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Worship Theme: The Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord
Sermon Theme: In the Beginning . . .
B’reshith bahrah Elohim eth-hashshamaim v’eth-haahretz. In the original language of the Old Testament those are the first words of the Holy Scriptures. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). In the beginning are the first words of the Christmas Day Gospel from John chapter one. They wing us back to that first word from the mouth of God, B’reshith, “In the beginning.” “In the beginning” tells us that God started the universe at one point in time, clearly implying that he was around before time began, that he exists as God backwards and forwards in time. He does not need anything to exist. He just is. That blows my mind because it drives me to ponder the very nature of God. For one thing, he is timeless.
Then, take all the data and information in every smart phone, watch, laptop, and desktop computer. Add all the data and information in every main frame computer in the world, and the total wouldn’t fill God’s pinky finger. We have three bells in the bell tower. I’ve been up there and touched them. They are huge. The biggest weighs over a ton. Imagine stacking two thousand, two hundred fifty of those bells and launching them into space, achieving a speed of eighteen thousand miles per hour, nine times faster than a rifle bullet, in minutes. That’s the power it takes to launch a space rocket. God can do that with the breath of his mouth. God is not only timeless but all-powerful.
In the beginning. The first words of the Christmas Day Gospel send us back to the book of beginnings, to Genesis, where there is more for us to ponder than God’s timelessness and power. With each day of creation God said “it was good,” “it was so,” and finally “it was very good.” In English there is only one “O” that separates “God” and “good” and rightly so. Creation was good, pure, perfect, reflecting the Creator who is good, pure, and perfect. God is timeless, all-powerful, and holy.
In the beginning. The first words of the Christmas Day Gospel sweep us back to Genesis where we learn even more about who God is and what he is like. How can God can be three-in-one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet not three gods but one? I do not know. But that’s what he says he is, and who are we to question the nature of God? That is the height of arrogance as though a pot can say to the potter, “How come you have brown hair?” In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. We normally think of Creation as the activity of God the Father, but the word translated God is plural, and right after that Moses records, “the Spirit of God was hovering over all the raw material God called into existence.” The Holy Spirit was active in creation. Tomorrow open your Bible to the beginning chapter, and look at the beginning of verses three, six, nine, fourteen, twenty, and twenty-four. “And God said … And God said … And God said.” In the beginning he used his words to create the universe, and the center of his words, the Holy Scriptures, is the Word with a capital “W,” which is exactly what John recorded in the Christmas Day Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” “The Word” is a special title for the second Person of the Trinity, for God the Son, who was there, active in creation with the Father and the Holy Spirit. God is triune.
Connection to people
God did not need to create a universe. But he did. In the beginning. He does not tell us why. He just did. The only way I can make sense of that is to recall that he tells us in his Holy Book that he is love. He was perfectly content existing on his own as God, but for reasons he does not reveal, he decided to create a target for his love. He created creatures to receive his love. He created human beings. He created us. That this timeless, all-powerful, holy, three-in-one God chooses to connect with puny piles of dust like me and like you is breath-taking. But he wanted humans to be the crowning jewel of creation, to receive his love and care, to live and exist with him, to have a close personal relationship with him, to enjoy a connection with him.
In order to make that connection happen, he chose to use his words, to communicate. There has to be communication – written, spoken, sign language, whatever – or there will be no connection. So, God spoke to the first human beings so that they would know him, understand his love, and be connected to him. He didn’t have to do that. But he did. In the beginning.
But something happened to that connection, to that bond of love and trust. Humans shattered it, and the created universe was no longer a perfect paradise but ruined with rebellion, stitched with sin, warped with wickedness. The result is viruses that kill, bigots who hate, adulterers who lust, teens who struggle, and I with my sin and you with your sin, broken, battered, turned inward on ourselves, obsessed with our own desires and needs and wants.
