Sermon: “The Present of Presence”             

LSB Series B

Christmas Day; December 25, 2020

Gospel Reading: John 1:1-14

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

What is the greatest Christmas present that you have ever received? What was your reaction to that present? 

I can remember one year when I was quite young, and my mom had set up a surprise for my dad. Since we come from a blended family, being together is rare. Well, on this Christmas, my mom had arranged flights for my older brother and sister to fly to our house in Michigan from Texas. My Dad had no idea, and nor did the three of us younger kids. It was probably good that she didn’t tell us. I am sure one of us would have blown the secret. 

But, wow, was it awesome that moment they walked through the door. And not just for my dad. I can honestly look back and say that was probably the best Christmas present I had ever received, and it technically wasn’t even for me. But, looking back, I can honestly say that the greatest present is the gift of presence.

That is what Jesus gives on Christmas Day. His present is to be present with us. Not on Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime, or anything like that, but in person. It is what is known as the incarnation: God becoming flesh, the Creator becoming a creature…a human.

Just think of what it must have been like for baby Jesus to all of a sudden be an infant in a manger looking up into the eyes of his parents…the parents He had created. Ever since the beginning, the beginning of the universe that is, He had been looking down from His throne in heaven at the world. Now, His perspective had been completely reversed. 

There in that manger though, was the long-awaited and promised Messiah. Like no one seemed to expect, He came to be One of us in order to save us. In fact, He promises to be present with us always.

Our world has in many ways been robbed of incarnational realities. The present of presence has been difficult for us to come by. Words like restrictions, isolation, and quarantine have been such a regular part of our vocabulary, and the unfortunate result is that people are lonelier than ever. Loved ones long to be seen, held, and hugged.

We are a people who crave presence. We covet interaction. We are not meant to function in isolation and separation. That is why this time of this pandemic has been so hard for us. It is against our nature and the makeup of who we are as human beings to not be able to gather as we once did.

At the beginning of the month, I had the wonderful opportunity to see my parents as my father wrestles with Alzheimer’s. While on that same visit, I also got the chance to see my one living grandparent. But it just wasn’t the same. There was my grandmother, and yet we could only speak to each other through the glass of the doors.

I am sure countless people here can relate to this heart-wrenching circumstance. I can honestly say that before this most recent visit, I don’t think there had ever been a time that I had seen my grandma and not given her a hug.

When it really comes down to it, it is not the presents under the tree that we crave, but rather the presence of loved ones near us.

          Hearts ache as loved ones have had to die alone. Hearts ache as families make the hard decisions not to gather as they normally would do. Hearts ache as the gift of presence is robbed of us in this ongoing pandemic.

          Hearts ache, and we hurt. This is a Christmas unlike anything we have personally ever experienced. It is not that pandemics have not occurred. They have. But, for most all of us, we have not experienced this in our lifetime. And with nothing to base this on, we feel the pain of the present circumstance.

          We come here longing for the comfort of God’s presence, longing to be filled with joy and gladness, yet darkness seems to loom large. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? Where can we find hope as we trudge through constant hopelessness all around us? (Pause)

          As I said before, the greatest present is present with us. He is Immanuel, God with us. Look into that manger again. See that baby gift-wrapped for you in swaddling cloths. As He looks up into His parents eyes, so He looks at you too. He comes here with one mission in mind. To go from His throne in heaven to the throne of the manger to the throne of the cross.

          He is the incarnate God. He is the One who became flesh and dwelt among us. What does that mean? Perhaps an illustration would help.

          Over 100 years ago Father Damien deVeuster, a Belgian priest, began working with lepers on a small Hawaiian island. He lived and worked among them, helping them get fresh water, a sanitation system, and they built a chapel together in which Father Damien would begin each sermon. “You lepers, know that God loves you.” 

This went on for a while. Finally, one Sunday Father Damien began his sermon this way: "We lepers…know that God loves us."

Father Damien decided to dwell among and love people with a contagious, deadly disease. He touched them, ate with them, became one of them, and stayed right there with them until he died. 

Jesus came to dwell with and love people with a contagious, deadly disease. That disease is sin. He touched them, ate with them, became one of them and stayed with them until He died.

Yes, He who knew no sin became sin for us. He couldn’t stand being separated from us, so He endured separation from God for us. And there, under the tree of His cross are presents for us: Forgiveness, life, and salvation. As His blood dripped down beneath Him, so we receive what He shed for us.

          Today, Christmas Day, we gather and receive the blood, along with the body, of the Incarnate God who gave His life into death for us. (Pause)

          Now I could stop and ask you all what your favorite present was this year, but you need look no further than the altar there before you. You need look no further than the manger in Bethlehem. For there is the One Joseph was told to give name Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. There is the One Mary sang of in her Magnificat as her soul magnified the Lord.

          Well, here today is the Son of God. Here today, through Word and Sacrament, He is ‘really present’ with us in, with, and under the bread and the wine.

          But have you ever noticed that when it comes to presents, there is often the unfortunate reaction of disappointment. All too often, we want more. All too often we think or say: “Is that all?” We are rarely, if ever, are satisfied. 

And that’s the way it can be for us as we gather on Christmas. We see the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and we easily take this good news of great joy for granted. We look at the small wafer of bread and the sip of wine and question if it is enough. We hear the Word spoken to us, and well, it just doesn’t seem to help us like we want to be helped.

Really?! God comes down from heaven to earth and we want more? The Creator of the universe becomes a creature to save creatures like us, and we think it’s not enough? The One through whom everything was made and without Him nothing would have been made takes on our flesh, and we aren’t satisfied?

What is it going to take then, if that is not enough? Oh, how often our sinful selfishness gets the better of us and we totally miss this wonder before us.

This baby in the manger is our sole source of hope when it comes to separation and isolation we have and continue to experience in our lives. This day calls upon us to see that for as much presence that has been robbed of us in this pandemic, we need look no further than the manger.

Just like Mary and Joseph who looked down into the eyes of their beloved Son, so we are to do the same. We see Him as He reveals Himself to us, as He comes to us. Through the Word of God spoken and under the bread and the wine, God delivers Himself to us, and in doing so gives us a present that is more than we could ever ask for or imagine.

He gives us the present of peace. With sins forgiven, our relationship with God is restored. Our aching hearts are healed by the soothing balm of the Savior. And, we are now a part of His family, children of God, never to be abandoned…never to be left alone. 

See here today that this is where the greatest present is given to you. His name is Jesus. And soon He will come again and the separation will be ended forever. Until then, He promises to be with you always…in the Word who was made flesh. So, no need to look further for a greater gift. The hope of Christ’s cross and empty tomb are here…and it is all…for you. 

Merry Christmas!

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.