Christmas Sermon: Open Wide

Father, may Your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

Listen to the Word of the Lord:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way.

A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

“Prepare the way for the Lord.

Make straight paths for him.”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes one who is more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said, “the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:1-15)

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

“The time has come,” he said, “the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”

“the time has come”

The first words we hear from Jesus in Mark’s record of the gospel are the time has come. It is Jesus’ first sermon – three short sentences. Some scholars believe this, in fact, was the whole sermon, others that Mark is summarizing Jesus’ teaching at this point. Either way, we are given three sentences that encapsulate Jesus’ message as he begins his public ministry.

“The time has come,” he said, “the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”

For Mark, this is the beginning. He skips right over Christmas, right over the manger, the wise men, and the shepherds. Mark reminds us that the dawn of the gospel – the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah – is not only a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but that child – the Son of God – stepping out into the very work he was born for.

The gospel begins when heads into Galilee and says, “the time has come.”

The time has come.

So the Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,

‘Cursed are you above all livestock and wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

and you will eat dust all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’”

Moments after Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, with the taste of the fruit probably still in their mouths, God makes a promise, a covenant of grace. There would come a day where a child of Eve would crush the serpent and everything he stands for. There would come a day when God would end the reign of sin and death and evil.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said.

The time has come.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,

and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

God made a promise to Abram – a covenant of grace. By his seed, by his offspring, God would claim a people, God would pour out blessing upon the earth. Through one of the children of Abraham, God pour out grace and mercy upon the earth.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said.

The time has come.

And the prophet Nathan spoke to David, saying:

“The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.”

God made a promise to David, the king – a covenant of grace. God would elevate his seed, his offspring. A child of David would build a house for the Lord, would have an everlasting kingdom. Through one of David’s children, God would bring his kingdom to reign upon the earth.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said.

The time has come. Promises were made to Adam & Eve, to Abram, and to David. Promises of grace, of salvation, of blessing. Promises of a child that would bring all of this about. A promise of God more sure than the foundation of the universe.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said.

All these promises are fulfilled in Jesus. The promised child has finally come. The time has come.

Maybe we hear this news and feel joy this evening. Maybe our hearts sore to hear that Jesus is the child promised to bring salvation. But maybe we feel a sense of longing when we hear these words. Maybe an ache, a glimpse of hope we dare not even speak for fear it will dissipate in the air like vapor. Maybe our hearts might dare to hope that there might be something more, something bigger, something beautiful that is happening in this season.

For all of us filled with longing, Jesus says, ‘the time has come.’

The time has come, he said, the kingdom of God has come near.

The kingdom of God has come near.

Jesus declares that God’s kingdom, God’s will, God’s way, God’s very presence has come near to us. At the very outset, Jesus tells us that in his person, in his ministry, in this time that he declares has come, God has come near.

Spatially? Yes – Jesus is God in the flesh, walking among us, Immanuel. It is the ‘in-fleshment’, this Incarnation that Christians celebrate on Christmas. In being born of Mary in a manger, God has drawn near to us.

The kingdom of God has come near.

But even more so, this ‘nearness’ is relational. It is the difference between sitting in the same bench at the diner, the same pew at church, or even sharing the same bed and being close or distant relationally.

the kingdom of God has come near.

God is close. As the psalmist would put it, God’s face looks upon us. In the face of Christ we see the nearness of God, his turn toward us in grace on the basis of all those promises we heard a few moments ago. In Jesus, the kingdom of God has come near. In Jesus, God comes near in grace.

the kingdom of God has come near. God has turned his face toward us in Christ – in his person, in his work, in his whole being, Jesus is the blessing of Numbers 6:

The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his face toward you and give you his peace.

But some of us feel distance this Christmas season. Maybe that distance from God is fresh and sharp or maybe it has gone on so long it has begun to feel normal. But Jesus says to us, the time has come, the kingdom of God has come near. God is near to us in grace.

“The time has come,” he said, “the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”

“repent and believe the good news.”

The good news of God requires a response. Jesus’ words invite us into just the right response. Repent and believe. Repent – that act of the will where one turns away from sin and toward God. Believe – that assent of the mind that holds fast to what is true, holds fast to the promise of God in the gospel.

Together, ‘repent and believe’ is a whole response of the whole person to the good news of God.

The New Testament calls this faith. It is faith, born of the Spirit, that works in us to let go of that which needs letting go and to hold fast to that which needs to be held on to.

Repent and believe the good news.

The good news of God requires a response – faith in Christ and all his promises. The Belgic Confession compares this faith to our mouths. Faith – that repent and believe kind of faith – is like a mouth open wide to receive Christ and all the benefits of belonging to him.

Repent and believe the good news.

Open wide to receive the good news of God. It is with the open mouth of faith that we are invited to receive the gospel this Christmas season. To take it in, and let it do the work – repent and believe.

“The time has come,” he said, “the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”

Open wide to receive the good news of God.

In a few moments, you are invited to come to the Lord’s Table. You are invited to come to this table with hearts, hands, and mouths open wide in faith. For those of you longing for more of Christ’s presence, more of his life in you, deeper union and relationship with him – come open wide to receive the good news – the very gifts of God for the people of God.

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