And the Word became flesh.
Just let that sink in for a moment.
The Word. The living Word of God. The eternal Word of God. The Word of creation, by whom all things were made. The Word that called light out of darkness, and ordered all things. The everlasting, all-transcendent, mysterious and holy Word of God... became flesh. And that word made flesh dwelled among us. We know him as Jesus Christ.
A merry and blessed Christmas to you all. It's a special joy for me to be home for the holidays. After my fall tour of duty in Singapore, laying the groundwork for our permanent move, it is good to dwell among you once again here at Grace. I want to thank you for your support so far in my mission work. It's been a joy and a challenge to build my support network and begin to get things going with our new congregation. I appreciate all your prayers and encouragement, and even as I'm mostly gone, Brenda and the girls keep me feeling connected here, and I still consider Grace my home.
I've preached on this text from John here before. I even recall one year having lost my voice, and whispering the entire sermon one Christmas day. And while the reading from Luke 2 is what we mostly associate with Christmas – the story of the angels and shepherds, the birth of the Christ in Bethlehem, this reading from John is really a more “theological” approach to the Christmas story. What does it mean that Christ was born? Mary treasured the events of the nativity in her heart. But John draws us to meditate on Christmas also with our head. The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. The light has dawned in the darkness. We have seen his glory. And in him, and only in him, we see God.
It's profound. Simple, in a way. These first words of John's gospel are the passage most new students of Biblical Greek learn to translate – en archa en ho logos, en ho logos ein theos. But in these simple words, so much depth, so much mystery. John begins his Gospel the same way Genesis begins the Bible - “In the beginning”. And he connects the Word of creation with the Word of redemption – the word that was and is God. The word that is Christ.
The Word of God. We say that phrase, and we usually mean a book – the Bible. 66 books, an Old and New Testament. The authoritative source and norm of all our doctrine and life. But the Bible itself is nothing without Christ. In fact it is Jesus that teaches us of the Scriptures, “These are they that testify to me”. So from the first “in the beginning” to the promise of one to crush the serpent's head. To the promise of blessing to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Exodus from Egypt. The sacrificial system, the commandments, the ark, the manna in the wilderness. The conquest of the promised land, the rise and fall of Davidic kinds. The words of the prophets, and the expectations of the Messiah – all of it points us forward, drives us toward the one born in Bethlehem, the Savior, Christ the Lord.
And the Apostles and Evangelists, the Epistles and the Revelation also shine the light on the light of the world. They proclaim the good news of his kingdom, and unveil his salvation. They bring us to the cross, where the lamb of God shed his blood for the sins of the world. They direct us to his sacraments – where his word of promise also meets a physical form – water, bread, wine – and forgiveness of sins is realized and applied. The Word of God, the written word, is inseparable from the Living Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh.
That word is also two-fold. And Christ himself speaks a two-fold word to us. First, a word of law: repent. Be perfect. Love your neighbor. Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul. Lust and anger are adultery and murder. Take the log out of your own eye, sinner. It's a word that stings and cuts, a word that even kills. The letter kills, but the spirit gives life. The law shows our sin. But the Gospel shows our savior. The law comes through Moses, but grace and truth come through Christ.
The Gospel, that other word. The good word, the great good news. That in Jesus Christ, the word made flesh, our sins are forgiven. That his blood shed on the cross has paid the price, bridged the gulf, healed the gaping wound of gangrenous sin and festering death. Now, in Christ, there is only newness of life. A flesh that is healed and resurrected. As good as new, even better. A new life – better even that the newness of a newborn babe.
And as we celebrate the birth of a child, we give thanks for our becoming God's children. In Christ we become children of God, for he is the eternal Son of God. In him we are born anew, not by blood, but in his blood. Not by emerging from the womb again, but being brought forth from the waters of baptism. Born, not by the will of man, but by the will of God – his work, his doing, his grace upon grace poured out on is in Christ.
The word of God, the communication of God to man – is Christ. He is the form and fulness of God's grace to you, the sinner. And this is what Christmas is all about. It's far more than a silent night with cattle lowing, a poor humble baby laid in a manger. It's far more than joyous shepherds and heavenly choirs of angels. It's even more than peace on earth and good will toward man. Christmas is the Word of God becoming flesh, and dwelling among us. Christmas is the beginning of the fulfillment of all the ancient promises of God.
And it is a miracle of pure grace. God, holy God, comes completely of his own accord, from outside of us and far beyond us. He breaks in to our world as an uninvited guest, who is really the owner of the place. No choice or decision or act of man brought him here. He was even born of a virgin, after all. None of us can take any credit for his appearance, any more than we can claim we had a hand in the sun coming up this morning. But quite apart from us, and even in spite of our sins, the light of the world has dawned in Jesus Christ.
Word and light of creation that he is, yet his own creation didn't know him. Corrupt as we were and are, we can't even see the light – apart from his grace. So not only does he break into our darkness, but he gives us eyes to see him. He opens our ears to hear his word, and by his Spirit, faith to believe it. We could no more choose him than we could choose to be born – but this too, he brings and gives and delivers by his grace upon grace. Light to those who sit in darkness and sin. Faith to those who would receive him not. Forgiveness to us, who can only do evil apart from him. And a word to rely on, to believe in, to find hope.
Baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem. Born for you. Born to live for you, born to die for you, born to be resurrected for you, and to reign eternally for you. Even now, he remains the Word of God made flesh – divine, but also human, now glorified, and yet to come in glory.
Jesus is not only the reason for the season, he is the fulness of all seasons, the reason for all rejoicing. He is the content and source of our life, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the agent of creation, and the one for redeems it and makes all things new. He is the crux of history, and his cross the cross-roads of all existence. And Bethlehem is the first step on the way to Calvary.
The word became flesh and dwelled among us. Thanks be to God - for grace upon grace received, and God the Father made known...at the incarnation of Christ. For the light that has dawned upon us who sat in darkness, that even we should be called children of God. In Christ our Lord, Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, but is revealed in the incarnation of Christ our Lord, guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ – now and always. Amen.