Sermon for Christmas Day, AD 2020

John 1:1-18

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)
Long before He became man and was born as a baby in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, the Son of God created heaven and earth. He is the Word spoken of in John 1, that “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” This can be heard from Moses in the book of Genesis where He wrote that “God said, ‘Let there be light’” God created through speaking a word, The Word, the eternal Son of God. Together, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the heavens and the earth, and created it good. Earth and heaven were of one accord, and there was peace and harmony between them.
Even more, God made man, formed him from the dust, and breathed life into him. Man was created in the image of God, able to know, love, and relate to Him. Just as God through the Word created heaven and earth in perfect harmony and agreement, man in the perfect image of God was in complete conformity of heart, mind, and will with God. You may have heard of a vacation spot as a “little piece of heaven on earth.” The Garden of Eden where Man was made was truly heaven on earth, for there man was set to live eternally from the Tree of Life, worshipping and serving in full communion with God. Between heaven and earth there was no separation at all.
But Adam and Eve sinned and separated themselves from God. Not satisfied with living in heaven on earth, they wanted more than they had. God had declared His creation good. His Word declared Adam and Eve to be very good. Yet the world God had created for them and His perfect communion with them was not enough. They believed the serpents lie and wanted to get beyond what they were given to be like God themselves. And so, eating the fruit, they brought the whole world into sin and corruption. God in His holiness would no longer be with those who spurned Him. Heaven and earth separated. The angel barred the way to the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword.
For the rest of human history all of Adam and Eve’s children continued to follow in their footsteps. Having broken the connection between heaven and earth, people continued to reach for heaven, to attain God. Like the people who built the tower of Babel, the action is always an upward attempt, getting away from this world and to heaven. Every man-made religion has this quality, that we must achieve something to reach God, to bring earth up to heaven.  It’s not just other religions, often this man-made religion is called Christianity.
In this man-made Christianity, like our first parents, Adam and Eve, we try to get ourselves up to God’s level. While we may scoff at the monks and hermits who did all sorts of self-made works to attain favor from God, but we are not immune. Look at common Christian books and teacher. So much is about seeing Jesus as some sort of goal, and then telling us to reach for it – as if He is across a gap that we must bridge. This is the essence of the social gospel, where Christianity turns into making earth into a sort of heaven. Often this takes on a mystical quality where it is about my thoughts, my personal connection, and we cannot really connect with Christ unless we are alone with our thoughts, without any physical distractions or troublesome relations in the way. As if our minds, our dreams, are the true connection between heaven and earth, and everything else in creation is something to be overcome. It’s no wonder that often the common material of the sacraments – water, bread, and wine – is rejected as being able to do anything in itself, but only useful as a reminder, an exercise of the mind.
Yet none of these efforts will bridge heaven and earth. Our minds are not the bridge between heaven and earth. Our efforts will not pull us there. Rather, God thins that separation between heaven and earth as He always has – through His good creation. He was with Adam and Eve in the Garden. After calling Moses to deliver His people from a burning bush, God used physical means to convince the Egyptians to let the people go. Even more, it was in the physical where God came down to dwell among Moses and the people of Israel. There they built the tabernacle, crafted from ordinary materials by skilled workmen, and there God met with Moses. The wilderness, the unknown separated from physical things, was not where God was, but in the midst of His people, where they could interact physically. But only Moses, and later the high priest, could actually interact with God there in the tabernacle, in the holy of holies. The separation between heaven and earth was thin there, but it was still there. There had to be a mediator between God and the people.
So it is no wonder when God sends that final mediator, it is heaven and earth coming together in a physical body. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God and man, heaven and earth, will never connect when man escapes from the finite to the infinite. God makes the finite contain the infinite. The finite womb of the virgin Mary contained a developing little baby who was also the Creator of the Universe. The manger contained the One who appeared to Moses in the tabernacle in a pillar of cloud. The infinite Son of God took on finite, physical flesh. And that is how heaven and earth come together.
Only Jesus as a finite physical man could be nailed to a cross for our sins. Only a man could bear our afflictions and be crushed for our iniquities. Only a man with a physical body could bear the physical chastisement which brings us peace. For this, Christ, the God-man, being lifted up on the cross, is “his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” It has been said “the cross stands while the world turns.” That cross is where everything comes together. Heaven and earth meet. Sin is destroyed. Forgiveness flows. We see the true cost of our sin. We see the true love of God in that He was willing to pay that cost for sinners.
So the temple curtain was torn in two that day. No more separation. No more mediators like Moses. Christ is the final one. Heaven and earth have come together with Christ. As physical man, he has borne our sin. As true God, He does not stay dead. For He can take all our sin, all our punishment, and defeat it. Death could not keep Him down. And He comes to you now, the finite containing the infinite. The infinite God, His body and blood, in bread and wine. Here in the divine service is the thin place, where by faith we receive the gifts of heaven coming to earth. Our wise creator, desiring the salvation of every sinner, now bridges that gap and brings Christ to us in simple, physical means. No mystic, guru, or monk comes as close to heaven as when in the divine service Christ comes to you.
Receiving Christ, being born of God in the waters of baptism, we have become children of God. In Christ, God has begun the new creation in us, the life of the resurrection, which will be completed in the age to come. God does not work to bring us to heaven to depart from creation, but brings heaven to earth, where we are made into His new creation: a creation formed in likeness of the image of the invisible God, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Where heaven and earth meet in Christ, there is no separation at all. Merry Christmas. Amen.

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