Sermon on November, 29th, 2020
Kirche am Bahnhof, Frankenberg
by Andreas Latossek
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
It is clear to all of us that if I’ve only read a short excerpt from a crime thriller, I don’t know how it will go on and how this scene even came about. One or the other of us is definitely full of the series junkie, whether it’s Lindenstrasse or the latest series on Netflix. If we get in the middle of it, then we lack the context.
We only think differently when it comes to the Christmas story. We hear a single story at Christmas and believe that is it. The Christmas story is only one, albeit a very central one, of many high points in a story that spans several thousand years and was written down in 1189 chapters and 66 books in the Bible. And if I’m trying to tell the whole story this morning so that we can get a better understanding of the Christmas story, then it has to be clear that at best it can be like a short spot before a series “What Happened So Far” at which will lack a lot of information and details. And spoilers beware, I’ll also provide a preview of how this story will end.
So let’s go back to the beginning, and by that I don’t mean the beginning of the Christmas story, but really the beginning. How it all started:
If we look at the beginning, then we can see how God actually intended life. And we learn something about God himself. In our broken world, this view of God is not so easy.
In episode 1, on the first pages of the Bible, God is described as the Creator of heaven and earth. Today one would say: The Bible describes God as the creator of the universe and of life. And everything that God created was very good. Everything was in the right place and lived in complete harmony with one another. These were paradisiacal conditions!
God could have been described quite differently in this first chapter of our human history: as a sadist, angry, who locks people in a cage, subdues them with violence or simply leaves them to their own devices. We encounter some of these images in contact with other people. And if we listen deep inside, then we notice that we, too, sometimes feel and think subliminally and react accordingly. But no, God is described as good, as incredibly creative, as generous, for whom the best of us humans is just good enough. He puts man in a garden. He could have put it in a desert, a skyscraper, an industrial hall. But God creates a wonderful living space for people, with diversity, with abundance, with freedom to live. It is said that it was desirable to look at, so it really makes you want to. It’s not just all gray on gray. That shines in the brightest colors, that is attractive. And God cares for people, he cares that they are well! With food, with a partner, with a purpose. He gives people a job of looking after the garden and taking care of this creation. And it shows that God trusted people to take on that responsibility.
In this episode we learn at the beginning that God wanted us humans: We are a priceless work of art, created by God himself, even like him. Johannes Hartl once said it like this:
God is sitting in heaven, and he comes up with the idea to create you. And he draws you and thinks: Wow, this Harald, this Maria, I have to create her. And then the angels come and look over his shoulders and then say: With all due respect, Your Majesty, you already have 7.5 billion who look so similar. Is that really necessary. And God says, no, you don’t have to, but that’s so nice. I want this Harald, this Maria so much. So you are something of a lover object. God loves you. You are created and wanted, loved, blessed and cared for. You’re beautiful. God wanted you just like that.
And then we read that God himself comes into the garden. We may think of it as a voice from heaven, but no, I think God met Adam and Eve at eye level in the garden. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. Genesis 3: 8 We don’t even know this word today: strolling. So go for a walk without a goal and enjoy what you see. That’s a picture of God. God loves life, and he is happy when you love it. But what is God doing in the garden?
Each of us are born into families, we need friends. God created us as relational people, as part of a community. One goes in alone, says a proverb. And so God wants fellowship with them too Humans have. He wants to talk to them, spend time with them, he is interested in their lives. We notice from the beginning that God created people to be opposite, with whom he would like to live a friendship. What an honor God wants us to be. So we lived in harmony with our Creator and with creation and there was a harmonious sound amongst each other. There was this “peace on earth” that was sung about by the angels in the Christmas story. So that was the beginning, what a cool start.
Now let’s go to the end. There are some readers who read the last few pages of a book first. They want to know how it turns out. For others, that’s the last thing, it takes all the tension out. I don’t know what kind of you are, but in our case it’s good to look at the end, the last episode, the Revelation, the last book of the Bible. And what are we reading there? The end bears an astonishing resemblance to the beginning. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.(Revelation 21: 3b-4a)
Just like the beginning of this story will be the end. There will be a place where God will dwell amongst people again, just as he originally intended. Heaven and earth become one again. We have looked a little more closely at this prospect on the last two Sundays. John cannot really put it into words because it is beyond our understanding, all human experiences. But what he can describe is that all the difficult things in our life will no longer be there. No suffering, no screaming, no pain, instead this peace that started it all. Justice will rule, love will rule and all evil will be destroyed. It’s going to be heaven! And the best: God is there.
