Beckett: Christmas Day Sermon – Christmas Enlightenment

Date: December 25, 2022
Festival: Christmas Day
Text: John 1:1-14
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Appointed Scriptures: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14
Sermon Hymn: LSB #382 We Praise You, Jesus, at Your Birth

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The sublime glow of candlelight at a Christmas Eve service conveys a feeling of peace. The dazzling lights of a Christmas tree radiate joy. All these shining lights symbolise one of the most important aspects of the Christmas message: enlightenment. Now, this is not the same enlightenment as the Enlightenment philosophers who founded America. Whereas their Enlightenment put man in the centre, the Christmas enlightenment has the God-man Christ in the centre. Thus, writes the evangelist, “In the beginning was the Word… All things were made through Him… In Him was life and the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… 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.”

It is easy to see that we live in a dark world, and things only seem to be getting darker, and therefore it is increasingly difficult to see the light. The holy estate of marriage is constantly under attack, as is the family; many are confused about their identity; horrendous murder occurs in the womb; mass shootings are on the rise; political unrest; and so on. We are surprised by these things, but why should we be? Again, America was founded on the Enlightenment philosophy that places man in the centre; God is put on the bench in this philosophy. When you create a society based on man in the centre, {spread out arms} this is what you get—a society full of narcissists who view marriage and the family as shackles, the ego as the arbiter of truth, an unborn baby as a parasite and destroyer of dreams, and so on.

To be sure, the Enlightenment has had some benefits, such as the rapid advancement in technology and medicine. There is nearly unlimited and virtually instantaneous access to information. First it was on the radio, then television, and now it’s in the palm of our hands {hold up iPhone}. Instead of calling someone on a house telephone, we can call or text on a cell phone, even do video calls on FaceTime or some other video caller. If you need to know a quick piece of information, what do you do? You Google it! My wife, Emilia, as a true European, still deals with degrees in Celsius. Sometimes I’ll tell her, “It’s 25 degrees out,” and she’ll ask me what that is in Celsius, and I have no idea, so I just Google it! You can also easily look up places to find a good restaurant to eat at and read reviews when you’re travelling. Or if you need a Christmas recipe, just use Pinterest or YouTube!

So, there have been some good things about the Enlightenment, but these hardly make up for all the darkness it’s brought upon us. Modern technology, for all its benefits, has led us into an age of spiritual disillusionment. It has literally brought on a new type of criminal activity called cybercrime. It has provided criminals the ability to steal peoples’ identity and bank information, allowing scammers to steal millions of dollars from Americans every year. The Enlightenment led to the first World War, then the invention of the atomic bomb in World War II, and now atomic war always remains a possibility. When someone is suffering with dementia or some other kind of ailment, certain countries have legislated laws to euthanise them because they’re a burden to society and it’s just the “rational” thing to do. Church attendance numbers in all denominations are drastically decreasing as people leave the Church to create their own me-centred spirituality. More and more, man is becoming the centre of everything—he is the arbiter of truth and morality. Ironically, then, the Enlightenment has not led to much enlightenment at all but has only served to increase darkness.

Yet in the midst of this darkness, we have this Christmas Word, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Interesting thing about that word “overcome”; in the original Greek, it can also be translated “comprehend,” thus, “the darkness has not comprehended it.” The Enlightenment philosophy is all about knowledge, about comprehending things. By putting man in the centre, Enlightenment philosophers like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams believed humanity could be changed only through the improvement of rational thought and, therefore, become enlightened. This is ironic, because the patent darkness of Enlightenment thinking fails to comprehend the Light of the world, Jesus Christ.

Today, we celebrate that the Light of the world came in human flesh as a baby, born of a virgin, whose name is Jesus. The Enlightenment thinker will use this to try to disprove Christianity, saying, “Virgins don’t give birth, so Mary was not a virgin.” Stuck in their own heads, they fail to realise that is precisely what makes the incarnation so miraculous! Everyone knows virgins don’t give birth! Yet they fail to comprehend that God does impossible things because, you know, He’s God. It’s what He does.

Or my favourite “enlightened” explanation about Jesus’ resurrection: that dead people don’t rise from the dead, especially after three days because of the state of decomposition Jesus’ body would’ve been in. Well, duh! We know dead people don’t rise from the dead and that is exactly why Christ’s resurrection is the Miracle of all miracles! Jesus shouldn’t have risen from the dead, but He did. Even His disciples thought He was dead forever. But He wasn’t because He’s God. He has the keys to Hades; He conquered what we cannot so that we, too, may experience a resurrection just like His [Rom. 6:3-5]. People do not rise from the dead. Until Christ. Until Christ, the Light of the world, permeated through the darkness of Death and Hell and rose from the dead, doing the impossible thing God always does to raise us from the dead as well. Such “enlightened” minds fail to comprehend that God does things on purpose, and He does impossible things because that’s what makes Him God.

But I digress. On Christmas morning, the Light of the world came to enlighten a people living in darkness—He came to enlighten you. We should remember this when we light our candles, Christmas trees, and our houses. Yet what exactly is this Christmas enlightenment? For the philosophers, enlightenment is man in the centre and the improvement of rational thought. The enlightenment of the Word made flesh, however, takes the focus off of me and puts it entirely on Christ and what He has done and continues to do. As we confess in the 3rd Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the truth faith.”

The Light of the world enlightens you with the gifts of His Holy Spirit. As you open your gifts today, remember you receive the Spirit’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. The Word made flesh came in grace and truth. Grace and truth, then, are not found in human reason but in Christ alone. In His spoken and written Word, Jesus delivers the truth about Himself to you—that, in His words, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” [John 3:16]. And in His Sacraments, Jesus delivers His grace to you, which is the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. These gifts do not depend on your ability to fathom these works of Christ with human reason; rather, they depend solely on the Word made flesh, the same Word who spoke all things into existence in the beginning.

So then, what does it look like to be enlightened by Christ’s gifts? It looks like confidence in the Word of Christ spoken and given to you. When your conscience burdens you with your sin, enlightenment looks like trust in that Word of Christ in Absolution, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When you are confused about who you are, enlightenment looks like looking to your Baptism for your identity that sings that beloved hymn, “God’s own child, I gladly say it.” And life outside these doors looks like your walking away from the Lord’s Table—that you walk away forgiven, free of guilt, and therefore free to forgive others just as He has forgiven you.

May Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, enlighten you with the gifts of His Holy Spirit, that you may be sanctified and kept in the truth faith to life everlasting. Amen.

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