Christmas Day Sermon 2002| Rev. Rolf Preus| John 1:1-14
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” St. John 1:12-13
On this Christmas morning I invite you to consider with me three births of the Son of God: His eternal divine birth; His physical birth of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem; and His birth in the hearts of all Christians.
We confess the eternal divine birth of the Son of God in the Nicene Creed: “Begotten of His Father before all worlds.” We also confess in the Small Catechism’s explanation of the Creed that Jesus Christ is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity.” This is what is called the eternal generation of the Son from the Father. It is eternal. It did not happen in time. God the Father has always been the Father of His Son. The Father and the Son have always been Father and Son. David writes in Psalm 2:7, “I will declare the decree; The LORD has said to Me, You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.” The “today” in this passage is the eternal day. Before time began the Father begat the Son.
The Bible assigns many names to the Son of God. He is called the Word. He is called Wisdom. Listen to what Wisdom says in Proverbs 8:22-23, “The LORD possessed Me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth.” Micah, the prophet, in writing of the Son of God, says: “Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)
Whenever the New Testament calls Jesus the “only begotten” Son of God, it is referring to His eternal divine birth. The Son receives His deity from the Father. He has the very same nature as the Father, yet He is a distinct Person. The Father and the Son have eternally existed together in perfect love. The love of God the Father for His only begotten Son is greater than any human mind or heart could ever fathom. It is a pure, holy, divine, and eternal love. There is nothing that belongs to the Father that does not also belong to the Son.
This eternal and divine birth of the Son of God is so far above us that we cannot understand it. We can only confess in simple faith what God has so graciously revealed to us in the Bible. We know that the Father has begotten the Son from eternity because God has revealed this mystery to us in the words of the Holy Scriptures. We know that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son because this is also taught in the words of the Bible. How this can be is beyond our ken. We bow before the mystery that is God: One divine essence and three distinct persons.
The second birth of the Son of God is His birth of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. His eternal divine birth of the Father required no mother. His physical birth from Mary required no father. He receives His divine nature from the Father, as we confess, “God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” He receives His human nature from His mother. She was a pure virgin. She had never known a man. She was a virgin when He was conceived in her womb. She was a virgin when He was born. He who was God from the Father alone is now man from mother Mary alone.
Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God
Was the Word of God made flesh
Woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.
The highest mystery of the faith is the Holy Trinity. It rises so far above us as to leave us in wonder as we confess this holy truth against all idolatry and heresy. The Holy Trinity is the only true God. God the Father is God. God the Son is God. God the Holy Spirit is God. Yet they are not three gods, but one God. Each Person of Himself is fully God and yet there remains an eternal unity between the three Persons. The Father begets the Son from eternity and the Holy Spirit from eternity proceeds from the Father and the Son.
This highest mystery of the faith is an eternal truth that is revealed to us most clearly in the historical events at Bethlehem and Calvary. At Bethlehem the eternal Son of the Father becomes human flesh and blood by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary knows no man. The Holy Spirit comes upon her. The Holy Spirit did not become the Father of Jesus. Jesus received his deity from the Father in eternity and He received His humanity from Mary His mother. What the Holy Spirit did is above our understanding. St. Luke records for us these words from Gabriel to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore also that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) The Son of God who had existed eternally with the Father was born of a woman.
When the church calls Mary the mother of God she does not do so in order to worship Mary. Mary herself was in need of a Savior, as she confessed in her Magnificat: “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” No, when the church calls Marry the mother of God she is confessing the truth about Jesus Christ. The truth about Jesus is not that a man became God. That didn’t happen. The truth about Jesus is that God became a man. He who was born from the Father before all worlds, from eternity, was now in the fullness of time born of a woman. In this way God joined the human race. The almighty and eternal God joined Himself to our own flesh and blood and within the womb of the Virgin Mary our God became our brother.
