Sermon: We Have Seen His Glory

Christmas has been described as the most wonderful time of the year. But for many of us, it can also be the most exhausting and busy time. With travel, presents, and the often immense pressure of the holidays, it can sometimes feel like a season with everything but peace and joy. As the church, we are called to practice a different rhythm – a rhythm measured by waiting and hope more than frantic activity. So this advent, we will be slowing down and savoring the season. We will be dwelling deeply in just one scripture passage – the opening of the gospel of John, known as the prologue of John. In moving slower, we hope to move deeper, trusting that God will pour out grace upon grace every time we hear it.

I want to tell you a story. I was walking down the halls of Maple Manor looking for her. I hadn’t seen her in a while and I was looking forward to her joy and good conversation. I finally spotted Shirlene Mulder. I waved and we made our way back to the dining room to talk. As we sat around the table, we recalled how difficult this year has been for many of us. We talked about how these trials lead us on our journey of faith. Mostly, we spoke of hope when your life isn’t quite where you thought it would be.

But before I finish that story, I want to tell you another. The best of stories, a true story that is part of the true story of the whole world. But before I do, please take a moment to pray with me.

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

These are the very words of God from the book that we love:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man who was sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fulness, we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed came through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Advent is a season of waiting. It is the time of year when our hearts lean toward Christmas, but have not quite made it yet. Our longing, our waiting, joins with the groaning of creation in anticipation of the coming of Jesus.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and void and darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light.

Six days God spend creating and filling this wondrous universe and on the seventh day, he rested from all his work. On the sixth day, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. God set Adam and Eve, the first humans, in a garden that he had formed for them. And we are told that God walked in the garden in the cool of the day.

God walked in the garden in the cool of the day. How amazing it must have been to be in God’s presence in that way. This is the life for which we were made.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

But what is so beautiful is broken by disobedience. This sweet communion is shattered by our rebellion. Deceived by the serpent, Adam and Eve eat the fruit, grasp for themselves what God commanded them not to have, and are cast out of the garden. They and all their descendants now live east of Eden, driven from the garden of God.

Yet God does not abandon or forsake mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Cain kills Abel and wanders the face of the earth. By the time of Noah, every inclination of the human heart is evil all the time. At Babel, we have now gone so far as to try and build our own way to heaven, an endeavor that is quickly undone. Step by step, generation by generation, person to person, humanity is running from the presence of God. We are far, far from home, far, far from walking with God in the garden in the cool of the day, far, far from the presence where our hearts can truly rest.

Yet God does not abandon or forsake mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. He calls Abram and promises to be his god and the god of his descendants forever. God keeps his promise and generations later, he leads the people of Israel out of Egypt, delivering them from the hands of Pharaoh. He leads them to the foot of Mount Sinai, where God tells them to consecrate themselves, to prepare themselves, for God’s presence will descend upon the mountain in fire and smoke, in thunder and the sound of trumpets.

And God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery…and the Ten Commandments came thundering down the mountain from the very voice of God.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

God’s holy presence was too much, his glory too overwhelming. Only let Moses talk to us – that we can handle. But God himself! It is too much. Moses spoke with God on behalf of the people and with the people on behalf of God, and his face shone with radiance, so he wore a veil so that people could look at him. But even Moses, when he was hidden by God in the cleft of the rock and God passed him by, only saw God’s back.

Even as our hearts long desperately for the presence of God, we fear it is far more than we can handle.

So God makes a pledge of his presence, a copy and shadow – as it says in Hebrews 8:5 – of what is in heaven. God gives his people the tabernacle. He creates a space and promises his holy presence will be among them there. A space with a lampstand, an altar for sacrifice for sins, a bronze sea for cleansing, and the holy of holies, where God sat enthroned between the cherubim on the ark of the covenant. In Exodus 40, When they had finished:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

The tabernacle and later the temple, was the place where God’s glory came to dwell. When the temple of Solomon was dedicated, God’s presence came down in the form of smoke and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. After that temple was destroyed and it was rebuild under Zerubbabel, God’s presence came down in smoke and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. In Ezekiel’s vision of a renewed temple, it was the primary place in all of creation where the glory of the Lord came to dwell.

