Monday, December 28, 2015

The Child Who Was God: A Christmas Sermon

It is Christmas once again, which for many of us means visiting family. Perhaps some of you here this evening are visiting with parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles. I know for my part, as a kid, Christmas time always meant visiting my grandmother, Helen Stromberg, whom we called Mom-Mom. 

One thing that I could always count on when visiting Mom-Mom was that there would be plenty of little dishes of candy around her apartment. You see, Mom-Mom had a bit of a sweet tooth.
Once when I was snooping around her apartment looking for treats, I wandered into her bedroom and was stopped in my tracks by a very unusual sight. It was a doll perched on her dresser surrounded by flowers and prayer cards. 
My grandmother kept a lot of dolls around her home, but this one was different. It carried a special religious significance for her as a devout Catholic. It was a statue of the Infant of Prague. How strange it was! 

I don’t mean any offense to those of you who love and collect them, but I have always found dolls to be somewhat creepy. There is something vaguely unsettling about them, with their eerily lifelike eyes staring out of their unflinching porcelain faces. This one seemed especially so. The best way I can think to describe it is to say that it was uncanny. 

For a little boy raised in a low-church, Protestant home, unfamiliar with such devotional objects, it even seemed ominous and pagan.  It was of course nothing of the sort, but rather a depiction of the Christ Child. 

I had seen statues of the Christ Child before in Nativity sets, but this one was different. This one was clothed in royal splendor. He wore a crown and a glittering gown of white and gold. This was more than a depiction of an infant, it was a picture of lordship and divinity. The combination seemed incongruous.

It does not seem to us odd to picture Christ, fully grown, seated upon the throne of his glory in kingly splendor. This is our Lord! But can we say the same for the Lord in his infancy, even as we sing this night, “Jesus, Lord at thy birth?” Can we worship a child?

It is easy to love a baby, to feel tenderness, affection, and pity for them when they cry, but what about reverence? Respect? Can you bend the knee to one so helpless? Can you honor above yourself one of these, the smallest and the least? What must the Shepherds have thought to find the great Messiah the angels sang about in so lowly a state?

Here, on Christmas Eve, we are gathered to worship our Lord and God, to praise the creator of heaven and earth, to honor our savior and redeemer, and we find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. What should the fact that God became a child mean for us? I would like to suggest three implications.

First, it means that God has honored and dignified the state of childhood in taking it on himself. Most of us would agree that children are to be cherished and protected, but believe it or not this was not always so. Much of the regard that children receive in our culture is a result of our Christian heritage. In the ancient world, and Roman culture in particular, the strong and the mighty were admired and the weak and the vulnerable were marginalized. Such a culture had little regard for children. We learn from Seneca that children who were weak or abnormal were often drowned at birth. In fact, in the ancient world, children were often sold into slavery, and girls especially  were routinely left to die of exposure.

 Even the disciples seemed to regard children as little more than pests, shooing them away when they gathered around their teacher. Jesus was unusual in the attention and dignity he gave to children. Through his teaching, he started a revolution of compassion in the way that children are treated around the world.

It is alarming to note that as the Christian heritage of our culture erodes, so does much of the regard for children that the Gospel brings. Children are the first casualty of our idolatrous pursuit of pleasure, wealth, and status. They are increasingly seen as a nuisance to be avoided, a distraction from a life dedicated to the pursuit of self-interest. There is an increasingly vocal minority of couples who not only proudly announce their commitment to remain childless, but even refer contemptuously to parents as “breeders.” In contrast, God set aside child rearing as a holy vocation, when at creation he commissioned man and woman to be fruitful and multiply. Indeed he did not see it as beneath his dignity to be born as a child and raised in a family.

Secondly, in becoming a child, not only did God dignify the state of childhood, but he also revealed it to be an image of his own likeness. There is something in the character of childhood that reveals to us what God is like.  Even as a child, Jesus the Son of God, is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being. God is a child.

But some might object, “God may have been a child for a short while, but Christ is now a full grown man.” Yes he is, and yet he is also ever a child. When we worship the babe at Bethlehem, we worship Christ not as he was, but as he is. God the Son is eternal, all times are equally present to him. He will always be and always has been the child in the manger, just as he is always the one nailed to the cross, and the one risen victorious from the dead.

Jesus is always the son of his father’s love, cradled in his everlasting arms, resting is his bosom. Jesus and his Father are united in love, except one looks down in love at his child, and the other looks up with love to his parent.

 Infants can do nothing without their parents, they are helpless without them. Although equal in power and dignity to the Father, Jesus eternally chooses to be the son of the Father.  He says, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”  

At Christmas time we worship the Son of God who—abandoned to his Father’s will—for our sake became small, helpless, and vulnerable. The one who fashioned us out of the dust condescended to be born of a human mother.

He lived a life of obedience to his earthly parents. He made himself subject even to the rebellious rulers of this world. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” He lived and died for our salvation, to lead us, his brothers and sisters, to his Father’s love.  As George MacDonald writes,

 “When is the child the ideal child in our eyes and to our hearts? Is it not when with gentle hand he takes his father by the beard and turns that father’s face towards his brothers and sisters to kiss?” 

Jesus wants us too to share in his father’s love. He is the one mediator between man and God. 

Finally, because God became a child, we too should become like children. Jesus himself taught us this when taking a child in his arms he said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

If we want to follow Christ, we too must humble ourselves like he did. Look at how the King of Glory humbles himself by being born in a stable and laid in a manger surrounded by animals.  Furthermore, we must abandon any pretense to status or glory and live like babes in the arms of our father. What do children have that they have not received?

This holy night, let us worship and adore the Christ Child. Let us also learn from him, for he is the way, the truth, and the life. It is the poor, the humble, and lowly that are exalted by God, the ones who do the will of their father who are clothed with glory, and the child who receives the crown.