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A. John 1:1-2
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”
According to St. John, this is where the Christmas story properly begins. As we heard last night, St. Matthew begins with Abraham and traces the genealogy forward to Jesus. St. Luke begins with Jesus and traces His ancestry back to Adam. But John takes us back even further, to a time before Adam. “In the beginning…”
He might have gone back even further than that if he could have, but everything before that is beyond our reach. That which we have not witnessed with our own eyes, we can only know of by being told about it by one who was an eye-witness.
Only God was present “in the beginning.” And He gives us His eyewitness testimony about what happened and what it was like. And all who believe His testimony say, “Oh, now I see.”
But of what was before the beginning, we have no word from God, not because He was not present, but simply because He chooses not to tell us.
In the beginning, there was already God and the Spirit of God and the Word of God. The Triune God, three distinct persons in one divine essence – was already in the beginning before the beginning began. For a moment… or was it an eternity… there was only God.
But then, while the Holy Spirit was hovering over the deep, God spoke. “Let there be…”
There is no such thing as speaking the Word that is spoken. And that Word, ‘was God and was with God in the beginning.’
The Word is eternal, just as God is eternal and the Holy Spirit is eternal. Or as we say in the Athanasian Creed, “And yet there are not three eternals but one eternal.” (Athanasian Creed). The Word always was and there never was a time when it wasn’t. The Word always is and there is never a time when it isn’t. The Word always will be and there will never be a time when it won’t be.
Or as we are more used to saying, “as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever.”
B. John 1:3
“All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
God and the Word of God are always in perfect agreement with each other. Here is one way that God is different than us, or that we are not like God. Our word is not always in perfect agreement with what we mean. We have a nasty habit of saying things that we don’t really mean. We say things that are in perfect agreement with what others are saying even if they are not all that representative of what we actually believe. The result is that others are not sure whether they can trust our word. They’re not sure that we are the same as our word or not.
But God is not like us. When God speaks, His Word is “the exact imprint of his nature…” (Heb. 1:3). The Word that God speaks does exactly what He says. It accomplishes everything that God has in mind, and exactly as He thought it. The two are really one.
The Word is of the SAME MIND as God, the Holy Spirit knitting the two into one, seamless cloth. “Such as the Father is, such is the Son, such is the Holy Spirit.” (Ath. C)
This is the God whom we worship. “One God in Trinity and the Trinity in unity.” “None is before or after another; none is greater or less than another; but the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal…” (Ath. C).
C. John 1:14
“And the Word became Flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
This is where everything is headed. Everything that we have said so far, (that is), everything that John has said so far, everything that the church has been saying for centuries, this is where it has all been headed. “And the Word became Flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
We needed all of that background in order to appreciate what happened on Christmas.
“He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age: perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to His humanity.” (Ath. C.)
That’s a lot to get your head around, especially if you’ve already been into the egg-nog this morning. Let’s just be sure we’re clear about this.
The Father did not become flesh and dwell among us, and neither did the Holy Spirit. Only the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.
And this is in perfect Trinitarian harmony, for it was the will of God that the Word should take onto Himself our humanity. “For God so loved the world that HE SENT HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON…” (John 3:16).
And it was the perfect will of the Word to do the perfect will of God through the Holy Spirit who binds all things together in perfect love.
The problem was this. In the beginning, the man and the woman whom God made, were ‘one with God,’ just as the Word is ‘one with God.’ It wasn’t that they were made in the ESSENTIAL likeness with God as the Word was with God, because they were created and the Word is uncreated. But they were created in the IMAGE of God.
But then disaster struck. Adam and Eve became convinced that the Word of God was not in perfect unity with God. They loved God but they doubted His Word. They separated One from the Other. And therein lies the great problem. It’s a trick that the devil has been playing on mankind, from the beginning. “You can trust God and believe in Him with all of your heart and mind and soul. But you can’t trust His Word. His Word does not always speak for God. Sometimes the Word is not really WITH God.”
And really, that’s been the story of man’s relationship with God ever since. Through human history, God has spoken His Word through His holy prophets and holy apostles, and throughout human history, men and women continues to say, “I believe in God – but I doubt His Word.”
“In God we trust,” but His Word we do not. We believe that God is good but we’re not so convinced that His Word is good. We disagree with it, we ignore it, we despise and reject it. And this is our dilemma. We do not believe that the WORD IS GOD. We want God in our life but not His Word.