The glory of the Lord filled the temple.

Since our communion with God was broken in Eden, our hearts have longed for God’s presence. The deepest longing of our hearts, with fills us with both joy and trepidation, is to have our hearts rest in the heart of God. The tabernacle and the temple were the place where we could get a glimpse of God’s glory and a sweet taste of his presence, that which our hearts long for.

After centuries and centuries of longing, we hear this in the opening words of the gospel of John:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

And the Word became the flesh – the one Lord Jesus Christ the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.

And the Word became flesh – God took human nature to himself. Jesus Christ – fully God and full human – in a word, incarnation, which literally means, ‘in-fleshed.’ And the word became flesh and lived among us.

God who created all things, who by the Word spoke creation into existence, who in the Spirit hovered over the waters at creation, God has come among us. The Word became flesh and lived among us.

The phrase ‘lived among us’ or ‘dwelled among us’ is literally ‘tabernacled with us.’ The Word became flesh and tabernacled with us. God set up his tent of meeting, the very place where his presence would be manifest and his glory revealed, now not in the place of the tabernacle or temple, but in the person of Jesus, God himself come in the flesh.

All that the temple pointed to, all that we longed for since leaving the garden, is fulfilled in Jesus. He is God’s tabernacle among us. All the cleansing, all the forgiveness, all that was promised in the temple is found in Jesus. And significantly, the saving presence of the holy God has come near in Jesus.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

The good news of Christmas is that in Jesus was have Emmanuel – God with us. God’s presence promised long ago has now come in its fulness. Jesus is the center of God’s saving activity in the world. To know Jesus is to know God. To trust Jesus is to trust God. To receive Jesus is to be received into the family of God. To look upon the face of Jesus is to behold the glory of God.

and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

No longer do we see God’s glory in a cloud descending, we see it in the face of Jesus.

Shirlene and I sat around the table at Maple Manor and spoke of hope. As we talked about the trials of this past year, she looked at me and said, “Pastor, sometimes these things happen, but one day I will see him face to face.”

“but one day I will see him face to face.”

There is hope in the face of Jesus. In him, we behold the glory of God. In him, God’s saving presence is among us. In Jesus, God tabernacles, sets up his tent, among us. All that we have longed for, all that we hoped for, finds its center and fulfillment in Jesus.

“but one day I will see him face to face.”

May the hope of our hearts always find its fulfillment in Jesus and may our hearts continue to long for the day when we will see him face to face. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

[Prayer]

In a few moments, we will have the special privilege of baptizing Moriah Lynn Shaffer. Perhaps the most beautiful moment of the baptism takes place right before she will be baptized. I will speak this promise of God to her:

For you Jesus Christ came into the world;

for you he died and for you he conquered death;

All this he did for you, little one,

though you know nothing of it as yet.

We love because God first loved us.

That last line comes from 1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.” As we approach the font, I want to share with you an image of what we will be seeing, an image that comes from the Swiss Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. He says,

“After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child’s smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge.”

In the baptism of a child, it is as if God is smiling down on her. She doesn’t understand it yet, but God continues to smile down on her for days and weeks and years until she learns to smile back. God’s love for her awakes her love in response and she learns to love and know God.

In her baptism, God is promising that before she even knows it, God loves her and is smiling down on her. And in her baptism, Moriah will be called to one day smile and love in return.

As we prepare to witness the sacrament of baptism, let us confess what we believe about baptism, through the words of Heidelberg Catechism questions 72-74:

Q. Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?

A. No, only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit cleans us from all sins.

Q. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the water of rebirth and the washing away of sins?

A. God has good reason for these words.To begin with, God wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ take away our sins just as water removes dirt from the body.

But more important, God wants to assure us, by his divine pledge and sign, that we are as truly washed of our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water physically.

Q. Should infants also be baptized?

A. Yes.

Infants as well as adults are included in God’s covenant and people, and they, no less than adults, are promised deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.

Therefore, by baptism, the sign of the covenant, they too should be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers.

This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.

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