Tonight we are reminded that Christ, the Light of the world, has come.
This is a good reminder because we often feel that we are, in ourselves, lights.
Christ says, "You are the light of the world," but this is said only to those who have the Word and Christ. What makes us the light of the world is the Word who was with God in the beginning. He is the Light of life. He is full of grace and truth. We are not, unless He fills us.
We who are not the Light were not the ones who went seeking God. The lost coin in the parable of Jesus did not get up with a light in its hand to go search. No, the Lamp which is the Word shone with the Light who is Christ. He illuminates and He finds.
That is what Christmas is about. It is God coming to seek us. Christ is God in the flesh, seeking us sinners.
Whenever mankind went searching for God, we found the wrong one. We all trusted our feelings to tell us who God is. That is what human flesh does, every single time. For the flesh is all the best capabilities of man - human intellect and wisdom and strength and will. All of it put together cannot find God.
Instead, the flesh in us finds an idol to worship. Our feelings lead us to a fantasy god. He may bear some resemblance to the true God. We may even call him Jesus or Jehovah or some other correct name. We may name him the Creator of the heavens and the earth. But no matter what good appearance we put on the fantasy god, it can only be what we want, in the end. The fantasy god we would create could never find nor save us.
But in the manager is the true God, no fantasy. He is not created by our feelings. He is the reality that existed before even the world was made. He is the eternal Word of the Father. If you are lit by God's truth, it can only happen because of this Light who was laid in human flesh in the manger.
We do not like a dirty manger for the eternal, only-begotten Son. Our flesh would have preferred tinsel and brightly-colored decorations and shiny things and pleasant smells. But the odors and sights in that place of beasts was not what our flesh likes.
God chooses what we would not choose, in order to seek us.
Our feelings do not approve of God's ways and works. "No, no!" cry our feelings. "We love everything that God does!" But no, it is not true. The preaching of Christ is foolishness. The Sacraments are a mystery to confound the wisdom of man. Absolution is nonsense. The holy ministry is a stumbling block. These things do not feel right to our flesh.
Instead, the flesh wants to reserve to itself the right to judge what are God's works. The human heart and the mystical vision and the deep emotions of our soul and experiencing the wonders of nature - these are the kinds of things that our flesh calls the works of God.
Certainly, the flesh will not tolerate being judged by God's Word. Instead, our feelings march out a whole host of rules and statutes of men by which to pass judgment on others. What do you know? - the rules we choose are always favorable toward us, although not always toward our neighbor.
God is justified in being angry at us for the way we treat His Word. The wickedness of our flesh twists His laws to suit us. All the while, we pretend at being such great saints because of the love we imagine in our hearts. Certainly God must prefer open sinners to such counterfeit saints. But that is what we all are, in ourselves.
If we lift up our own feelings and opinions above the Word and works of God, then we have only a fantasy god, not the true God, no matter how long we have called ourselves Christians or visited His house.
That is the state of all of us, in ourselves. But now He has come who was sent by His Father. Indeed, He is the exact brightness of the Father's glory. "We beheld His glory," writes St. John.
The glory of Christ is both His being and His deeds.
The being of Christ is that He is the only-begotten of the Father from eternity. So He is filled with light and life and grace and truth. These are the things He came to bring to us, from the richness of His being.
The deeds of Christ are that He became Man. He took human flesh in order to offer it up for us as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. He laid down His head in the manger in perfect meekness so that He could also lay down His head in death. This is the glory of the Word-made-flesh, that He worked mightily to be our Redeemer and Lord.
You could not see His glory on earth most of the time. Yet the glory was there. He seemed no more than a carpenter's son, as He also seemed no more than a baby in the manger. But concealed in His Body was the eternal, divine majesty.
His works on earth today are also glorious, although you cannot see their glory. The spoken word of a sinner in a pulpit, the splashing of water on a baby, the eating of papery bread and sweet wine - these are not glorious things to our eyes. But they are the works of the glorious God who is Man. Here is His life, given to bestow life on you. Here His glory covers over your sins. Here His Body, gotten from the Blessed Virgin, carries your iniquities. Here the Blood of God washes you clean as nothing else can. You cannot see it. But faith believes that these are the mighty works of the divine majesty.
So the grace of Christ comes to us. He is full of grace, the only Man who could be so filled with the merciful kindness of the Almighty. Mary was full of grace, and we are filled with grace, but only in that we receive from God the forgiveness of sins. Christ alone is full of grace in His own nature and being. Christ overflows with grace to you and me. We surely need it, since our own nature, free will, and works are nothing but deception, sin, error, and heresy.
But Christ was full of grace. Everything He did was pleasing and right in His Father's sight. Every other man earned disfavor. But Christ is the beloved Son, well-pleasing in every way.
Now that He is incarnate, Christ is the grace-filled Man whose lips drip with mercy toward us. He speaks kindness to us, His little brothers and sisters. For in His kindness, He calls us His kindred. The Word of the Father has become one of us, and does not despise us, even though we are more than worthy of rejection. God who is Man speaks gentle words to us in this Divine Service, speaking the truth of His gracious Gospel.
That is the truth of Christmas. God is Man in Christ. Man is now reconciled through the work of our dear Lord Jesus. The Creator became a baby, so that we weaklings and infants and cripples and beggars might be lifted up to the Father. And He delights in us for the sake of Christ.
In the Name of this only true God, with the Father and the Spirit, one God forever. Amen.
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