And so there is this great chasm between us and God, because God cannot be separated from His Word. He cannot say that He is not One with His Word, just as the Word insists, “I and the Father are One.”
So, what is to be done? “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” God unites His Word to US MEN AND WOMEN in the perfect unity of man and God in the person of Jesus Christ. In Him we see a human being in whom the Word of God and God are one, perfect unity.
This is the ‘supreme miracle.’ (Bonhoeffer) This is the very thing that no one ever expected and that every other religion rejects. Lots of religions teach that humanity can take on divinity. The empty promise of the serpent in the garden that “you shall be like God” continues to be swallowed by many. Man is always striving to exalt himself.
But there is only one religion on the planet that believes that God so completely humbled Himself to take on our humanity. To say that that which is pure spirit became FULLY MAN, physical with flesh that feels real pain and bleeds real blood and even dies real death is ridiculous, absurd and blasphemous to every other religion but this one.
When John writes his gospel, he writes to a church that has been infiltrated with the false doctrine that rejects the incarnation of God. There were pastors who were preaching that God found a good man named Jesus and entered into him and empowered him, but never actually BECAME human. For God to BECOME human was too un-godlike.
“The Word became flesh…” Let those words crush every false spirit and silence every false preacher. “The Word BECAME flesh…” The Word did NOT ‘assume flesh.’ The Word did NOT ‘dwell in flesh.’ “The Word BECAME flesh…” without surrendering or diluting any of His divinity.
“Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ; one, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God.” “So God and man is one Christ, who suffered for our salvation…” (Ath. C).
It was the will of God to close the chasm that we have opened between He and us. It was God’s will to reconcile the world to Himself and reunite a fallen and sinful mankind into a HOLY COMMUNION with Him. He created the world and mankind in the beginning for this very purpose – and He will not be denied – and all of the holy angels pray, “Thy will be done…”
The ‘supreme miracle’ of Christmas is mystery upon mystery.
It is a wonderful mystery that the Word became flesh to speak to men and women directly. We weren’t there when He was born in Bethlehem, was baptized by John, and traveled through Galilee and Judea. We depend on the testimony of those who were eyewitnesses and who wrote down what they witnessed. “We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
But the very fact that for a brief time, God spoke His Word directly through His Son to sinful men and women – “truly, truly I SAY TO YOU…” shows us His deep desire to reach us and reclaim us as His own.
But even this, men and women rejected. “He came to His own and his own people did not receive him.”
The most profound mystery that makes Christmas the most ‘supreme miracle’ is that when the “Word became flesh and dwelled among us,” He assumed the whole human race into Himself.
The church has always carefully confessed the incarnation of Christ with the words, “He became man.” We do not say, “he became A man,” like we say, ‘Joe became A plumber,’ or ‘Alice became A mother.’ That speaks only about an individual person.
When we say, “He became man,” we are confessing that He is all mankind before God. All mankind stands before God in the FLESH of Jesus Christ.
So, when He is punished for our sins, all mankind is punished. When He bleeds from the stripes and the nails as the offering for sin, all mankind bleeds and is hidden in His sacrifice. And when He is raised from the dead, all mankind is reconciled to God and our sins are atoned for, ONCE FOR ALL in His physical body, and the fellowship between God and man is made NEW, as it was in the beginning.
This is why we celebrate the holy day of Christmas and what makes our celebration so much different than those who do not believe this ‘supreme miracle.’
Let me close with a brief snippet from a sermon on this text from Luther.
“We read that once upon a time a rude dunce and dolt happened to be standing in church while people were singing these words, “and He became man.” He did not take his cap off, bow his knees, or accord the words any honor; but he stood there like a stick, though the entire multitude of the people present had knelt down while these words were being sung in the Nicene Creed and offered a devout prayer. Then the devil stepped up to the man, slapped his mouth so that he saw stars, cursed him terribly, and said: ‘May the infernal fires consume you, you coarse fool! If God had assumed my nature and become an angel such as I was, and people sang: “and He became angel,” I would bow not only my knees to the ground but my whole body, nay, ten miles I would crawl on the ground. But you wretched man stand there like a stick or stone; you hear that God did not become an angel but a man like you, and it’s all the same to you…”
“Now whether this happened or did not happen is neither here not there. At any rate it is in accordance with our faith that the holy fathers wanted to advise young people with an example such as this that the true Son of God became man. They wanted us to open our eyes and consider these words well.” (“What Luther Says.” #4359)