Christmas Day – The Word became Flesh
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Christmas is a Wishlist
What was on your wishlist? One of the great parts about being a Gibbonite is that it’s cheaper to do your shopping online than traveling to a store. So, as a result, websites like Amazon have become a part of our daily lives. And on Amazon you can have your wishlist. In fact, you can have multiple wishlists. And you don’t just have the ability to have your own wishlist; you can also order an rearrange your wishlist so that that your most-wished-for items are there on top. But, my dear friends in Christ, is that what Christmas is? Is it a wishlist? The big, huge problem with linking and connecting the idea of Christmas with a wishlist is that it assumes we know what is good for us and best for us. This morning we have the great privilege of seeing what Christmas is. And in a wondrous, beautiful way, we have the privilege of looking at Christmas through the lense of the Old Testament. In Exodus 33, we hear these words: “18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” 19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”” (Ex. 33:18–23 NIV11-GKE)
In these words we see that Moses has a wishlist. There Moses is on Mount Sinai. He has seen the ten mighty plagues strike the Egyptians with force and power. He has seen the Lord separate the waters of the Red Sea. And there he was, alone with the Lord. And the first and most important item on his wishlist was to see God’s glory. Right away, the Lord tells him, “no.” He lets Moses that no one can see God unfiltered and live to tell the tale. No one can see God’s face and live.1
What Moses learns here is such an important truth for us to learn and take to heart. For it’s the same sort of lesson and truth the shepherds learned. On the night that Jesus was born the angels appeared to the shepherds. And as they appeared this thick cloud of God’s presence was there too. That cloud was called, “the glory of the Lord.”2 The shepherds saw and experienced just a little of God’s glory. They didn’t even see God face to face. And what was their response? Did they cry out to the heavens, “Finally, my wishlist is fulfilled?” No. Instead, they were completely terrified.3
We are the same as Moses in our own ways, aren’t we? We have our wishlist. We too would like to see God’s glory. All those “omni’s’” we learn about in catechism—God’s omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience. We would like to see him using them with our own eyes and senses. But he doesn’t let us know when he’s using them. And he doesn’t let us know how he is using them most of the time. Glory is on our wishlist. But what was on God’s wishlist? Goodness was. He does not want us to see his powerful presence. Instead, he want us to look at this tiny child in a manger. He moves us to see his own nearness and dearness to us.
What’s on your wishlist? We have to admit that God’s glory is sometimes on our wishlist. But, God instead, moves his own goodness to the top of the list for us. But as we move two chapters down the road, we see that there is more on our Christmas wishlist for us: “4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. 5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”” (Ex. 34:4–7 NIV11-GKE)
Notice what in God’s wishlist here: graciousness. This is a hard word to bring over into english. It’s this gut-wrenching compassion parents have for their children. Parents know what this is like. It the feeling you get when the dad is riding his bike with his little girl and there is this huge smile on her face—until she hits some loose gravel and over-corrects. In a split second she’s on the ground, in so much pain she cannot even breathe yet. The dad sees this and, more than anything, he wish he could be there in her place. It’s the mom who chaperones for her son’s prom. And she sees her son go over and ask a girl to dance with him. From across the crowded gym the mom sees him with shaking hands ask a girl out to dance. And from the body language, she doesn’t just say, “no.” She sets aside the time to embarrass her son on top of saying, “no.” And the mom feels this clenching in her stomach. How she wanted to just simply be there for him, in his place, to feel the hurt, shame, and embarrassment for him. But she could not. And she tells herself what every loving mom tells herself, that he needs to grow from this and learn from it like so many other events in his life.
My dear friends in Christ, that’s what this compassion and graciousness is that the Lord speaks to Moses about. It’s this gut-wrenching love, care, and concern for someone you love. But there’s one huge difference between us as parents and God as our Father. God can do something with this gut-wrenching love he has for us. As parents there might be those times we would like to go through the shame and pain in the place of our children. But we cannot. Jesus did. This little tiny child that was placed in the manger grew up. And on Good Friday he experienced the pain of hell in our place so that we would never taste of that pain—ever. He experienced the shame of the cross so that all we would ever see and know is his love for us.
So, in a very beautiful, unique way, Christmas is a wishlist. But there is this irony, that we might move items up on our wishlist. But our good and gracious Lord moves them down the list or even off the list entirely. Instead, at the top of the list, he places his goodness. And there at the top of the list he places his graciousness. And with that then, there’s one last item that was there on the top of the list that fades away. our own lack of gratefulness fades away.
One of the huge temptations we face is to just simply take this Christmas list that God prepares and gives to us for granted. But these final words speak about punishment. He punishes those who hate him. It is this powerful reminder that each of us has this sinful human nature that treats Jesus like the world treats Santa Claus. Santa speaks, but he doesn’t really act. He makes his list and checks it twice. But nobody really is taken off his wishlist. Jesus does take people off of his wishlist. And this is a necessary truth for our old, sinful self to hear. And so, we repent of the times we have taken our Savior for granted.
But, finally, my friends, what moves and motivates this new person inside of each of us are these amazing words of compassion and graciousness. And here, in these words in the Old Testament, we see this day in a new light. For, in its own beautiful way, Christmas is a wishlist. It is a day when our Lord moves down or takes away the items on our wishlist so that he can give us the best gifts. On this day he gives us his goodness. On this day he gives us his graciousness. Amen.
1 ”לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לִרְאֹ֣ת אֶת־פָּנָ֑י“ (Ex. 33:20 BHS-T)
2 “ⲇⲟⲝⲁⲕ̅ⲩ̅” (Luke 2:9 GNT-ALEX)
3 “ⲕⲁⲓⲉⲫⲟⲃⲏⲑⲏⲥⲁ̅ ⲫⲟⲃⲟⲛⲙⲉⲅⲁⲛ·” (Luke 2:9 GNT-ALEX)