CHRISTMAS DAY 2017

SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 62:10-12; 1 John 4:7-16; John 1:1-14 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4

 

Christmas is a time of stories, and there are so many to enjoy. Just a few days ago I watched Miracle on 34th Street. I always love the scene where Santa speaks in Dutch to the little girl from Holland. I also saw Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Last night featured A Christmas Story, about Ralphie and his desire for a Red Rider BB gun. Then, there’s my favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A couple of days ago I read a story I hadn’t read in a long time, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi. It’s about a young married couple, James and Della Young, who are so poor that neither can afford a gift for the other. They have only two possessions of value: James has a gold pocket watch that had been his father’s, and his father’s before him; and Della has beautiful hair that, when she lets it down, is rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters” as it falls below her knees. Well, on Christmas Eve she decides to cut off and sell her beautiful hair, so that with the money she gets she can buy a gold chain for James’ precious watch. He comes home without the watch, however, for he sold it to buy a set of lovely tortoise-shell combs to adorn Della’s beautiful hair. Their sacrifices inspire this comment in the story: “Love and large-hearted giving, when added together, can leave deep marks.”

The deep marks of love – of God’s love – are the essence of the ancient story that long preceded them all: the story of the birth of our Lord Jesus. It is simply and very briefly told by Luke. John gives us the eternal background this morning. In His Scriptures God lays before us the deep marks of His love:

Ø  A baby; who is, as John makes clear, the eternal God who was in the beginning; who created all that exists; and who is the light of the world.

What a deep mark of love, as deep as eternity!, is the baby Jesus; is a baby who is God! Who could be more humble and more non-threatening than a helpless baby? This is what God became… for you and for me! John says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world” – into our flesh, into our weakness and smallness and helplessness! Could there be a greater sign of His love and mercy?

Yes. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The deepest marks of God’s love were left by the nails that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet, the crown of thorns that pierced His scalp, and the spear that pierced His side when He was crucified. You truly see Christmas and the love of God for you when you see the baby Jesus as the propitiation for your sins. Propitiation: it’s not only a big word for tired people on a Christmas morning. It’s a harsh word. Wrapped up in the gift of propitiation is sin with its disobedience, and anger, and rebellion; its shaking of the fist at God and defiantly crying, “I’ll do what I want!” Wrapped up in the gift of propitiation is God’s just anger at this defiance, and His readiness to punish it. Wrapped up in the gift of propitiation is the slaying of innocent animals and the pouring out of their blood at the altar in Israel’s temple. They were sacrifices of propitiation, offerings given so that God’s anger at the sinner would be laid upon the animal and not upon the person offering the animal. That person would be forgiven. Only when you unwrap the Gift in the manger do you truly see God’s love in sending His Son, for He sent Him to be the sacrifice, to endure God’s anger and the punishment for your sins – hell itself – in your place. “This is love, that God loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The cross is the deep mark of God’s love for you.

May Jesus, your propitiation, deeply mark you! This, too, is what Christmas is all about. It might seem a bit harsh to begin our joyful Christmas Services by confessing our sins, saying that we are sinful in thought, word, and deed and cannot free ourselves from this. But, we need to do this. We’re simply being honest! Even with our best efforts we fall short of the good that God desires, as O. Henry’s story so well illustrates. And we don’t always give our best efforts, do we?

Jesus did. He gave Himself into the flesh, to be born among us and for us, a sign of God’s love. He gave Himself upon the cross as the propitiation for your sins. He, the Word, is the declaration of God’s forgiveness. And “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” says John. Faith in Him, a faith that confesses your own sin and unworthiness and confesses Him to be your Savior by His sacrifice, is your deep mark of love for God.

Such faith is complemented by a life of love. Such a life is your message of His love; not spoken to God (for He sees your heart and knows of your love already) but to others. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” Through your sacrificial love – given, as was Christ’s, to people even when they don’t deserve it – the deep mark of God’s love is seen. The story of His love for the world in Christ is spoken in your life as you make sacrifices for others, just as in James’ and Della’s sacrifices for each other their love was spoken. The gift received becomes the gift given.

To God be the glory, who has given us His Son and in Him glorifies our lives! He lives and reigns with His Son and the Holy Spirit, one saving God from, and into, eternity. Amen.