December 25, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“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 any thing made that was made. 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.”
John’s words about the Word are put before your ears again this Christmas Day. They take you to the reason for celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord. The heart of this day is found in what the Gospel Writer says about the Word: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Christmas Day is a time to celebrate life. Not celebrating everything that is done while living, but life itself, especially the life that has been restored to humanity.
John’s words that start his gospel account take us back to the beginning, the Creation Account. The Gospel Writer starts with the same phrase that gave us the first statements about God’s existence and ours. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So the Creation Account begins. So John states about the Word: “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 any thing made that was made.” This Word that became flesh and dwelt among us was before the start of time. He was present at the creation of the cosmos. He was the source of life at the very beginning.
But the same Creation Account tells us about the darkness that came into the world. The Lord’s creation that was full of life became full of death. Death was established as the curse for disobedience. It was so for the first humans who defied the Lord’s command. The same is so for you and your own transgressions. Every sin, great or little, is answered by the curse of death. And so you experience it all around in this creation. It is what you are forced to observe, forced to encounter, forced to mourn.
But what do you hear this morning? “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.” What happens in this creation with its darkness of death? Light shines in it. Light is given to you, the children of man. But it is not a light that comes from you; the light emanates from another and falls upon you. The light is from God Himself, is God Himself. The light comes from the life that is in God, the life that comes to this world with the nativity of Jesus.
That is what the Gospel Writer wants you to know. He tells you about this Word that is made flesh and dwells among you: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” The life of Jesus is the light of men. It can enlighten all, everything that was created by Him. His life can enlighten you—you who are benighted by sin, shrouded by death, lingering in the shadows of evil. This is given by the Man Jesus, but only because that same Jesus born in Bethlehem of Virgin Mother is also “begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” The true light that Jesus brings to you, the life that He carries is due to what the Epistle Writer disclosed about His identity: “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.”
John’s words about the Word take you back again to the beginning. But this time, there is a new beginning, a restarting, a rebooting. The creation that has fallen is graced again with life. That is what starts with the Nativity, why this day is a time to celebrate life. Just like in the beginning, a Man is once again created. He is not born of Adam, but has God as His eternal Father. He does not bear the flaw of sin. He is not corrupt like you and I. No, this is a pure source of life for the creation: “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…. And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” This grace includes the life that Jesus brings into the world victimized by sin and death.
Grace and truth are given by this Word become flesh. “Grace and truth”: How different those words sound to what this world puts forward! Revenge and retribution, lies and deception: those are words that we know well. They are words that mankind has seemingly known forever. They are what you deal with everyday. You experience all sorts of examples of them throughout your life: from children’s arguments over playthings to betrayals of confidence in the high school hallways to the vindictive natures of co-workers to the frauds that are attempted against senior citizens. Everywhere the opposite of grace and truth are seen. But grace and truth is what Jesus brings. And He makes it known to you.
John’s words about the Word tell you: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.” The Word become flesh has made God known; He has made Himself known. That is the light that He brings to the darkness. You know man. You know his lack of grace and truth. But the Word-become-flesh has made God known to you, including the grace and truth that leads to your salvation. What was lost after mankind followed lies and deceptions has been restored by Jesus. The identity of God as a source of grace and goodness has been made known by Him. Instead of only knowing God as a Supreme Being that needs to be appeased lest He smite you, you have Jesus showing Him as the source of blessing and good.
The graciousness and steadfastness of God is displayed in the Nativity of Our Lord. The birth of Jesus shows that God does not leave you helpless. He does not abandon you only to what your sin deserves. No, you are given to see the radiance of God’s glory and to see it used for your benefit. Jesus’ birth demonstrates that the promises made by God are certain and true. His words are not like those around you that are soon forgotten or broken. What He says will come to pass.
At the heart of this divine graciousness and steadfastness is what Jesus brings to you. John tells you about it: “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.” The restarting, the new beginning of creation is given to you. You have a new origin. You are rebooted. You are not only children of Adam; you have been made children of God. Life is made to be yours, as you are born of God, born from above, born again. The divine grace and truth are made your possessions. The divine light that is the life of men is shined on you. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The darkness of your sinfulness, your mortality, your own evil does not overcome the light that Jesus brings. Rather, His light overcomes your darkness. His light makes you children of the light. You have the life of men that Jesus has brought.
This is what the Church celebrates on this day. Life—the life of the newborn Jesus and the life that His Nativity brings—is celebrated. The joyous songs and carols ring out because of it. You are given to participate in the celebration. The birth of Jesus is remembered, the time when the Lord was once again with His people. What the prophets foretold has happened: “The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem. 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.” This is what the birth of Jesus has brought to pass.
In Jesus is found your life. In Him is your joy. That is what the grace and truth that Jesus brings has given to you. His Nativity marks the start of your new birth. The beginning of His life marks the start of your new life. And so you can celebrate life this day, the life that Jesus brings by being part of His creation, by becoming man, by being the Word-become-flesh. “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.” Thanks be to God the Father that His Son was born and brought grace and truth, so that you also could become children of God.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.