliction,

the inevitable shadow
of our death

all in the name of
unconditional, cruciform love.

The child who is born
in a manger is
the One who lives to die
on a Cross.

For every stain, every curse,

every lie, every hurt,
every failure,
that our humanity bears,

God in Christ
will sacrificially
take upon himself,
absorbing all our injustice and violence.

What is the value of a human life?
How much are our lives worth to God?

Enough for God in Christ
to willingly paying the price

– the price of
our redemption,

the wages,
the net result of our sin which is death.

in order to set us free to live life forever with Him.

For the child who is born
is also the One
whom death cannot hold.

Jesus,
the first born of
the womb of Mary

shall become
the first born
from among the dead

as He walks out
of the tomb of the grave.

Incarnation shall
give way to Resurrection.

The sacred nativity
of Christmas anticipates

the new birth of
all humanity at Easter.

There are many gifts wanted at Christmas.

There are many gifts
given at Christmas.

But there is only one gift
we need.

There is only one gift
which makes
Christmas possible.

Many of us,
this year in particular,
will not be able to
come home for Christmas.

Far too many,
around the world,

because of lockdowns
and travel bans,

will struggle to experience some holiday goodwill
and cheer

perceiving themselves
to be alone.

And yet,
the true gift of Christmas declares
we are never alone.

The gift of the Incarnation
is the gift of the God

the God who comes
to where we are
in order to bring us home

– all of us together home
for Christmas with Him.

God comes for us
even if we don’t think
His coming makes
any sense,
even if we doubt.

God comes to us
even if we’re too busy,

even if we think
that we aren’t ready.

God in Christ stands
at the door of our hearts and knocks,

asking only that
we make room

– room for Him
to reveal to us who He is,

room to show us
who we are and can be,

and room for Him
to lead us, to grow us

into the kind of life together
we always dreamed
was possible

but never dared to hope might come true.

Listen to the angels.
Follow the shepherds.
Look to the star.

Come and receive the gift that you have been waiting all your life for.

Come and behold him,
the gift of Christmas
—the gift of the Incarnation.

Come unwrap the only gift that money cannot buy,
that good behavior
cannot earn.

The gift that comes with
an incredible exchange policy: your life for His.

Come and be upheld in all your pain and sorrow,
in all your longing and your doubt,
receive the love of the open embrace of a child
that shall become the outstretched arms of a Savior,
the very hand of God, reaching out patiently, tenderly, eternally,
bearing the marks of his wounds and ours.

Come and discover
the gift of God
in Jesus Christ

– the gift that
keeps on giving

– giving us all the love,
all the grace, all the mercy,
all the forgiveness,
all the hope we need

– no matter how forgetful
or how inconsistent we are,

no matter
how far away we go or

how prodigal
a son or daughter
we might be.

Come let us adore Him
for He is Christ the Lord!

May God bless each of you and those you love
this Christmas Eve.

And may
the glory of heaven
that fills your soul today
be the presence of God made flesh in you.

Merry Christmas!