Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sermon on John 1:1-14 for Christmas Day, "Tabernacled among us"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Christmas is here! Today we celebrate Jesus’ birth. The Bible tells about Jesus’ birth from several different angles. Matthew’s Gospel tells of Mary and Joseph, the promise of the Virgin birth, the visit of the Wise Men and the terror of King Herod. Luke’s Gospel, which you likely heard last night, tells of the census, Bethlehem, the shepherds, the angels, and Jesus laid in the manger. The Gospel of John also tells the Christmas story, but in a very different way. He focuses not so much on the human participants and the locations, as on the grand themes of what God was at work doing, and the coming of Jesus into the world. John 1 is the Christmas’ story told from God’s perspective, showing Jesus’ relationship to God and His incarnation, His coming into human flesh right here in the world. All this unfolded in the midst of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and wise men’s lives, but John tells how it fits in the grand scheme of salvation. Jesus, the Light of all men, coming into the darkness of this world to give us His Light. Jesus, the eternal Word of God, at the creation of the world, and now enters creation. And in one forceful little statement, John captures the miraculous conception, pregnancy, and birth of Jesus into the world: “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” (John 1:14).
John 1:1-14 speaks of two major ways God has revealed Himself to humankind, and draws a line joining them together. God first revealed Himself to us through creation. God as the Creator of all things is one of the first ways we know and understand who God is. Probably the first way of explaining to your child who God is, is by explaining that He is the One who made everything. It is the first, basic way in which we grasp who God is. He made the earth, sun, moon, and stars; He created the plants, animals, and most of all, humans, as His special creation. Like a painting implies an artist, so also creation implies a Creator. However, we don’t expect to find the artist themselves in the painting itself. In rare cases, a painter might hide a portrait of themselves in a painting, but they are not truly “in” the painting, just a copy is. So do we expect to find God in the creation itself? The Bible does tell us that He left at least one “portrait” of Himself in creation: “in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.” But since God Himself is invisible, and He is not part of the creation itself—is there any other way that God shows Himself in the creation? This question leads us into the second way God has revealed Himself to humankind.
John draw a connecting line between these two major revelations of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then jumping to the last verse, v. 14, “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.” First revealed in creation, the same Word of God now became flesh and “dwelt among us,” showing God’s glory. God comes and appears Himself, in the creation!
When you read those words, “dwelt among us” it sounds pretty vanilla—like someone living in our neighborhood might “dwell among us”. But this “dwell” is a “loaded word.” When you find a “loaded word” in the Bible, it’s like a gold prospector finding a vein of gold running through his mine, and you follow that vein to great riches. In the same way, when you study the Bible and discover a loaded word, it leads to a richness of meaning and a golden vein that connects ideas in Scripture together. With a little deeper digging in the original language, we find that this word “dwelt” actually carries the meaning “tabernacled among us.”
Tabernacle? What’s that? In the Old Testament, this was the Tent of Worship that the Israelites carried with them on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. It was a Tent that was designed according to God’s instructions, and most significantly, God’s visible presence in the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night dwelt in the Tabernacle. In other words, the Tabernacle was God with them. It was where they knew they could find and worship God. It was where God distributed mercy to them through the sacrificial system. It was the proof of God’s presence among them.
God’s “located-ness” is so important to understanding the Bible. Yes, God is everywhere, but the more important question is where can I find Him? How can I receive His mercy? God locates Himself and tells us where He will be, and makes Himself accessible through His Word and Promises. This was just was God did for Israel in the Old Testament. He located Himself, and His Name, in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.
So with all that rich baggage in hand, we go back to John 1:14 and find that “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” This is John’s way of describing that Jesus came down to earth, and replaced the Tabernacle, and that His body, His flesh, became the physical “tent” or dwelling place for God with man. The book of Hebrews, chapter 9, also talks about this, saying that the Tabernacle and its furnishings in the Old Testament were “copies of the heavenly things” (9:23), but that Jesus came through the “greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (9:11). The tabernacle was a “copy” of the greater and more perfect tent of Jesus’ body, God’s own miracle, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. In this body Jesus secured our eternal redemption by means of His own blood (9:12).
So now we can better answer our question, does God the Creator show up inside His creation? At first we said there was the portrait or image of Himself in mankind, at the creation, now we’ve also said that the Old Testament featured certain “copies of the heavenly things”—but now we can see that in Jesus, the Creator of all things, the Great Artist of all creation, also stepped down into His own work. He located Himself, revealed Himself. But we must not forget why He came down to creation or how things stood when He arrived. Jesus did not arrive on the scene to find God’s amazing work of art intact, whole, and pristine, just as He made it. Rather, He came to His creation that had been marred, vandalized, defaced, and was in disarray.  
Perhaps an artist can best understand the grief this caused God, to see the effects of sin, death, and disease on His creation. Far worse than graffiti on a piece of artwork, a shattered stained glass window, or some other precious, but impersonal objects, sin does its damage in human lives. Tearing at relationships, corrupting character, spreading disease, polluting our thoughts, and not only human lives are affected, but also every other part of the world gone awry from its original goodness, design, and purity. At Christmas, we reflect on the greatness of God’s Divine Love that moved Him to visit and redeem His fallen creation. To show Himself, to become flesh and “tabernacle” among us, so He could restore His broken creation to Himself.
Jesus is God with us, Emmanuel. He is the “located” presence of God for us. Where we find and worship God. Christmas is where we find God born in the manger. Through Him we receive grace and mercy through His sacrifice for us on the cross. Jesus is where God’ pours out His gifts of forgiveness, life, and healing. If we want to be part of God’s new creation, we need Jesus to come near to us, and begin His restoration on us. Jesus is the “proof” of God’s presence among us. There was proof in His restoring miracles that healed and made new what was broken through disease, injury, and the works of evil. But the greatest proof that Jesus was God among us was in His death and resurrection, showing His power over things that no mere man had.
Yet Jesus’ coming to restore creation was not without opposition and resistance. John tells us: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” and “the true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” The darkness—even a spiritual darkness of evil, was present in the world, but the good news is that the coming of Jesus, the Light, drives back the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome the light. Jesus brings illumination and enlightenment, to see and know that He is God. But the world doesn’t know Him, even though He created it.
Even His own people, the people who had the “copies of the heavenly things”—who should have known what to expect, still missed it. They did not receive Him. But then we learn that to receive Jesus’ coming, to be in on His restoration work, isn’t something that depends on our own powers after all. It’s not a matter of our own will, but a matter of being born of God. Since its our very heart and will that contains the “corrupted files”—the sin-corrupted programming, that are responsible for the fallen and decaying state of creation—God has to give us His new birth. We must be born of God, to see and believe in Jesus. Our heart and will are “bent” on the ways of sin and self-destruction. But only God can “rewrite” the “programming” or “unbend” our will to believe in Jesus Christ and accept His coming. But being born again, God makes us into children of God.

God “tabernacles” in Jesus Christ for just this purpose, to bring grace and truth to us, and to turn the hearts and wills of men to Him. By entering creation, Jesus, has located Himself as God for us. God’s own best gift for us this Christmas is Himself. For knowing and believing in Him, we are born of God as the children of His new creation. So come, we have found the Christ child, born for us in the manger, born to bring God’s mercy to us! May Jesus, God’s gift to us, fill your heart with joy, light, and God’s life this Christmas season! In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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