Sunday, December 25, 2011

Birth. Death. Life

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
December 25, 2011
 The order is birth, then life, then death. We celebrate birth, we live life, and at some point comes death. With Christ, however, there is birth, there is death, and there is life. We cannot prevent the death after life. Christ came in order to live and die. But He followed up death with life. Today, of course, we celebrate Christmas. What that means is that there doesn’t have to be the normal order of birth, life, and death. With us in Christ there is birth, death, and life. Our celebration of Christmas revolves around the fact of how we go from ending up in death to being in Christ and forever being in life. That is what the apostle John tells us today in the Gospel reading on our celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord: birth, death, and life.

You see, Christmas is not about keeping Jesus as a cute little baby in that manger in the stall. It is about getting Him up on the cross where He bled and suffered and died. I don’t imagine Mary was gazing down at her newborn Son with any thoughts of torture and suffering. I imagine her face glowed and her lips smiled as she looked down upon her precious baby and thought of all the wonderful days and years ahead of seeing Him grow and learn and doing all kinds of wonderful things. For Mary, I imagine Christmas was about what too often we think of Christmas as. And that’s not wrong. Mary wasn’t blasted out by God for enjoying the wonder of the moment of her giving birth to her firstborn Son.

No, God the Father was rejoicing as well. In that, surely. But also in something more. In something bigger and far greater. In the very reason Jesus was born. And that thing was to get Him to the cross. To suffer. To bleed. To be dealt the blow of the hammer of the Law, that He was pronounced guilty of all sins ever committed. It may seem odd to think about that on Christmas Day. It seems even more odd to think that this is what God the Father was rejoicing in. But if you pay attention to God’s story you see that it’s not odd at all but actually rather amazing.

What you see is that God is love and His love knows no bounds. It moves Him to send His eternally begotten and eternally loved Son to earth in a baby and to the cross in a beaten and stricken and forsaken manner. This is why Jesus’ life was for the purpose of death. You and I, well, our life is for the purpose of life, but it ends in death. That’s because we have chosen that. That’s what John makes clear in the Gospel reading. We love darkness rather than light. We love sin rather than the holy will of God. In the end, we love death rather than life. So our life ends in death.

This is how we see God’s eternal and amazing love. Jesus comes in with life in order to go to death. But while the end of our story is death, it’s not so with God. Jesus’ story doesn’t end in death. It’s not over at the cross. It ends in life. That’s actually kind of funny to say, because it doesn’t end at all. Life comes after death. The resurrection follows the crucifixion. Life is what it ends with; or rather, with what it remains as, forever. This is what is at the heart of Christmas. True, Mary wasn’t able to comprehend all of that at that moment. But we are. We are able to see in that baby the Savior. We are able to see in Him birth, death, and life. And in that baby we are able to see for ourselves that very same birth, death, and life.

John tells us about this new way it is with us, the new way with us that is the way it is with Christ. John tells us that even though we are of death, we now have this new life in Christ. This is the way he describes it: “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.” God is eternal. But when we are born we are born in sin and are born into death. In Christ we are born anew. Interestingly enough, this happens through death. Not by dying in the flesh, but by dying in Baptism. In Baptism we die to our sinful flesh. We are united with Christ in His death. His death was a death of dying in sin. We are united in that death in Baptism. Just as Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose from the grave, we are united with Him in His resurrection. In Baptism we are raised up to new life in Baptism.

This is how we now have birth, death, and life, just like Jesus. Instead of birth, life, and death, which is what we naturally have in our birth and in this life, we now are born anew, and in new birth in Baptism we die and rise to new life. Unless Christ returns in glory before we physically die, we will physically die. Even in Baptism we are not rid of the sinful flesh we carry around all our days. But in Baptism we are rid of the eternal condemnation we were born into. That means that on the day you physically die you will not be consigned to the grave or to eternal damnation. You will once and for all be rid of the sinful flesh you carry in this life. You will see in all its glory what it means to be born, as the Gospel reading says, “not of men but of God.”

You may not have thought that you would be considering your death on Christmas Day. The thought of her Son dying may not have crossed Mary’s mind that day He was born. The joy that came through birth was what was on her mind and heart. Consider, though, that it became clear to her soon enough not only what was on her heart but on God’s. That was that her Son’s birth meant death. It meant He would make His way to the cross. But it meant this because what was on God the Father’s heart was you and me and the world. It was life eternal for all of us. And that’s why Christ was born. That’s why He died. And that’s why He rose.

That’s the blessing we have today. To consider what is on God’s heart and mind. When we consider today that Jesus was born we are considering the fact of God’s eternal love for us. That means we are considering an even greater thing, that Jesus’ birth was followed by His death. We are considering this because it means that our life does not have to end in death and eternal suffering. It ends in life when it is new birth in Christ, being born of God in Baptism.

John tells us about another John. John the Baptist came as a witness. He made known who this Jesus was, the one who was born in order to die for the sin of the world. What a great opportunity we have on this Christmas Day to consider the life we have a ahead of us, to make known to others what Christmas is really about. That it’s about birth, death, and life, so that we don’t have to end up in birth, life, and death. What a great opportunity we have to look back to that day and see in the baby Mary gazed upon one who would give His all, give Himself, in suffering and dying on the cross for the sin of the world. What a blessing we have that in looking back on that amazing event in which God was born we can see that He is the one in whom we are born, not of men but of God. What a privilege and joy for us to see that as He humbled Himself to be in the arms of a young girl who gave Him birth that He for us humbles Himself to be in and with bread and wine that we may eat and drink and receive Him in the flesh and thereby be sustained in the new and eternal life He has given us.

Without Christmas there is only birth, life, and death. With Christmas, and the suffering, death, and resurrection that goes along with it, there is birth, death, and life, now and forever. Amen.


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