But one question now arises: If everything started so well and everything ends so well in the end, why does a lot of things not feel so good today? Why do we discover so little about God and this divine peace in our world? All around us is poverty, hunger, injustice, exploitation, natural disasters, wars in which people fight against each other, families that are at odds. Instead of living life and enjoying this good creation, death is all around us and darkness has killed light. What went wrong in our history? Where is God and what kind of place have we made of this world?
Let’s jump back to the beginning. So in the beginning everything was fine, but then comes the story of the forbidden fruit, which we always mistakenly call the apple. God opens his garden to people, and he entrusts them with responsibility. And then all of a sudden we read from a tree in the middle of this garden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
I don’t know how to imagine that. But I notice that every freedom has limits. There is no such thing as unlimited freedom, it stops where I hurt the other. God does not put this tree in the garden because he now wants to test people. So a little nasty, let’s see what happens. No. This tree is only the guarantee for freedom. Without this tree, man would not be free to love God or not. He wouldn’t have a choice.
If you love someone, you know it. You don’t want the other person to love you because they have to. I don’t know why he has to, but you wouldn’t want that. Love is voluntary, and so God wants to be loved voluntarily. God has so much respect for his creatures that He gives them a choice. Since then, we have had the opportunity to choose freely how we would like to live. And it is not as if God gives man such a small garden with two trees, and he is not allowed to touch one of them. No, there is a huge garden. And one tree, one, is the limit.
This is where the snake comes in. But behind this serpent, we learn, is evil personified. The Bible calls him the diabolos, devil, mess-maker and his goal is to bring people away from God. All good films know this battle between good and bad. They are based on the great history of our human race. We subconsciously notice that there is something we cannot grasp. The devil sows doubts in Adam and Eve: God is not all that good. Real life is not at all with God. He wants to withhold something from us. Its limits only limit us. It is much better when we are in control of life. Then we can determine ourselves, take care of ourselves. We have chosen not to trust God, but to live by our own rules and write our own story. Like children, we wanted to grow up ourselves and live according to our free will.
We all know what it feels like to be betrayed by someone close to us. How sad must God have been. How could his creatures betray the trust he placed in them? Because of this, Adam and Eve were ashamed. For the first time fear and shame fell upon them, feelings that they had not known before, and they could not face God. When he confronted them, they blamed each other instead of confessing it and seeking his grace and forgiveness. The shame led to distance, the distance to misunderstandings and conflicts. A life in which God takes care of people becomes a life in which people think they can distinguish between good and bad and make good decisions, and have their own life in their own hands. Not needing God to take care of himself only to find that life is so complex that we are not up to it.
The intimate togetherness of people at eye level is clouded by shame in front of each other about their nudity, their needs, their guilt. Before they were a unit, a team, now there is division, competition, mutual accusations of guilt, selfishness, mistrust. Only a chapter later the first murder, a man takes two women, oppression and wars begin. The identity and the value that came before from the relationship with God, people begin to look longingly in other places, but they remain empty. Illness and death come into life that was not intended by God at all. Creation, too, gets confused and suffers from sin, as it is written in Romans. The earth is cursed, man loses his measure and begins to exploit it, conversely, famines arise, the relationship with animals and among animals changes. And so man has to leave paradise. He dies a spiritual death, the day you eat from it, you have to die – my identity, my relationship with God, my relationship with one another and with my environment, they break. And later the person also dies physical death. It was a huge turning point compared to the peaceful world. Nothing was like before.
But what is special about this story is not just its historical significance, but its relation to the present and to our lives. Because history repeats itself. We cannot hide behind Adam and Eve. We can’t blame them for ruining everything, for being better than them. Because we do the same thing every day. We also have a choice. And wherever we don’t trust God and his word, we act differently. And we see the consequences of it in our world, if we are honest we shame God in different areas of our life. Just as Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves, so we run away and hide. We try to talk ourselves out of it, pretend that nothing happened, trivialize, don’t talk about it, try to kill our conscience, make up for it with good deeds, or talk God away. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God Romans 3:23
Inwardly we feel that our behavior is not right, and we have an image of God in front of us that fills us with fear. Will he come and punish us, or will he just leave us to our own devices?
