John 1:14-18 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Day)
“Grace and Truth are Your Gifts”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 25, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The text for this Christmas Day is from the Gospel reading, John 1:
14The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as that of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15John bears witness concerning Him and has cried out, saying, “This in the One of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for He was first compared with me.’” 16For from His fullness we have all received, indeed, a gift in place of a gift. 17For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. The One-of-a-Kind [Son], Himself God, who exists in the bosom of the Father, He has made [the Father] known.
A blessed Christmas Day to all of you in the name of Jesus!
I would guess that by now most of the presents have been opened, and if not now, by the end of the day as you gather with family and friends. I’ve found it interesting that as we celebrate God’s gift of a Savior that the reception of presents, especially from Santa, is conditional—have you been naughty or have you been nice? There is that part of the gift-giving tradition that suggests that one has to have earned the present throughout the year. Rather than simply letting our gift giving be a reflection of God’s gift of His One-of-a-Kind Son, people have put stipulations on it. If you are nice, you get the good presents. But if you are naughty. . . I suppose that even if you are on the naughty list, you still get a present, albeit a lump of coal or something else undesirable as a sort of punishment for your year-long bad behavior.
As Christians, however, we think about things differently. The very nature of a gift is that it is not earned. A gift isn’t something that a person merits or deserves. That’s why it’s a gift. Otherwise, it would be a payment or a reward. And who ever heard of getting a Christmas payment for services rendered? What about a Christmas reward for outstanding behavior? No, a present is a gift that is not earned or deserved. Now, if you and I truly got what we deserved . . .
What should our Father in heaven give to His human creatures? Perhaps our heavenly Father, one day long ago, consulted His angels as they met together in His glorious throne room. “All right, cherubim and seraphim, what shall I give to humanity?” There is silence in the room. Suddenly, an uninvited guest appears, barging in. “I know,” he snarls. “Give them what they deserve!” The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered Him, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (Job 1:7). “And I know exactly what you should do to those miserable human creatures that YOU created. Punish them. Condemn them to eternal death and hell. Give them all to me because they only deserve the punishment that Your holiness and justice demands.” A big smile crossed the devil’s face. “I had something to do with that. I brought sin against you into the world by tempting Adam and Eve. I brought about jealousy, hatred, spite, and murder. I brought about unfaithfulness and all kinds of forms of spirituality where people don’t even think about You but make for themselves gods of wood and stone; they make themselves god. So punish them. Send them to hell so that they might live under my reign forever and ever. Shall I show you the evidence that I have on these sinners? Not one of them can stand before You. Give them something? Yes, give them what they deserve—condemnation, death forever, suffering eternally without You.”
Now a conversation like this never took place. But Satan, whose name means “The Accuser,” did have the ability to march into God’s presence, as we read in the Book of Job. And the Accuser’s purpose was just that, to accuse sinful humanity of its failing to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, for its failing to love one another. Satan’s accusing finger points at you and me and says, “You deserve death and hell.” And in that, he is not wrong. Although he is a liar and the father of lies, he rejoices in the fact of our fallen condition. He celebrates every time we are tempted by him, the sinful world, and our sinful flesh, and fall into sin and every great shame and vice. Satan loves nothing more than throw our sins in God our Father’s face, banking on God’s justice and holiness, so that our Father will punish and condemn all humanity to eternal damnation in hell.
Returning to the question at hand: What is our Father in heaven to give to His fallen, sin-filled human creatures? If the Lord were to give what we deserve, it would not be a gift. Death and hell are what we have earned because of our sins and sinfulness. God’s Word says very clearly, “The payment due for sin is death!” (Rom. 6:23). But God desired to gift humanity what we have not earned, namely, the forgiveness of sins. Our Creator, even before creation, determined to cancel the debt of sin owed by humanity. And what a debt! Add up all the times you failed to do what God demands of you in His Commandments. Yes, calculate all the times that God was not first in your life, all the times you cursed and misused His name, all the times you chose something else rather than attending the Divine Service. How many times have you dishonored parents and authorities, harbored hatred, lusted, coveted, gossiped, cheated, and stolen? It’s a huge debt! And it merits for us eternal death and condemnation. But the good Lord determined to give you the most amazing gift, undeserved, without any merit or worthiness in any of us.
“No, Satan,” the Father would have thundered from His throne. “I will not pay according to what humanity deserves. Yes, they will be punished for their sins. They will suffer death and hell. But they will have a Substitute who will undergo their punishment in their place. He will keep my Law perfectly on humanity’s behalf because He will be fully human, but without sin. His rightness will be charged to their account because their perfect Substitute will act in their stead. And then humanity’s Substitute will suffer My full wrath against people’s sins. He will be judged guilty of sin for every human who ever existed or will exist. He will die their death. And in so doing, He will shed His blood. That bloody sacrifice will cover over the sins of all people of every time and place. That death, that blood, will satisfy My justice, and humanity shall be declared “Not guilty of sin” because their Substitute has paid for sin in full, completely, once for all.”
God the Father’s gift to us and all humanity is the Divine Son of God, the Word, who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Many and took to His divine nature a true human body and soul, becoming fully human in the mystery we call the Incarnation. Of course, God’s Spirit says it in the best way, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as that of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Grace—gift—not earned, not merited. Freely given to those who do not deserve. Grace—gift—the mercy of God the Father in the person and work of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, our Lord. “ ‘Grace’ means that God is merciful to us, that He deals graciously with us for the sake of Christ our Lord, forgives us all our sins, and that He does not impute them to us or punish us with eternal death. Grace is the forgiveness of sin for Christ’s sake, the covering of all sin. That is grace. When we speak of ‘truth,’ we mean that God not only wants to be gracious and merciful to us and [forgive] our sins but that henceforth our lives must be something precious.”
You are each so precious to your heavenly Father. And the proof of that is not in beautifully decorated trees and wreaths. It is not found in the exchange of presents or festive meals. The proof of God’s grace and truth in Jesus—God’s gift to you—is in the cross and the empty tomb. God the Father’s loving-kindness is proven to you in that Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Mary, lived a perfect life in your place. Jesus suffered and died on the cross in your place as your Substitute. And this very Jesus rose again from the dead. By means of the Gospel Word, Baptism, and Holy Communion, the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus gives you His righteousness so that you stand before God holy, covered in the Savior’s blood, and wearing His royal garments of salvation. St. Paul, writing by the inspiration of the Spirit, said to the Colossian believers, as well as to us, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with [Jesus], having forgiven us all our trespasses,by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Jesus]” (Col. 2:13–15 ESV).
Today, we tell Satan where he can go . . . and without us. He can no longer accuse us before God our Father because our Father has given us the gift of forgiveness of sins through the grace and truth that have come to us by faith through Jesus Christ, our Lord. We are not condemned. We are forgiven. You and I have received eternal life. Death has lost its sting. Christ has died for you. Christ is risen for you. He came into the world and took upon Himself our human nature to redeem us from God’s wrath and to make us children of God so that we might partake of His fullness of grace and truth. And the truth is that Christ is your gift from your heavenly Father, received by the power of the Holy Spirit through your most holy faith in Word and Baptism, and strengthened by Jesus’ Body and Blood with the bread and wine in meal of His Supper. To our gracious God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be all glory and praise, unto the ages of ages, for His immeasurable gift. Amen.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 22 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1999), 148–149.