The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Christmas Eve – 24 December 2012
From the Gospel According to St. John the Evangelist:
Speaking of the Incarnation of God the Father in God the Son, St. John wrote, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth…
Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hears be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
Over the past several weeks, I have been reviewing the sermons that I have preached over the past several years – whenever I have an extra moment. Now, those extra moments have been very much at a premium with all that has to be done in this busy Advent / Christmas season.
Add to that my preparations for retirement in Florida – the selling of one house here and the buying another there – getting all the paperwork done for pensions and health care programs, while packing for the big move -well, trust me, it’s been busy.
In all of this, I came across a sermon preached about ten years ago in which I told the story of one man’s response to one of the first sermons I ever preached as an ordained minister. He said, as we shook hands at the front door of the church, That was a really good sermon, Howard. You brought God down to our level.
Being a bit full on myself, being hungry for approval as I was in those days, I bragged about this to one of my former seminary professors in a conversation soon after. He said, You know, you shouldn’t be too happy about that comment. Your job is not so much to bring God down to our level, as it is to lift us up to His.
A bit deflated, I though a lot about his comment and came to the conclusion that lifting up is much more our job than bringing down. God has already done the coming down. We call it Christmas.
God did the coming down to our level when He took on human flesh and became one of us in the Child of Bethlehem. He came down to our level by being conceived and born of a woman just like every other human being who has ever lived. And He became one of us by being a baby, growing up as a child, becoming an adult and then, just like everyone else, eventually dying.
In every way, God came down to share our common humanity – from conception to death – but not just so that we can feel that He’s one of us, but for the sake of lifting us up so that we can be at one with Him.
Tonight we celebrate His birth as one of us. But as He shared our common humanity, he did so in His unique divinity. We believe in and celebrate the divine paradox of Jesus Christ who was both fully human and fully divine at the same time. Hence, he was in every way, one of us but so totally different from us. He was God made man – in flesh and bone – in body and blood. And that makes all the difference in the world.
His divinity gets revealed in His miraculous conception by the power of the Holy Spirit and in His miraculous birth being born of a virgin. His miraculous conception and birth allows for the miracle of our being born again.
He was conceived by God the Holy Spirit. If we receive Him – if we place all of our faith in Him, then we can be born again to become children of God, but this time, to quote St. John, …born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
He came down to lift us up. And He continues to come down as He continues to lift up. That’s the purpose of this great and wonderful mystery – the mystery of life – the mystery of redemption – the mystery of salvation and the mystery of our deliverance from all that’s wrong and evil and deceptive to all that’s good and right and true – our deliverance from death to life – indeed, from death to eternal life.
We celebrate His birth at Christmas. But without His death and resurrection, we would never have celebrated His birth. In His death, the sinless savior took on our sin and destroyed it. It died with Him when He died on the cross on which we had lifted Him up.
And when He rose from the dead, He showed us the victory of His life over our death so that we could live forever in Him.
So there you have it. The whole story of our redemption and our salvation. He came down once in human history. But He comes down all the time, making Himself continually available to any of us who at any moment in time may place his faith in Him. He can – and will – lift up.
As we baptize this beautiful baby girl tonight we baptize her into the death of Jesus Christ for the sake of her eternal life. She is the beneficiary of what the little baby boy born in Bethlehem did in His life some two thousand years ago, coming down as the Son of God and the Son of Mary and growing up to become the crucified and risen Saviour of all mankind.
And as we share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we partake of the sacrament of Eternal Life. Both sacraments lift us up to the same reality – eternal life in the perfection of God’s love.
He came down to lift us up. Simple as that.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – full of grace and truth. And we beheld His glory.
With this in mind, let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant to us the grace to receive your Son, the Child of Bethlehem, into our hearts, into our minds and into our souls that by virtue of His sacrifice for us we can come alive in Him – and live forever. Keep us we pray, forever grateful for the gift of our salvation that we may rejoice and be glad all the days of our lives, both now and forever,