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. ”Luke 2, 10b-11
That’s what the Christmas story says. And in the Old Testament we read that a light shines in our darkness.
If we want to understand what Christmas is really about, then we need this big picture. At Christmas, it is not about the people of Israel, who lived under the brutal rule of the Romans and longed for a savior, now suddenly sees the new savior who frees them and brings the land to new beauty and greatness. Christmas is not about a nice story of a little more love and peace in our broken world and a role model that shows us how to get there. It is not about moral efforts of a human nature and also not, as in the story of Knecht Ruprecht, that the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. It’s about a lot more! Because the truth of all the images we have of God is that it hurts God to see us like this, in the state in which we are, because his love for us has not changed. He longs to restore the relationship to how it was in the beginning. Its essence does not change. He is the same as he was before the fall. But because it is so difficult for us to believe that, God himself decides to do this.
When we look at the life of Jesus, we see God and his love for us humans. Jesus says that he did not come to judge, but to seek and save lost people (Luke 19:10). To show a way home into the presence of God.
As in the made-up story of a forester who wants to save an ant colony from a raging mountain stream. The forester knew that the time for the snow melt was coming and that this stream would soon become a raging river that would tear the ants to their deaths. So he tried to slow her down. He put his foot in the way. But the ants didn’t know what to do with it and ran over it. For them, “foot” was something unknown and, in terms of size, also threatening. The forester put a stone in the way to cordon it off. But even the stone did not prevent the ants from continuing their way to the stream. They didn’t know yet that they were running towards death. They were only surprised that it suddenly got cold under their feet, caused by the large stone, and that they had to take a “detour”. Then the forester saw no further way out to save his ants from drowning than to become an ant himself. Immediately he spoke to the first ant: Stop, stand still! I am the forester and have the overview. If you continue running here, you will run directly towards a stream and thus to certain death. “” Ha, ha, “laughed some ants.” You are an ant like us and not the forester, that is now very clear to see “.” Yes, you have to believe me, I just want your best “” You’re crazy! “the ants said to him.” No, I want to save your life and show you the right way! Back there, by my house, you have a good and safe place to live. I had no choice but to become an ant because there is no other way for you to understand me.
God did not give up on us, but rather pointed out a plan for salvation right from the start, which runs through the whole great story, with many small preparatory steps, which will finally be put into practice at Christmas. When people gambled away paradise and covered themselves with leaves, God took care of them and made Adam and Eve clothes out of fur. Even here it becomes clear that someone has to pay for the debt, an animal had to die. This is the only way to restore justice. We know this from our legal system, and we all have it in us: The guilty must be punished. We know the concept of the scapegoat, or the sacrificial lamb. Later God continued this principle with his people, where once a year a lamb was sacrificed for the guilt of the people and a goat was symbolically blamed for the guilt of the people and chased into the desert. And already here there is a reference to Jesus, who is called the Lamb of God, who dies on the cross once and for all for the guilt of men. Unlike the forester, Jesus not only showed us the way, but first made it free by voluntarily accepting our guilt and our failure on the cross to clear away what stands between us and God. To make it possible to live a friendship with God again for the people who want that.
God raised him from the dead and thus stood by his Son and showed that his vicarious death on the cross really counts to pay for our debt. Paul writes in Romans 5: 1-2: After we have been absolved of our guilt by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We can trust him, he opened the door to this new life for us. We accepted this gift with confidence. And what’s more: we will one day share in God’s glory. This hope fills us with joy and pride.
Everyone who, trusting in Jesus, accepts the gift of forgiveness is reconciled to God. He can live in friendship with him again. Already now, even if not yet visible, but nevertheless tangible with God’s power in us, because Jesus lives, and in eternity as with Adam and Eve, that God will be visible among the people who want to belong to him.
This is the great story the Bible describes. It’s a story full of drama, but it’s a great love story. And it contains an invitation to us. No matter how your image of God has been up to now, no matter how great the darkness or the emptiness that you may have felt in your life “See, I proclaim you great joy that will befall all people; for today the Savior was born to you “that applies to you. And you can accept this gift of forgiveness and live in a relationship with God again.
We now want to praise God together for his being, that he loves us so much, and that he himself came to this earth in Jesus to clear the way again and did not leave us humans to ourselves. And that can be a time between God and you to tell him what is on your mind, to tell him that you want to get to know him more or to accept this gift that he is giving you.