25 December 2017†††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
ďFull of Grace and TruthĒ
Text: Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Whenever I sit down to write a Christmas sermon, my thoughts always go to those for whom Christmas is a struggle. Who donít have the pile of gifts under the tree and the big, cheerful, family dinner. Like those who have lost loved ones this year, those who have just lost their job, those who have been diagnosed with a disease that will soon end their life, or those with some other struggle, bad news, or hardship. And thatís not just people not here; but maybe describes you. They miss Christmas, some would say, because they have none of the joy and happiness that for many define Christmas. But I actually think it is just the opposite. I think people in those situations can celebrate Christmas better than most; can understand better what itís all about.
And so it is with that in mind that I looked at the words of the prophet Isaiah that we heard this morning, and I realized for the first time that right after these verses that we read on Christmas Day every year, come the words that we read on Good Friday every year. Just two verses after this reading, Isaiah begins to tell us of the one who would be stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God (Isaiah 53:4). The one who would be so marred that you couldnít even recognize Him as a human being (Isaiah 52:14). The one who was cut off out of the land of the living (Isaiah 53:8).
So if we put those two readings from Isaiah together, this is what we get:
Those beautiful feet which Isaiah speaks of, which bring good news, would soon be pierced with a nail.
The God who reigns, would reign from the throne of a cross.
Isaiahís Lord returns to Zion . . . to die.
He redeems Jerusalem . . . with His own blood as the price.
And if all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God, they will see it this way: the Son of God offering Himself as the sin offering for the life and salvation of the world.
Thatís how Isaiah says Merry Christmas! So no wonder the prophets werenít so popular, and (according to tradition) Isaiah was sawn in two. Thatís not the kind of Merry Christmas most want! People then or now. But it is the kind of Merry Christmas we need. It is what makes Christmas merry. For without the Good Friday verses, these Christmas verses would be meaningless to us. God did this - so what? But with the Good Friday verses, God did this FOR ME. He was born for me to die for me and give me life and hope in the midst of a world so often filled with sadness, struggle, and hopelessness.
And so writing of the birth of Jesus, John put it this way: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
We have seen His glory. We have seen, John says, that the one who was with God and who was God; the one who was in the beginning with God and through whom all things were made - this eternal, almighty God, we have seen His glory, because we saw Him on the cross. For the glory of God is His great love for you. The glory of God is His sacrifice for you. The glory of God is that God would become a man, born of the virgin Mary, born in poverty, and then trade His life for yours. The glory of God is that He would take your place under sin and in death, so that you could have His place in glory and life. We saw all this, John says. Godís Christmas gift to you.
For this one, come down from heaven to earth, John says, the Creator born into His creation, is full of grace and truth. Or in other words, in Jesus, there is nothing else but grace and truth. For if He is full of grace and truth, then there is room for nothing else. Just grace and truth. And so everything He does, everything He speaks, is grace and truth. Grace, which is gift language, the giving of Himself for others. And truth, no ulterior motives, no hypocrisy; just truth, straight-forwardness, honesty.
And what happens when grace and truth fill a person? Well, then you have a Saviour.
For there is grace in our world, but it is often grace without truth. And grace without truth is laxity, license, and enabling those who live in sin to continue to live in sin. Grace without truth is what today is called love and tolerance. For anything goes when you have grace without truth.
And in the same way, there is truth in our world, but it is often without grace. And truth without grace is severeness, sternness; unbending, unyielding justice. And we see this today with those accused of certain sins - there is no grace for them, no understanding, no reprieve. They must pay for their transgression. And it must be swift and it must be complete.
So look around at our world today and this is what you see: those deceived by grace without truth, and those hurt by truth without grace.
But today John says to us: Look! Here in this one, the Word made flesh, is both grace and truth. The fullness of grace and truth. And when you have the fullness of grace and truth, you have neither cheap grace nor despair - you have forgiveness; you have a Saviour. For you have the truth of sin, but also the forgiveness of sin. You have the justice of God against sin, but that justice poured out on another, not you. And you have the glory of God, that He gives not an inch in grace or truth, but gives Himself fully to atone fully for your sin.
And thatís not just what the Christmas is all about, but what the Bible is all about. Grace and truth. And then grace and truth embodied in this one whose birth we celebrate today. In Jesus.
And then His grace and truth embodied also in us. In us who were, as John said, born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Born again, born from above, as children of God, children of grace and truth, in Holy Baptism. That we live not in grace without truth or truth without grace, but with both. Confessing our sin and rejoicing in forgiveness. Speaking the truth in love. Facing death, but knowing it is not the end. Struggling, perhaps, but knowing we struggle not alone. For the Word made flesh is still flesh. He didnít leave His body behind when He was done with it. It is His flesh, forever. His flesh that made Himself one with us, and which He gives us to eat and drink that we be one with Him, and be filled with His grace and truth. The grace and truth of the only Son from the Father, yet in whom are many sons for the Father.
Some people think that struggle and sadness means that God has left them, if He was ever there in the first place, or ever there at all. And maybe if you buy into the worldís vision of Christmas thatís true. But Isaiahís Christmas, and Johnís Christmas, and so our Christmas, is quite different. For the Christmas of grace and truth is this: that the Son of God came to be with us exactly in our sin and struggle and sadness. To give us hope, not ease; to give us joy, not mere happiness; and to give us life in the midst of death. To give us grace and truth by giving us Himself.
And when we know that, when we have that, then it is a Merry Christmas, no matter what else is going on in the world or in your life. In fact, it is the struggle that perhaps enables us to see the gift that is there, but at other times we are blind to. The gift of our Saviour. The light that shines in the darkness. The Word made flesh FOR YOU.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.