“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And 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.”
The Lord God takes on human flesh and nature and appears on earth, full of grace and truth. It is a novel concept in the history of religious teaching. But what the Evangelist describes with his words is neither legend nor myth. This is not the better mousetrap of religion, a finer crafting of human concepts about deity. Rather, it is a description of how divine life and light again make themselves present in the darkness of death and sin. It is the story of re-creation revealed by the Lord and Giver of Life Himself.
The Evangelist tells of the great mystery of how God became man in order to save mankind. “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven”: so the Church confesses in the Creed. It is a confession of faith, of belief in what transpired in
John’s Prologue to the Gospel literally takes the hearers back to the beginning: “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.” The beginning of creation is the focus of John’s opening sentences. God the Father spoke the Word, God the Son, and creation came into existence: light and darkness, land and sea, sun and moon, grass and trees, birds and fish and land animals. That same Word was spoken when God the Father said: “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” And everything was good.
Yet you know how what was good in the beginning quickly became anything but. What once had the fullness of God’s favor lost it with the Fall into sin. As the medieval carol says: “Adam lay ybounden, bounden in a bond; four thousand winter thought he not too long. And all was for an apple, an apple that he took, as clerkes finden written in their book.” Man lost the likeness of God, becoming thoroughly tainted and corrupt. What the Word had made and pronounced as very good was now evil. Death entered where there once was nothing but life.
But the Word which was in the very beginning was not tainted, not marred by sin, not cursed by death: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Word was still there after the Fall, and it was a word of promise, even amidst the divine curse: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” This was spoken in the beginning, a Word of salvation for mankind.
There would be deliverance for Adam’s sinful children of all generations. But it would not be an angel or any other creature that would bring it about. In fulfillment of this promise, the Word and the light and life He possessed came down from heaven to redeem creation: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” For it is the same creating Word that would accomplish what had been promised: “All things were made through Him,” and all things would be redeemed by Him.
And so “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.” The Logos, the Word which brought all things into existence, was Himself made man, held by the Virgin Mother [as you see depicted on your service folders]. He becomes man to atone for the sin of Adam and all men. The Creator takes on human nature, so that He may give Himself in sacrificial death.
That is the great two-fold mystery of Christmas. There is the first profound mystery: God became man, the divine became human, and yet still remained fully God. How this can take place is beyond our understanding, but the Word was spoken and was conceived as a male Child in Mary’s virgin womb. What was spoken came to pass in fulfillment of the Lord God’s will. And there is the second mystery: The love of God for His creation was so great that such a selfless act was done. That is beyond our comprehension, as the love we show, even during these holidays, never reaches that level.
But these acts did occur, mysterious as they may be. And with them come consequences and results that gladden the hearts of men and women around the globe. The Evangelist says: “[The Word] was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” It is evident that not everyone believed what happened. And yet, there were some who believed what the Word said in the beginning: “But to all who did receive Him who believed in His name, He gave the right 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.”
What the Evangelist describes are those who received and believed the Mystery of the Incarnation. For them, the Word speaks and delivers to them what He has earned. Salvation comes to the descendants of Adam, so that they may rightly be called the children of God. For the Word speaks alongside the waters of Holy Baptism and generates life in them, the life that the Word always possessed. He declares them to be adopted, and so they are, restored to the status of Adam in the beginning—having God’s favor—and promised to be re-created in full at the Last Day.
Re-creation and restoration: that is what the life-generating Word accomplishes. The Nativity of the Incarnate Word is the first chapter of this taking place here on earth. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” so that this could take place. Christmas is always celebrated with Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Ascension Day, and Pentecost in mind, as is seen in the great Christmas carols. For it is not simply a day to speak about the event of God becoming man, but that “we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It is grace and truth that the Son of God brings which makes you God’s children.
Paralleling the Evangelist’s description about the Word is the Author’s writing about Him: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . .” These are the acts of grace that the Word does for you. And as you receive the truth about Him, the purification of sins He brings is yours. You are regenerated and restored by the Word who first made you.
The Prophet said: “The Lord has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” The might of God is seen in the Word becoming flesh. His glory has been seen in the undoing of Satan’s works here on earth. And so, you have become witnesses of divine salvation, experiencing it yourself as the Word-made-flesh, the Son of God, makes you God’s children.
So it is that the Nativity you celebrate on this day is not only a commemoration of Christ’s birth. It is a celebration of your own regeneration accomplished by the Incarnate Word of God, as you prayed this morning. John testified about Christ: “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.” As John saw, so you also shall see in the fullness of eternal life, when the restoration and re-creation begun in you by the Word is completed at His return. For life is still in Him, new life which is meant for you.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.