Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Something New Under The Sun: A Christmas Sermon

(I wrote this sermon last year as part of a series on the scripture references that form the basis of Handel's"Messiah."  When my pastor asked me to preach a few Sundays ago, I thought this would serve as the basis of the sermon.  The sermon preached is very different from the original version appearing here.  Soon the spoken sermon will be posted on my audio blog.)

God is in the business of doing new things.  Yet there is a scripture passage that would seem to contradict this statement and the title of this message:

"...There is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which it may be said, 'See, this is new'? It has already been in ancient times before us." (Eccl. 1: 9-10)

So says King Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes.  In speaking of the realm of human affairs, Solomon's statement is true.  Humanity's habits have changed very little, if at all.  We can even say this statement is still true when we speak of heresy.  Today we see a plethora of books by scholars and popular writers rejecting the triune nature of God, debunking the divinity of Jesus Christ.  These writers claim that the Church was made up of many competing factions each proclaiming a different Gospel.  They say that the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity prevailed because the orthodox faction had the power to crush all other competing versions of the Gospel.  Jesus, say these writers, never claimed to be the Son of God; the doctrine of His divinity was forced upon the Church centuries after His death and the Biblical manuscripts were altered to reflect the triumphant orthodoxy.  Much of the current literary output on this subject claims to be revolutionary, that these views have just surfaced recently.  But these views have been around since the Church's beginning.  John the Apostle wrote:

"By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.  And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.." (1Jn. 4: 2-3)

There is a familiar verse from the Old Testament, a promise many of us sing to the tune written by Handel in his oratorio, "The Messiah":

"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Is. 9:6)

Isaiah continues in the seventh verse:

"Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order and establish it with judgement and justice from that time forward, even forever.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this."

This promise describing the Messiah is older than the Church itself, nearly 650 years before the birth of Christ and nearly a thousand years before the Church's first written declaration concerning the Trinity.  These two verses paint a wide-ranging picture of who Jesus is.  And it is a picture of the Triune God; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Let's examine the names ascribed to Jesus in Is. 9:6.  It should be no surprise that He is refered to as the Child, the Son, the Prince of Peace.  But look at the other names He is given:  Lord of hosts, mighty God, Everlasting Father.  Everlasting Father?  These are names generally associated with the first person of the Trinity.  Then there is the name Counselor.  This is a title given to the Holy Spirit.  The birth of the Child is the revelation of the Triune nature of God to the world.  In the Child does all the fullness of God dwell. (Col. 1:19)  These two verses from Isaiah contain a promise older than any heretical notion of Christ's identity.  It was a promise of the manifestation of the Triune God made nearly a thousand years before the Church first articulated the doctrine of the Trinity.

God revealed Himself through the birth of a child.  And when God revealed Himself through the birth of a baby, He truly did a new thing.  True, we can speak of the Incarnation as an event that occured more than two thousand years ago.  But when Jesus enters the heart of a new disciple when that disciple first truly believes (Eph. 1: 13), a new thing is done under the sun.  You and I are so unique that when Christ comes to dwell in our hearts, Christ, who is still all that Is. 9: 6-7 tells us He is, the clothing of Christ within our flesh and the manifestation of Christ through us is truly a new thing that hapens every day around the world.  There has never been, nor ever will be, another "you" or another "I" through whom Jesus lives out the Christian life as He dwells within us.  As the Christmas season comes and goes, let us not forget that as we continue in our walk with God, the new thing done in us continues to unfold, so that that new thing is always happening in us.  In our usual day-to day routines, this newness of Christ's work in us does not always seem apparent.  That is why we need a season to celebrate the birth of Christ.  We need to take time to thank Him, worship Him and wonder at the new thing He is doing in us.         

(All Scripture quotations are from the NKJV)

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