Sunday, December 25, 2011

Responding to the Incarnation: A Sermon for Christmas Day

After hearing that beautiful account of our Lord’s birth, and the angelic fanfare accompanying it, what more is there to say? The story preaches itself. To add anything to it almost feels like taking the “merry” out of Christmas.

It reminds me of something a Christian educator once told his students. He said: “A deep instinct has always told the Church that our safest eloquence concerning the mystery of Christ is in our praise. A living Church is a worshiping, singing Church; not a school of people holding all the correct doctrines.”

To be sure, correct doctrine is vitally important. Like a compass that always points north, statements of correct doctrine like the Nicene Creed point us in the right direction, keep us on track, and protect us from losing our way. And so we will affirm this day that the One who is God from God, Light from Light, and true God from true God did as a matter of historical fact become incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man.

But the mysteries of God’s truth, beauty and goodness cannot be contained by rational explanations or dogmatic statements. And so centuries before the Church hammered out orthodox doctrine about Jesus, the Church was on its knees with bowed heads and on its feet with outstretched arms in the wonder, love, and praise of worship.

On the day of our Lord’s nativity, we’re on our surest and safest ground, not in saying something profound or trying to figure it all out, but in doing what the multitude of the heavenly host and what the shepherds did: glorifying and praising God.

Worship: what other response can there be to the impossibly good news that God the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen, has been born of a woman as a helpless baby boy, a real flesh and blood human being? What other response is appropriate when we come face to face with the incredible truth that God chooses, not to be a distant deity, but to come among us as one of us? That God comes, not in the power of vengeance, but in the vulnerability of love? That in the Person of Jesus Christ God assumes our humanity in all of its frailty and limitations so that what is assumed may be healed and so that we may be united with the God who loves us more than we could possibly imagine?

Worship. Praise. Thanksgiving. That is the Church’s response to the glorious mystery of the Incarnation of God in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. And that’s why we’re here today: to join our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven who forever sing praises in response to good news of great joy.

For today we celebrate the joy of a wedding. In the birth of Jesus, humanity and divinity marry each other. In the Incarnation, God and man form “one flesh” for all eternity. In the birth of Jesus, God lowers Himself to our level and raises us up to His. On this day, heaven comes down to earth and earth rises up into heaven. And we who have been baptized into the Incarnation – into that wonderful and sacred mystery of Christ’s Body the Church – we, too, partake of His divinity. We, too, are citizens of a heaven that perfects rather than negates the body and the earth.

Anticipating this moment, St. Bernard of Clairvaux said:

"A physician is coming to the sick, a redeemer to those who have been sold, a path to wanderers, and life to the dead. Yes, One is coming who will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea, who will heal our diseases, who will carry us on his own shoulders back to the source of our original worth."

My friends, that One has come with the birth of Jesus. What else can we do in response, but fall to our knees in worship, raise the cup of salvation in thanksgiving, and sing with the heavenly host and with the saints both living and dead: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

So come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.

1 comment:

The Underground Pewster said...

When we see that our words cannot describe He who is worthy of such praise and adoration, those are the best times to sing his praises!