December 25, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“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.”
We often talk about the mystery of Christmas. Usually it has something to do with changes in people’s behavior or unexpected acts of generosity. Think of the way Charles Dickens writes of Ebenezer Scrooge’s turning from selfish miser to charitable donor. But when the first chapter of John’s Gospel is read, the true Christmas mystery is noted: God becomes man and dwells with us. The Gospel Writer summarizes this major theme of Christmas Day, the Festival of Our Lord’s Nativity: “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 mystery of Christmas is Christ’s incarnation.
It isn’t left to your logic to understand what John describes in these words, only to receive and believe the message given. Essentially, there are three items of great importance that the Gospel Writer outlines in his prologue, this extended doxology that begins his account of Jesus’ life and work. First: the Word is God of eternal origin and causes creation to exist. Second: that same Word takes on flesh, becomes truly human, and lives here on earth. Third: that Incarnate Word has a mission, a purpose to achieve. This third item of importance makes Christmas Day significant to you. But that could not be the case without the other two being true. So set your minds on each of these statements that John makes about Jesus.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” John wants all to know exactly of whom he is speaking with this statement. He gives a full description of the Eternal Word. There is no doubt that the Word is divine. John is clear that this Word was not only with God or in some way equal to God, but that He is God Himself. This Word existed at the beginning of creation. He was there at the genesis of the universe.
But then John adds that important detail to the description: “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.” In these words the Gospel Writer notes that the Word was at the beginning of all things. But he also tells something more that is true about the Word: the Word was the prime cause of all things. Nothing exists that hasn’t been made by Him. The Word speaks and creation comes into being. He is the means of creation, the One who is the origin of life itself. This is what the author of Hebrews also made known in today’s Epistle Reading: “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.”
The Word is God Himself who creates and sustains. This is most important, because of what the Word would do. All things were made by Him, but the world that He created needed redemption. All creation has been affected by Adam’s sin and the death that entered through it. Everything that the Word had brought into existence was tainted. And so it was left to Him—the only One with the ability to do so—to redeem what He had first perfectly created.
But how would the Word accomplish this? How would He bring life to a world affected by sin and death? John tells us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Redemption of the world required the world’s Creator to become part of it. The Lord who had formed the first man out of the dust takes on the same human flesh in order to redeem humanity. “The Word becomes incarnate,” the Christmas hymns say. You led off the service singing about Him: “Son of the Father now in flesh appearing!”
That is what this morning celebrates. Christmas is wrapped up in the mysterious event of that incarnation. There is great joy because of the great privilege that has been extended to you, even in the midst of your sin and your corruption. The Lord humbles Himself to be just like you. He limits Himself to a human frame, even the body of an infant, to be born. It’s what an ancient hymn of the Church praises with these words: “When You took upon Yourself to deliver man, You humbled Yourself to be born of a virgin.” It’s what Church custom traditionally honors by kneeling or deeply bowing during the Nicene Creed when the phrase about the Son of God’s incarnation is confessed: “And became man.”
And yet, John includes another statement of great importance. The mystery of God-becoming-flesh is astounding. That the Creator would become a creature is miraculous. But it is all for no benefit for you if the action is simply for demonstrating that ability. The miracles of Christ are of little benefit to anyone if used for entertainment value. But as mentioned before, the Lord’s choosing to enter the world has a greater purpose: “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.”
Centuries ago, one of the great teachers of the Church named Athanasius wrote: “What God assumed, that He redeemed.” So it is with Christ’s incarnation: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He assumed human nature and made it His own in order to redeem you. This Infant Jesus, whose birth you celebrate, is God-become-man, so that humanity can be saved. Creation is redeemed by the Creator becoming a creature. That is the mystery of Christmas.
The Word becomes incarnate, so that you are saved. You heard in the Epistle Reading for this morning what He accomplished for you: “After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Redemption is given to you. The purification for sins required the offering of what was truly pure and holy. And so the death of God Himself—the Word that became flesh—has taken place, so that in His resurrection you may have life. What God assumed, He redeemed. To all who receive Him and His work is given the grand privilege of being made children of God. The Child who was born in Bethlehem grants you the power to become the Eternal Father’s children. And if you are children, you are also granted His inheritance. And what greater treasure does the Eternal Father have to give to you than life everlasting?
That is what makes Christmas significant for us. It is all about the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. So you have been told exactly who your Redeemer is: the Word who is God Himself, who created life, who took upon Himself humanity, and who perfectly achieves the goal of salvation for His people.
Remember again what the author of the Hebrews says: “After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….” There is something great hidden in that statement that gives Christmas one more added dimension. The same human flesh that the Word assumed and made His own He has also taken into heaven. And so it will be for you. What you inherit as the children of God is not just everlasting life, but a restored life in a restored Paradise. So wherever you view Jesus living in the flesh, you can see yourselves—even that you will eternally stand in the presence of God the Father.
So much is contained in this prologue of John’s Gospel that you heard this Christmas morning. The true mystery of Christmas is deep and inexhaustible, not even containable by all author’s books. God Himself takes on human flesh and gives you the right to be His children! Every time you explore this passage, you see more and more that is promised to you, more and more that is revealed about your Redeemer.
Once again, from this morning through Pentecost, you will begin to hear about the life of the Word-become-flesh that dwelt among us in this sinful world in order to bring salvation to it: “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.” May you hear what your God is like, as the Gospel is once again proclaimed in your midst: “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.” His glory is displayed for you, so that you may receive the grace and truth that makes you the children of God. That is the good news of a great and profound joy for you on this Christmas Day.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.