Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). We humans naturally don’t like to be alone. And so, what a joyous message it is to hear that we are not alone and that God is with us. When we’re little, the fear of being away from Mom & Dad might manifest itself in separation anxiety or homesickness. Life is not right, life is incomplete when we are apart from our parents. And even as we grow up and move away, there’s an emptiness that we feel. Becoming an adult is exciting, yet few of us do so without experiencing the sadness of being away from our family. As we grow older, there is nothing that we want more than to be with our loved ones when those significant days come around. From birthdays to holidays to other important events, there are few things that we desire more than to be surrounded by family and friends. In fact, the desire not to be alone is so strong in us that when we are alone, we often turn to “digital companions” on the phone, on the computer, on the tablet, or on the TV to keep us company. Our desire to not be alone is a strong one.
2. And so, it’s a sad reality, then, that so many people are extraordinarily lonely these days. We have our “digital companions.” We have email and telephones, text messaging and video chats, yet people feel more alone today than ever before. Why? The simple reason is that God created us to be with other people in the flesh, not just virtually. And whether we recognize it or not, it isn’t only other people we long to be with, but it’s also God that we desire to be with. And that desire, praise the Lord, is true of God as well. He desires to be with us, too. This is why our Lord’s Incarnation is such good news. In Jesus, God has fulfilled his eternal desire to draw near to His people. So, this morning, as we consider how “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” at our Lord’s Incarnation, we will consider how:
1.) The story of the Scriptures is about a God who wants nothing more than to be with his people, and similarly,
2.) The story of the Church is about a God who comes to be with his people.
II. God with His People in the Scriptures
3. First, we consider how the story of the Scriptures is about a God who wants nothing more than to be with his people. In the beginning, when God created Adam and Eve in the garden, He walked with them. Adam and Eve didn’t even initially know God as an invisible spirit, like we do. They knew him as One who spoke to them face to face. God was with them. It was a result of sin that Adam and Eve were separated from God. After they sinned, they hid from Him. After the fall, the best that man could do was to pray to God, remember His Word, and offer up sacrifices to Him. Even though they were terrified of Him, they wanted to be near Him, but it simply wasn’t possible. It wasn’t until much later when the tabernacle was built and the glory of the Lord filled it that God dwelled on earth with his people once again. But even in the tabernacle or later in the temple, God’s glory was too great for people to approach. Not even Moses could enter the tent of meeting when God’s glory filled the tabernacle. God was with His people, but the people couldn’t come near Him. And so, the only way that God’s people could continue to live in the presence of the Tabernacle (or later the Temple), and the only way that the Israelite priests could approach the Lord on behalf of the people was through the complex Levitical purification and sacrificial system. God was only accessible through cleansing water and through the shedding of blood. But then “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). When the Incarnation happened, the division between God and man was destroyed. Access to God’s presence is still through cleansing water and shed blood. But no longer is it our action of cleansing and sacrifice which gives us access to God’s presence. No, it is Christ’s action alone which grants us access to God’s presence. My friends, this is why the Word became flesh at Christmas—so that he could grant eternal access to God’s presence to us humans who have alienated ourselves from him by our sin. He did this by the cleansing water and the shed blood which flowed from his side on the cross, as the Scripture says: “One of the soldiers pierced [Jesus’] side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34).
The division between God and man was destroyed. The story of the Scriptures shows us that God has come to be with his people.
III. God with His People in the Church
4. And God continues to come to be with his people. This is the story of the Church. The Church is the place where God comes to be with his people here in time, as we await the renewed creation where we will dwell in God’s presence forever in the new heavens and the new earth. And so, Christ’s Church is Incarnational. This is why church cannot be virtual. There is no such thing as going to church on the internet, TV, or radio. Those things can be good blessings when it’s simply not possible to attend church. They can certainly be good supplements and additions to regular church attendance. However, technology, no matter how good it is, cannot replace the Divine Service. Christianity is Incarnational, it is in the flesh, and the Divine Service requires that Christians assemble in the flesh to be with their Savior Jesus in the flesh because when the Church gathers together physically, our God draws near to us physically. He does so in two ways.
5. The first way that our Lord draws near to his Church tangibly is through Holy Baptism. It is in Holy Baptism that our lives as Christians begin. Through Baptism we receive Christ and his gift of the Holy Spirit: “But to all who did receive him, who believe 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” (John 1:12-13).
Instead of being alienated from God, unclean, and hostile, God has cleansed us in the water. Our sins are washed away and we are given new life. Our debt of sin against God is forgiven. He looks upon us through Jesus. And he dwells in and among us by the Holy Spirit. The new birth in Holy Baptism is a very real, physical experience in which God drowns you and brings you back to life. This is how he comes to be with his people. In the cleansing waters of baptism, God draws near to us.
6. But, for as good of a gift as this is, thanks be to God that there is more. Following Baptism, our lives as Christians don’t only consist in reading, learning, and praying. There is a second way that our Lord draws near to his Church tangibly: through the Holy Communion where we are sustained through the sacramental eating and drinking of our Lord Jesus’ Body and Blood. “Communion”, by its very definition, involves fellowship and sharing. It involves joining together. The Holy Communion with Christ is a real, tangible experience. When you have your Christmas feast at home, you’re not just pretending to eat food, or talking about it, or watching it on a screen. You’re chewing and tasting and swallowing that food. Likewise, Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t merely imagined or symbolic. It was gory and painful—it was real. And so, likewise, you really do eat and drink Jesus’ true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins at the altar. The Church’s Communion cannot be virtual because In Holy Communion, the Word made flesh draws near to us tangibly. We “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8) as he draws near to us.
7. My friends, the loneliness which runs so rampant in our world today, the cult of virtual reality and screen addictions, the emptiness left behind by our “digital companions”, all of these things find their answers here at Christmas, at the Incarnation of our Lord. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). In Jesus, God has fulfilled his eternal desire to draw near to His people. He is near to you. Forget about the screens and the social media. The Word became flesh in the manger, on Mary’s lap, on the cross, in the tomb. That Word is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). And that same Word, our Lord Jesus himself, draws near to dwell among us today in the font and at the altar. He is your God. You are not alone. “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” (John 1:14).
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.