What a wonderful mystery! “He whom the worlds cannot enclose in Mary’s bosom doth repose.” (Luther) “God is Man, man to deliver; His dear Son now is one with our blood forever.” (Gerhardt) We could not rise up to heaven. We could not bring God down to us. We were trapped in our own weakness. More than that, we were bound fast in the chains of the devil because we had given to that liar and murderer of souls our heart. We had embraced hatred, deceit, covetousness, violence, and the worship of our own wants and pleasures. We had shut God out and found ourselves powerless to let Him in. Every effort to raise ourselves up to heaven simply made us more deserving of hell. All our affections, especially our spiritual affections, were set on death. As the missile cannot help but chase after the source of heat, we were literally hell bound because of our incurable love for evil.
Giv’n from on high to me;
I cannot rise to Thee.
O cheer my wearied spirit:
O pure and holy Child,
Through all thy grace and merit,
Blest Jesus, Lord most mild,
Draw me unto Thee!
Draw me unto Thee!
And so He does. He is born in us. What a wonderful birth that is! Do we know that the miracle of Christ’s birth in our hearts is as wonderful as the miracle of the virgin birth at Bethlehem? It is no more possible for one whose heart is cold and dead to make himself spiritually alive than it is for a virgin to conceive and bear a child. Neither is possible with us. Both of these births are achieved solely by the grace of God.
Consider how similar is Christ’s birth from the Virgin Mary and Christ’s birth in our hearts. There are five similarities.
First, it is the Holy Spirit by whose miraculous power the birth occurs. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and then born of the Virgin Mary. Likewise, we are born again by water and the Spirit when, in holy Baptism, Christ is born in our hearts. (John 3:5)
Second, it is by the power of the word of God. The angel Gabriel preached the word to Mary to tell her that she would become the mother of the Savior. And so she became, as the angel’s word had said. Just so, we are born again, as St. Peter writes, “Not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” (1 Peter 1:23)
Third, it is God who gives us the faith to receive this holy birth. Mary responded to God’s word in faith. She said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) This faith was God’s gracious creation within her and as soon as she believed the promise the Holy Child was conceived in her womb. And so it is with us. As our text says: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (St. John 1:12-13)
Christ is born in us when we are born from above. This is what the new birth is all about. It doesn’t come about by a natural birth. It isn’t because of our own will. It has nothing to do with human striving, working, struggling, or doing. It is a birth that God and God alone causes. Our faith is not the cause of Christ being born in us. Christ being born in us is the cause of our faith. The Holy Spirit did a miracle in Mary’s heart before He did the miracle in Mary’s womb. And in every Christian heart in which Jesus dwells by faith, the same wonderful miracle occurs.
Fourth, the miraculous birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary was immediately followed by persecution as Satan through his agent Herod tried to murder the newborn Child. So it is with us. As soon as the Holy Spirit brings Christ into our hearts, Satan tries to tear him out of our hearts by means of lies, false teachings, and persecution. But we who know Jesus by faith also know that Christ’s victory over the devil occurred when Christ suffered the most. This is why we don’t shun suffering. We don’t buy into the false notion that says if God loved us He would never let persecution and pain come to us. Far from it. We look at the ridicule, mockery, and persecution of the world as well as the suffering inside of us as our sinful flesh attacks our holy faith. We know that God triumphs through suffering. The death of Jesus by which all our sins were washed away is our greatest glory. When we are privileged to suffer as Christians, that is an honor as well. When the battle between faith and unbelief rages within our hearts we will take to heart our Lord’s words, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Finally, when Christ was born of the Virgin Mary the angels could not but sing praises to God for such a wonderful birth. “Glory be God on high and on earth peace, goodwill, toward men.” So it is when faith in born and rekindled within our hearts. We cannot but praise our God. The word of God that brings the Word made flesh into our hearts brings from those hearts words of praise. So we sing and so we pray to and praise the God who has visited us in the Person of His eternal Son made flesh in the Virgin’s womb and now at home in our hearts.
Ah dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.