John 1:1-14 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Day)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 25, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text is the Gospel lesson for Christmas Day, from John 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 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 Gospel appointed for Christmas Day surprisingly is not the story of Christmas from Luke 2 that we are all familiar with—Mary giving birth to her firstborn son, wrapping Him in swaddling clothes and lying Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn; the angel announcing to terrified shepherds that there is good news found in the Savior born in Bethlehem; the whole angelic host singing to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest.” And while it is not the more familiar account of Christ’s birth, John 1 is really the best text for Christmas Day because it focuses us on the big picture. We step back from Luke’s intricate details to see the larger scope of God the Son becoming flesh and dwelling among humanity and what the incarnation and nativity of our Lord is really all about.
To begin to consider the amazingness of God coming into the world as a human takes one’s breath away right from the start. In his Table Talk, Martin Luther said, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.” In the beginning exists the eternal Word—the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son—He was with God and was God, 100% equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. God the Son was the agent of creation, the “word of God in action,” the Speech of God, the Will of God through whom God works. It is He who became flesh and made His dwelling in the very world He had made.
The Word of God who became flesh is the One in whom is life, the life which was the light of humanity. And so the Word becomes flesh in order to illuminate and dispel the darkness of sin and death. The deeds and words of Jesus which accomplish this are the deeds and words of God. As we confess in the Nicene Creed, it is “the Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God or very God . . . who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.”
Thus the Son of God, Jesus, the true Word of light and life comes into the world He created, but a world very different from the One He created. When God created the heavens and the earth, His creation was declared “very good.” But in short order, the creation went from very good to very bad. Adam and Eve disobeyed the Word of God. They ate of the fruit which God had commanded them not to eat. And so they, their children, and their children’s children for all generations are sinful and unclean. It is to this world of sin and death and corruption that God comes in human flesh in the person of Jesus in order to redeem and to save this world from sin and death and corruption.
Now even before the incarnation and nativity of Jesus, God was in the world He had made. God never pulled up stakes, abandoning His now fallen creation. The world has remained the object of God’s love, even though the world of mankind doesn’t see fit to acknowledge God, refusing to recognize His revelation or respond to His words. Yet at Christmas, God in the person of His Son, Jesus, comes to His own world in a very special way—in the very flesh of humans—and the world doesn’t know Him. The general response of humanity to the coming of Christ is the same general response that the world has given to the Lord throughout the centuries.
But we wouldn’t expect much different, would we? We expect the sin-filled world of humanity to reject the Father and the Word and the Spirit. But what about God’s own special people? The Word of God came in the form of special revelation to the people of Israel through Moses and the giving of God’s instruction found in the Law, the Torah. God’s Word came to the people of Israel through the ministry of His prophets who spoke for God and proclaimed His judgment and grace to the people. And then there are the mighty acts of judgment and mercy that God performed in their very midst—things like the plagues on Egypt, the Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the victory at Jericho when the walls fell down flat. Repeatedly, however, the testimony of God’s spokesmen was rejected and ignored. Jeremiah 7 records God’s frustration, “From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day [the eve of the Babylonian exile], I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.” (Jer. 7:25-26)
But now in these last days God sent to Israel His “one of a kind” Son. Surely, they would respect His Son! (Matt. 21:37) The Word of God comes to His own covenant people in an unprecedented way—in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. But His own people would have none of Him when He came. He was rejected and thrown out of His hometown of Nazareth. (Luke 4:16) The cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum rejected Jesus. (Luke 10:13-15) After the feeding of the 5000 John’s Gospel tells us that many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. (John 6:66) Following the resurrection of Lazarus, the chief priests and Pharisees and the whole Jewish Council made plans to kill Jesus.
So the Word came to the world that He had made, but it did not know Him. The Word came to that which most uniquely belonged to Him—Israel—but His own people did not receive Him. This double rejection seems to be the undoing of God’s intention to redeem and save all people from sin and death by sending the Word in whom is life and light. Had none at all received Him, the darkness of sin and death would have prevailed. We wouldn’t be sitting here this morning rejoicing in the God who became flesh so that He might save us. But thank God this isn’t the case. Some did receive Jesus, the Word of God, gladly, and showed themselves to truly be His own people.
So John writes, “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.” This is possible only through the Word of God in action who initiates a new creation of a new people. Christ accomplished what He took on human flesh to do—to redeem and to save us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. To see the Word of God in action we only need to look to the cross and see Him who is light and life dying in supernatural darkness, bearing the sins of the world, suffering God’s rejection even for those who rejected Him. Yet, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus is risen from the dead, guaranteeing that God the Father has accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. In Christ, the Word of God made flesh, crucified and risen, we receive complete forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
By the grace of God alone, we receive these gifts through faith in Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God Himself in the message of the Gospel, you and I have been gifted saving faith in Jesus. We believe and confess that Jesus is true God and true Man. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we yield our allegiance to Him and acknowledge His claims and His truth found in the inspired Word of Scripture.
By this new spiritual birth of faith in Jesus alone we are brought into the family of the heavenly Father—a new people. We are the members of the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church. From God you and I have received the divine birthright, the blessings and privileges of being His children. It was Jesus who won this birthright and blessing for us, bringing us the light and life of forgiveness. This is the gift, freely given to us by our Lord, in love. We read in Galatians 3, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:26-27) For “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4)
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1John 3:1). God the Son became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth, light and life. He faced rejection from the world He made and even from His own people Israel. He endured being forsaken by the heavenly Father, dying on the cross for your sins, the sins of Israel, and the sins of the world, so that through the forgiveness and life which His death and resurrection purchased and won for you, you are children of God.
And that’s what the incarnation and nativity of our Lord is all about. Without Christmas there is no cross. Without Christmas, there is no forgiveness. Without Christmas there would be no resurrection, and no life everlasting. But there was Christmas, the birth of Jesus, the Word of God. There was Christmas so that, through the gift of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, you might receive Jesus by faith as your Savior, believe in His name, and so be the children of God He has made you to be. Amen.