A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
The Nativity of Our Lord – December 25, 2005
Text: John 1:1-14
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It all began with a Word. Not just any word, of course, but the Word – God’s Word. Before there was a Church, before there was a world, there was the Word. Creation dawns, and we find God speaking to himself; as God speaks his Word, the very thing he names bursts onto the scene. Light! Sky! Land! Sea! The Word has hardly left God’s mouth – it is still hanging in the hushed, still air – and immediately it is at work, drawing something from nothing, accomplishing God’s creative purpose. Once the Word is let loose, there can be no doubt – it will achieve what God desires. God himself says so: “my word … that goes out from my mouth … shall not return to me empty,” he declared to Isaiah the prophet, “but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
You and I use words casually, even carelessly, but God never wastes a word. That’s not to say God is silent; in fact, God is constantly speaking. Unlike us, however, God’s every word is deliberate, carrying within itself the power of creation. God’s Word is the farthest thing from celestial chatter; every word spoken by God is in fact a sure promise of something yet to come.
It’s sometimes said of men that they are as good as their word. There is no difference between what they speak and what they do; if such a man gives you his word, you can be sure that he will move mountains to make whatever he has proposed come to pass. A man like this, who is as good as his word, can be counted on, even when the odds seem stacked tall against his promise.
The story is told of Andrew Carnegie’s visit to Princeton University in the year 1902. The steel tycoon had worked furiously to build his fortune, and now he was laboring just as mightily to give his wealth away. After a full-court press by Woodrow Wilson, who was then president of Princeton, Carnegie agreed to visit the campus. With visions of libraries and science labs dancing in his head, President Wilson showed the millionaire around his university, making sure to point out areas where the Carnegie fortune could be put to especially good use.
After a very full day of touring, Wilson escorted his guest to the train station. Boarding the train, Carnegie turned and thanked the president for a very instructive day at Princeton. What’s more, he had made a decision: “I know exactly what Princeton needs,” Carnegie declared, “and I intend to give it to her.” At that moment, Wilson must surely have thought he’d hit the jackpot.
“Yes, I know what Princeton needs,” Carnegie continued. “It’s a lake. Princeton should have a rowing crew to compete with Harvard, Yale, and Columbia.” And with that bombshell, Andrew Carnegie left his dumbfounded host gaping on the platform, and boarded the train. A lake! What sort of bizarre joke was this? What kind of man promises to create a lake where none ever existed, simply so that a college might form a rowing crew? Wilson must have thought the day – and perhaps Andrew Carnegie’s sanity – a complete loss.
But the tycoon came through – he was as good as his word, and his word was good as gold. Less than three years and nearly nine million of today’s dollars later, Princeton crews were working the three and a half miles of Lake Carnegie, preparing to face their Ivy League rivals, just as Andrew Carnegie had envisioned. As outlandish as his proposal had seemed, what Carnegie had promised, he delivered to the school. And Woodrow Wilson, knowing a thing or two about diplomacy even then, accepted Princeton’s new lake graciously, knowing never to look a gift horse in the mouth.
The words that the millionaire uttered that strange day at the train station were backed by both his determination to see the thing done, and all the power his wealth could muster. What he said to President Wilson, Carnegie intended to accomplish. He had made a promise – he had given his word.
In Christmas, God comforts his hurting people – “Look! I give you my Word!” God did not seal his Word in a handshake, but in the flesh of a human child – the newborn Jesus. In Jesus, we have God’s Word, in all its creative power, working among us in ways we can see and hear and taste and touch, to bring about all the good that God desires for his creation. Jesus is God’s promise to us.
A human promise is strong, but even its strength can be broken by sin or circumstances. Jesus the Word will be hindered by neither – remember that God’s Word always succeeds, never returns to God empty. God sends the Word out full of power to make all things new, and he returns full of joy at the bountiful success.
W have God’s Word. But what is that Word for us, who can see and love the light, yet for now remain in the darkness of this world? What is the promise that is so sure that it is hardly different from an accomplished thing?
Here is a promise: “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” You have God’s Word on that.
Here is another: “On this mountain,” proclaims Isaiah, “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” Here also, you have God’s Word.
And here is yet another promise of God: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” Here, too, God gives you his Word.
Like the greatest of our promisers, God has set his full will and all his power to bringing these things to pass. But unlike the words of even our best men and women, God’s Word will never fail. What God set in motion on Christmas Day was nothing less than the salvation of the universe, the re-creation and renewal of heaven and earth. It is outlandish. It is not what we had looked for. But God has given us his Word that these things will surely come to be, and so they will.
Today, as we celebrate the birth of God’s Word in human flesh, we also cling to the promises his Word guarantees. God is as good as his Word, dear friends – and his Word is good as gold.
A very blessed Christmas to you. Amen.