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Christ’s Agony at Christmas


Christ’s Agony at Christmas

Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

Let us read John 1:1-14, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” That by the way, is that verse that I told you of, if you follow the footnote A to the bottom you can see the Greek punctuation really reads, “That which was made was not anything made. That which has been made was life in him.” Well you see, the last clause of the previous verse goes into the next one, “And without him was not anything made,” it would stop there period and then, “That was made. That which was made was life in him.” So everything that had been made was first life in Christ. “And the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”

My brother used to be enthusiastic about van Gogh. My wife and I endured some of his paintings, but he was doing his best, you know, and so I got – obviously, you get interest in what your brother is interested in so I got interested in van Gogh. I found out of course, you remember, that he worked among the peasants during his early painting days and really tried to do some witnessing and felt he should be in the ministry early on. So one of the paintings that he did, I believe Peggy has rescued it somewhere and I’ve missed it for so long, but it’s of a chair like that and you probably know it, you’ve probably seen it and so the chair sits there and a very ordinary wooden chair, of course with van Gogh’s bright colors and this wood is thick, I’m just doing a little figure of it. But here on the chair there sits this old peasant and his scruffy old trousers here, and his head is bent over like that, and then his arms come round of course and hold his head, so he’s like that. And I think we have it somewhere, and I always thought it was van Gogh’s best painting because of course it has this title to it, which you will all of course, be able to immediately translate and I think you will, probably will remember, my translation of it because that’s it in French and that’s an acute I think, and that’s also an acute accent, but ‘O seuil de l’eternite”. And it is on the threshold of eternity and of course, that’s why I like the painting because the man’s obviously about to die in poverty and he’s preparing himself to meet God, so ‘o seuil de l’eternite’.

The other meaning of it is translated as on the threshold – at the beginning. Yes, it’s at the beginning and then I think it’s a good translation because it’s at the beginning of the, and very exciting, great journey. So he’s getting ready to go into eternity and preparing for it. This day which is so wonderful for us, this gentlemen was going that way. This dear Savior was coming this way. This one was going from time to eternity and our blessed Savior was going from eternity to time. We always think of this as a glorious time and only gradually do we realize the words that Charles Wesley is saying, “He wrapped him in our clay.” And I often think of now what Irene talked about with the little premature baby, you remember, that was born a few days ago that was – I don’t

know if Dan knew it, but the size of a cellphone, miniscule. And I think even of an ordinary babies are small and he was coming, our God, and again Charles Wesley’s great words, unbelievable you could get it in a poem and into a verse, “Our God contracted to a span incomprehensibly made man.” It couldn’t be better put you know, you couldn’t think of how you’d ever get incomprehensibly into a scanned piece of poetry. I don’t know.

But, our God contracted to a span to that, incomprehensibly he made man and came from eternity, from infinite space, from infinite beauty, infinite joy to this dark some house of mortal clay. And we always think, “Christmas, yippee, it’s great, it’s joyful.” For him, it was the beginning of suffering especially when we know what we know that all things were made through him, and by him, and for him, and all things in him hold together and he was the first-born of all creation, and he came to creation thousands of years before he came into the little stable. He came in the first man, in the first woman that was ever born and for him stepping into this was stepping into every dear guy that was shot yesterday in Iraq. Every dear heart that died yesterday in New York of aids, every little old woman in the Sudan who is starving to death and her baby lying crying beside her, every one of them Christ is in them bearing the unbearable so that they will be able to bear what is left.

So for him, coming into what we say the incarnation, him being enfleshed, him coming into humanity, was agony, agony. And you know when you think of it and you think of that, he’s the dear person that is keeping your blood flowing and keeping my heart beating. He is our – certainly our brother, but he is really our Father. He is the one who brought us to life and who is the one that sustains our life, and for him Christmas it was – it was precious because of his love for us, it wasn’t joyful and wonderful for what it meant for him. He stepped into hell I think, as we look around our world and we see the things that go on. Yes, we would say that, he stepped into hell. He descended.

We talk about he descended into hell, on the third day rose. This was it at least this was part of the hell. He stepped into the agony of life on earth. And so as we think of this, it’s very easy to miss the whole point of Christmas and to think, “Oh wonderful, yippee.” Yes, it’s yippee for us because it’s the greatest privilege a human being could ever have, to be born inside God’s Son. It’s wonderful, it is wonderful for us. It is what tells us you are not just miserable inanimate objects, you’re not just animals, you are part of God himself, you are infinitely precious, you are permanently valuable, but only because he himself was willing to give up everything. And I mean, I don’t know that I can get all of the words of that, but “that glorious form, that light insufferable, and that far beaming blaze of majesty where with he won’t at heaven’s high council table to sit the midst of tribal unity he laid aside and here with us to dwell forsook the courts of everlasting day and chose with us this darksome house of mortal clay.” (John Milton’s poem) And so that’s what Christmas is for him and it’s glorious for us, but we need sometime today to put our arms around him and sorrow with him. Let us pray.

Dear Lord, as you have seen life through us and from our viewpoint, and you have done that forever, since the moment your dear Father conceived you, you have looked at things through our eyes and from our position. We have always thought of you as high and lifted up and elevated above all this trouble. You have always been in the middle of it.

Lord Jesus, we want to thank you this day. We want to thank you for sharing with us all the wonder that you have had yourself, and we want to thank you for giving it all up. And all through these years, though they are a great eternal moment in eternity, for all these years sharing the agony and

the torture that we have brought upon ourselves here on earth. And we thank you Lord Jesus for bearing the main part of it so that we would be able to survive. And we know blessed Father, that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself and that you have experienced all this, and have chosen to face whatever we would do so that we would have a real relationship with you and would not just be impersonal detached play things that you created as an experiment, but you made us inside your own dear Son and inside yourself, so that we would have a real relationship with you and that meant you had to bear all that we did and Lord, we thank you.

Thank you for your great mercy and forbearance with us down through the years of time and through eternity so that we might be what you are in all your joy, and peace, and your love, and your beauty we thank you Lord. Amen.

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