Those rebels in the Garden could not hide. God is everywhere. He knows everything. He knew they rebelled. He knew they swallowed the devil’s lie that on their own initiative and effort they could rise to God’s level and be gods or at least god-like. He knew they ruined it all. And he knew where to find them. That he would seek them out in the first place is shocking. He should have cast them aside. He should have squished them like bugs and started over. He should have deserted them, separated himself from them. He should have turned his back on them, removed his love, and dumped them into the blazing furnace of his anger. He should have cut off all communication and all connection with them. There’s no worse curse from God. Imagine parents telling a child, “You have misbehaved, so we’re not talking to you again ever.” There may be a teen who is thinking, “Great!” But in the long run, how sad! How scary if parents would turn their back on their kids, “You’re naughty so you not only get no Christmas presents but no care, correction, no encouragement, no guidance, no love, no words ever!”
Christmas or not, bright decorations, lovely cards, and warm greetings or not, dressed up in Christmas best or tuned in to livestream in jammies or not, he should turn his back on me because I’ve done the Adam-and-Eve thing by wanting what God does not want me to have, doing what God does not want me to do, and thinking that there’s at least some little bit in me that he wants to keep and save like a broken, favorite toy, and so have you. That’s arrogance. That’s rebellion.
It’s like wearing your Christmas best on a day in March when snow piles have turned black and started to melt. You want to cut across the street, but you can see the puddle of murky filth that is not only rippling with road salt and mud but laced with what the police patrol horses left in the street the night before. Just as you are planning to step around the puddle, a truck blasts around the corner and splatters mud and manure on your clothes, on your face, and in your hair, and you can’t wash it off. I have stepped into the puddle too often. I have on me and in me the mud and manure of my me-first thinking, my lack of listening, my lack of help when help was needed, my bad prioritizing even before the truck came by and splattered me. What is splattered on you by your own fault? What is it that the all-holy, all-powerful, all-knowing God sees on you and in you? For all of that, a fireball from heaven should crash through the church ceiling and embed itself into the floor, sparking, flaring, with a timer ticking down ready to explode and sear pieces of our bodies before sucking us into hell. At the very least God ought to be silent and leave us to stew in our filth forever or, if he would speak, that he would holler at the original Adam and Eve and all of us Adams and Eves, “You lousy losers! I’m tired of your excuse-making, your blaming someone other than yourself, your blaming me. You have pushed me over the top! Here’s my fireball!” He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Christmas Eve is the tenderness of a helpless newborn, a caring mother cradling her baby, a protecting step-father, wide-eyed shepherds, and twinkling stars. Christmas Day is the shock and the explosion of a miracle greater than a virgin birth, the miracle that the timeless, all-powerful, holy-beyond-holy, three-in-one, only-God-there-is would want to connect with us and does! We cannot go to him. He has to come to us if we are to be accepted into his presence, if we are to be cared for by him, if we are to live in the light of his love. He did just that. When we expect that God would leave humans alone in the silence of his anger or holler at them, he shocked them and us and spoke to Satan, “One descendant of the woman will crush your head, your power, to yank people out of your camp where they are stuck and bring them back into my arms” (Genesis 3:15). That was the message in the beginning of Holy Scripture. That’s the message in the beginning of the Christmas Day Gospel from John chapter one, proclaiming to all the world the explosive miracle. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Like a little girl with her favorite dolly, hugged every night, even with its broken arm and one eye poked out, cherished and loved; like a mother whose wayward son landed in prison – she knows he did wrong, but she still visits every month, and her heart aches for him; like parents whose kids misbehave, and they want to tear into them, but they bite their tongues, take a deep breath, sit on their bedside with nightly prayers, sing the hymn they always sing, and hug them close, God is the little girl with dolls whom he loves even though we are broken don’t always respond, he is the mom who sees no wrong in us, he is the parent who hugs us even though we mess up. Yet, he is also God, as in the-only-God-there-is, the God who fills the universe with his presence and his power, who is so far above us, who is so vast and big and beyond our understanding. But he wants to be with sinners like us, broken dolls, prisoners of the devil, wayward children. In the beginning that is what he wanted, and that is what he did. How do we know for sure it is all true? Because the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. That is the truth, recorded in the beginning of God’s instruction, his teaching, by Moses and recorded in the beginning of the Christmas Day Gospel by John the apostle. Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law [the instruction] was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. Because that is true, in the beginning, now, and forever, “Merry Christmas!” Amen.
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