Christmas Sermon 2008| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. John 1, 1-3 & 14
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
There’s a popular television personality by the name of Bill O’Reilly who defends Christmas against assorted secularists who don’t want to recognize this holiday. O’Reilly talks about the so called secular progressives who are waging a war on Christmas. He says that this war is part of their agenda “to get Christianity and spirituality and Judaism out of the public square.” He argues in favor of Christian, Jewish, and other religious symbols because Americans are religious, religion is the basis for morality, and morality is good for the nation.
We might agree with him. What’s wrong with having nativity scenes on public property? Is it really necessary to let the secularists post their atheistic propaganda along side of statues of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus lying in a manger?
But Christmas is not about keeping Christianity and spirituality (whatever that is) and Judaism in the public square. Christmas is not primarily a question about the religiously based morality of the American people. It is not about American, religious, or even Christian traditions. Christmas is about God becoming a man.
“In the beginning,” John writes. Just as Moses wrote, so John wrote. Moses wrote, “In the beginning God.” John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word.” Does John mean to suggest that the Word was God? He does more than suggest it. He comes right out and says it. He goes on, “And the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Why does he first say that the Word was with God and then say that the Word was God? Which is it? Was he with God or was he God? He was both. He was with the Father as a person distinct from the Father. And he was God, equal to the Father. Just as the Father is God so is the Word.
We speak a word. It goes out of our mouths and disappears. It may be recorded, but the recording may be lost. We speak a word and it may matter or be unimportant. It may be true or false. Whatever we say comes from within. It reveals who and what we are. It speaks for us. That’s what words do.
The Word who was with God and who was God reveals God. But this Word cannot disappear. He cannot be false. He is eternal.
There is the Word that God speaks. And there is the Word that is God. They go together. God speaks his Word. Moses records for us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” How? He spoke. He said, “Let there be,” and there was. The psalmist declares, “By the Word of the LORD were the heavens made.” And St. John explains. He writes:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
God alone is eternal. God alone is uncreated. When the inspired apostle writes that all things were made through the Word and without him nothing was made that was made he is saying with as much clarity as words can express that the Word is God. All that exists is either the Creator or his creation. By belaboring the point, as St. John does, that nothing that was made was made apart from the Word the apostle teaches us that the Word is the Creator God.
The message of Christmas is that this Word who was with God, this Word who was God, this Word through whom all things were made, has become one of us. St. John writes: “The Word became flesh.” He became a human being. He became our brother. As the hymnist says:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th’incarnate Deity!
Pleased as Man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Immanuel!
Can it be true? How can it be true? How can the God whom the whole universe cannot contain become a little baby? How can he through whom all things were made join his own creation, taking on himself flesh and blood? How can the Almighty become a little infant dependant upon his mother for his very life? How? God does not say. We cannot understand. But we can know. Yes, we can know that it is so.
St. John writes:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
God is invisible. He lives in an unapproachable light. No one can see him. He is too far above us for us to reach him. Even if we pray, how will we know that he hears? And if we suffer, how will we know that he cares? If we sin, does he judge us for it? And if we feel the judgment of our own conscience, how will we know that he can bring us peace? God is too far above us. He is transcendent. We are stuck right here. And we’re not going anywhere.
When I was a little boy my father used to tell us a little rhyme. The first time I heard it it shocked me. It went like this:
Seven little children dressed in green
Tried to fly to heaven in a flying machine
The flying machine busted and all of them fell
And instead of going to heaven they all went to . . .
Now don’t get excited and don’t be misled
Instead of going to heave they all went to bed.
That was a relief! They didn’t go to hell. They went to bed.
But I have considered the rhyme over the years. What happens when people try to fly their way to heaven? Do they make it? Can you get yourself there from here? How? Every attempt ever made leads not to heaven but to hell. Sinners cannot sanctify themselves. They cannot save themselves. When they seek out God they fall into idolatry because the true glory of God will destroy anyone who doesn’t love God with a pure and holy heart and love his neighbor. This is why those who try to fly to heaven on their own piety, good works, prayers, or merits will inevitably crash in the attempt.
But listen to John. He was there when the Word became flesh. He writes: “We beheld his glory.” We saw God. He who transcends space and time stands here with us in our space and time. He is one of us. He chooses to become our brother.
Now brothers are a wonderful thing. But there is this thing called sibling rivalry. This brother must prove himself against that brother. But Jesus shows us something wonderful. Though he is our almighty God when he becomes our brother he does not do so to impose unwelcome control over us. The government that is upon his shoulders is government of grace and truth. The glory of God is revealed in his favor toward us.
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill, toward men.” Glory to God in heaven is joined to peace toward us here on earth. The glory that Jesus revealed is of God’s goodwill, his favor, his grace, his wholly undeserved kindness toward us all.
This is the message of Christmas. This is the true meaning of this holiday. Billions of dollars invested, political debates about public manger displays, greenery everywhere, the sounds of bells, cars driving down congested streets bumper to bumper in the frantic effort to get it all done before we run out of time, these are but distractions. The true message of Christmas is that God has joined the human race.
He came to do for us what we failed to do for him. It was our duty. We know it. We can hardly blame the troubles of life on everyone else. If there is hatred out there what do I find within my own heart? If there is envy and covetousness in this world, what is it that my own eyes see that I want more than I want to help my neighbor? If there is betrayal, have I broken my promises? Consider all the evil we bemoan, everything that would keep us from feeling full of grace and goodwill. Must we not acknowledge our own responsibility for it?
But here is God. He doesn’t come to give you what your sins deserve. He comes in peace. He is not so far away that you cannot see him or know him or have him as your own. He is in manger. He is a helpless little baby. But he is the almighty God come to set you free. He is the pure and innocent babe of Bethlehem. But he will face your sins. He will bear their guilt. He will offer his holy life up on Calvary for sinners like you and me. Here is God in the flesh. Here is divine glory. Here is grace and truth.
Grace and truth go together. It’s not a matter of keeping symbols in the public square so that those who buy into some vague notion of spirituality can stick it to the secularists who don’t believe in any deity at all. No, Christmas is about grace and truth. Only when God is gracious to us for Christ’s sake can the truth be our friend. The truth is that we haven’t got that vaunted spirituality so celebrated by the TV talking heads that presume to be our spokesmen. The truth is that apart from Christ we are lost and powerless to find our way back to God.
But grace and truth go together. The truth is that God has joined the human race to bring us grace. It overflows. It is mercy. It is kindness. It is the forgiveness of all our sins. It is new life. It is comfort within. It is peace. All of this is given to us in the God who became a baby, a boy, a man, our brother, our Savior.
Oh, then rejoice that through his Son
God is with sinners now at one;
Made like yourselves of flesh and blood,
Your brother is the eternal God. Amen