December 25th, 2016
“A Very Wordy Christmas”
We wish you a Merry Christmas. A Blessed Holiday Season. Season's Greetings. Happy Holidays. Have yourself a Merry little Christmas. There are so many ways people greet each other in honor of this day. But what if I wished you a “Very Wordy Christmas”?
The Word. That's the central idea of John's Christmas account. Unlike Luke's detail-rich account of shepherds and angels, inn and manger. Unlike Matthew's focus on Joseph's dilemma and the angelic dream. Here, John goes right to the deep theological meaning of the event. There's no possibility of sentimentalizing this. But there is great fodder here for profound meditation and rumination. Consider with me, this Christmas day, these words of John's Gospel, as “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us”.
John is already hitting the notes of Genesis with the first few words here. “In the beginning”. That's how Genesis starts, and that's what the word “genesis” literally means. John is evoking for us the very beginning of Creation, in which God spoke everything into being by his word. “Let there be light”. “Let there be fish, birds, beasts...”. “Let us make man in our image”.
No this world wasn't formed when some naughty mythological miscreant opened a forbidden box. We aren't the byproducts of a war between Marduk and Tiamat. Nor is this just another iteration of the unending circle of birth and rebirth. Genesis points to a beginning. A time when the earth was formless and void, and God gave it form – by his word, and filled the void – by his word. The word of God is the agent of all creation. By this word, all things were made.
John tells us even more about that word. He was with God, and he was God. The word is eternal, and the word is a person. The word is identified with the God who speaks the word... they are, we confess, of the same substance. And so this eternal word is a living word, a word in which is also life – and light. Just how all this is so is a mystery as great as the Trinity itself. A ponderous enigma not really to be understood, but confessed by faith. The mystery of the Word, the Son of God.
And then another word was given. “You can eat of any tree in this garden, but not the one at the center – for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die”. But the serpent tempted, the woman was deceived, and her husband also ate. All that had been orderly and good was now corrupt. Death came. And we've been living with it ever since.
Our words are small and selfish and corrupt and failing. They are not reliable. They are unclean words that proceed from unclean lips. They are words that flow from unclean hearts, and are accompanied by sinful actions and sinful inaction. We are no better than our first parents in the garden. We are just as deceived, in our flesh, just as disobedient to God's word. We are just as deserving of his word of condemnation.
But before God even addressed the brand-new sinners in the garden, he had a word, another word – a word of hope for them. For the serpent's head would be crushed by the woman's offspring, though his heel would be bruised.
This word, a word of promise, would unfold and expand throughout the pages of the Old Testament. The prophets declared the outlines of a savior and his work – a suffering servant, born of Bethlehem, born of a virgin, a son of David. The events of history painted a picture – a system of sacrifices that pointed to a final sacrifice, a bronze serpent lifted up for healing, the sign of Jonah – in the belly of death for three days... and so many more.
All these words, woven together in a blessed tapestry of prophecy and promise, all driving toward the blessed incarnation of the Living Word from eternity, born as a humble Jewish baby. The Word became flesh. And here another mystery impossible to comprehend.
How can “the Word” be God? How can a word be alive? How can a word become flesh? How can God become man? How can light and life have their being in a word? How can the creator of all things, the eternal Son of God, whose glory and majesty we can't even begin to comprehend, who stretched out the heavens and called forth from nothing everything that is, how can this incomprehensible glory be revealed in a newborn child? One of us?
But there it is. The mystery of the incarnation. The wonderful fulfillment of God's ancient word of promise. Salvation unto us has come.
God's greatest gift to the world came wrapped not in ribbons and bows, but in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. God's plan of salvation was not accomplished with swords of steel or bolts of lightning, but with a word made flesh, and that flesh offered in sacrifice. This living word was born to die, to give his life as a ransom for many. This living word, in which was the light of men, would submit to the darkness of death to shine the bright beams of salvation upon us. But this living word would never be silenced, even by death, for he rose and lives for all eternity. And his word goes forth – from Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
The word, the word... the word that today proclaims your forgiveness – not a word “about” your forgiveness, but a word that actually forgives you your sins. An absolution so strong that it even unlocks the gates of heaven!
The watery word of your baptism, the triune name of God – Father, Son and Spirit – a word that holds sway over you every day. A promise of adoption that still stands. A washing away of sin that still matters. A word of hope that will never fail.
And the words with which Christ gives to us his body and blood – words of institution – words which promise forgiveness of sins. Far more than symbol or metaphor, these words are “mysterion”, they are sacramental. They put the eternal word of God, the person of Jesus Christ himself, in yet another form for us – under simple bread and wine. And as his words invite us to take and eat, take and drink, they also promise forgiveness, life and salvation.
Where would we Christians be without the word? We'd be without Jesus, and that is no place to be.
That's the way it is for the world. The unbelieving world that does not receive him. That has no ears to hear this word. Even though he made them, they don't know him. The same goes for his own people, the Jews. Though some did receive and believe, as a whole, his own people rejected him. We see the haters and scoffers around us, today, too. Sometimes we cower before them. Sometimes we are annoyed or even enraged by them. But ought we not also bear witness to the light?
But to us, who have received this word, by faith, he gives the right to become children of God. And in this way – he whose birth was a mystery and a miracle – he gives us a mysterious and miraculous second birth. Not by blood, or the will of man, or the flesh – but we are born of God. Born of water and the word. Born by the spirit.
As you ponder the Christmas story, remember John's Christmas. And consider the Word. The word who was with God, who still is God. The Word by whom all things were made. The Word who became flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, born for you. In him we have seen the glory of God. In him we are born anew. Abide in his word, dear Christians. And have a very “wordy” Christmas.