The Nativity of Our Lord + John 1:1-14 + December 25, 2018
Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The prophet Isaiah wrote in his ninth chapter, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” The child that is born for us, this Son that is given to us is no mere child, just as His birth is no ordinary birth. The child born of the Virgin Mary, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manager is God the Word, the one of whom St. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is eternal, being with God from the beginning. The Word was God, John says. He does not say that the Word became God, or that the Word was created by God in the beginning to stand alongside God or next to God. The Word was not fashioned like the rest of creation. The Word simply was. He has always existed, being eternally generated from the God the Father in a way that is ineffable and indescribable and unfathomable. Paul describes Him in a similar fashion in this morning’s Epistle lesson. He is “the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3). As light without brightness is not light, so God without the Word cannot be, for “the Word was God.” Nor could a created being ever suffice to be God’s radiance and brightness, just as a creature never faithfully reflect the invisible God as the “express image of His person.”
This is the One who is born in human flesh on this day. “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.” The eternal Word of God, the brightness of the everlasting Light, the One by whom all things were made that were made, comes into the world through the womb of the Virgin Mary. In Him we see “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” Today we celebrate the fact that the Son of God becomes a Son of Man. He does not become flesh by changing from God into man, so that He ceases to be God, nor does He become a third thing, a hybrid of God and Man. The Word became flesh. He clothes Himself with with our full humanity in the womb of Mary. As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, Christ, “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). The Word becomes flesh. The whole human existence. Human body. Human soul. Not only does He become man, He empties Himself of all divine prerogative and condescends to live a fully human life, hungering, thirsting, being tempted, growing weary, and even suffering and dying in the flesh. He becomes like us in every aspect, except that He is without sin. He assumes a full humanity, body and soul, a whole humanity, so that He might save every part of our humanity.
He does all this for for us and our salvation. The Son of God becomes a Son of Man so that all men who believe in Him might become sons of God. Mankind rebelled against God the Lord in the Garden of Eden and that sin of Adam and Eve is passed on through every successive generation, so that all are sinners and therefore all continue in sin. Adam and Eve’s transgression brought corruption into their souls and death to their bodies. The corruption of sin infects everyone throughout human history who is born in the natural way, of the seed of woman and the seed of man. Death, which is the earned wage of sin, stalks all humanity, a fact which we are all too familiar with in our own lives. We die because we sin. We sin because we are born of the line of Adam and Eve. This is the reason for the incarnation, the enfleshment, of the eternal Son of God. In love for His creation, God the Father would not allow the creation to languish in sin and its corruption. In compassion for poor sinners, God the Father sends God the Son into world to redeem the world. “For God so love the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son” to become flesh, to become man, to redeem man from sin and death.
By assuming our flesh, God’s Son becomes our brother in this life, made like us every way, excepting sin. And as our brother in the flesh He does what Adam and all sons of Adam are unable to do. He becomes like us in every way, excepting sin, so that He might suffer and die in your place to atone for our sin. Paul says again that “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). God the Son was made a little lower than the angels, meaning He was made man so that He might suffer and “taste death for everyone.” He tastes death upon the cross for all mankind to atone for the sins of the all mankind. For “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The sacrifice of a mere man could never suffice to pay the debt of even that man’s sin. The death of a creature, someone created by God, would never suffice as the propitiation for the sins of the entire world. Therefore it must be God’s blood that is spilled and God’s death as payment for men’s sins. This is why He becomes flesh, so that He might suffer in the flesh for all your sins, die in the flesh for all your transgressions, and atone for the corruption which sin has brought about in your flesh to do away with all of it.
That atonement which the incarnate God wins upon the cross He then gives to all who believe in His Gospel. This atonement acquired by God the Son through His innocent, bitter sufferings and death, is presented to you in the Gospel and is received by faith. St. John writes, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, 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.” There will always be men who reject the Gospel and cast it aside in unbelief. Those who do not believe the Gospel aren’t justified before God. Their sins aren’t forgiven because they don’t believe the Gospel and trust the promise that Christ’s death pays for all their sins. But all who receive the Him in faith and believe that in Christ God is gracious to them and desires to forgive their sins, they have as they believe.
Faith grabs hold of the gifts Christ wins for us in the flesh. Faith believes the promise of the Gospel so that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake so that God no longer counts them against you. And there’s more. St. Paul teaches us, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). By faith God adopts you into His heavenly family as a son, and since you are a son, you are a co-heir with Christ of every heavenly blessing.
This is what St. John means when he writes in the Gospel lesson, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Through faith in Christ and His atonement – that His work is for me and my salvation – that is what makes you a child of God. For this is the message of the incarnation, of the nativity of our Lord: God the Son became man so that all who believe in Him might become sons of God, enjoying all the blessings of divine sonship. Faith makes you into a Son of God, not in the same way that Christ is the Son of God. He is the Son of God by nature and essence. But you are sons of God through faith, adopted into the heavenly family where you have forgiveness of all your sins, a new heart in which the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, dwells. Because you are a son of God by faith, you share in all the divine blessings which Christ has by nature, so that you are a joint-heir with Christ of His heavenly innocence, righteousness and blessedness. Rejoice and glorify God, for He has not left us as orphans in our sin, but has redeemed us by sending God the Word, His Son, in our flesh. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.