John 1:14 / Christmas Day / 25 December 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
Note: I am indebted to a 1964 sermon by Rev. Alton F. Wedel for many of the thoughts and words expressed in here. This sermon is dedicated to his memory. – WMC
The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.
This one sentence captures the heart and essence of Christmas. This is more than a miracle; this is a mystery. A profound revelation full of meaning. When you get past the angels and the shepherds and the stable and the manger, when you peel back the soft sentimentalities and the holiday expectations and the nostalgic remembrances of Christmases past, there remains this infinitely deep Mystery that goes to the very depths of our existence: The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.
The Word who was with God. The Word who was God. The Word by whom all things were made and in whom all things have their being. The Word that is the wisdom of God, the ordering intelligence of the great Designer of the universe. The Word spoken at creation. The Word who was before the foundations of the world, the eternal Word who was, who is, who is to come. The Word who called forth light and life. That Word, in the fulness of time, was conceived in the womb of a Virgin and born to dwell among us.
When you grasp this, you have grasped the breath-taking thrill of Christmas. The eternal Word has entered time. Time and eternity embrace, God and Man are reconciled. The omnipotent Holy has deigned to dwell among us as a tiny, helpless gurgling newborn swaddled against the cold of night and nestled hungrily at His mother’s breast.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. But what does this mean? We could spend all day, even the twelve days of Christmas expanding and expounding on what this means and still not plumb the depths. The shepherds who were there could scarcely take it all in. Mary herself was left to ponder things in her heart that surely must have nearly burst. And you and I? Oh, we barely have the time to scratch the surface of this Mystery so deep.
No religion in the world ever had such a thing as this Mystery. Yes, there were myths of gods appearing as men. Yes, there is the false hope of men becoming gods. Religions have prayers, miracles, commandments, creeds, codes of conduct, worship. But only Christianity claims the God who actually becomes human. You could not make such a religion up and pass it off as true, even in the 1st century. But it happened. In the Bethlehem of Judea. At the time of Augustus and Herod and Quirinius. It happened in time and place as all events of history do. The Word became flesh.
The Word became flesh because that’s what we are. Flesh. While we try to evade and avoid our flesh and all the implications of our humanity and pretend to be “spiritual” with our false pieties, the Word took on our humanity. We strive to be more than human, “supermen and superwomen,” and God deigns to become a Baby. content to play in the lap of His mother and gaze into the eyes of wondering shepherds. We are human, sons and daughters of Adam. The Son of God became human to be what we are, and being what we are without our sin, He came to save us.
He came to be with us under the Law, the Law that condemns us, that shuts our mouths, that wells up in terror at the judgment of God against our rebel sin. He came not to judge us but to save us, not to take us captive but to set us free, not to bring more rules for us to follow but to fulfill the Law of God to overflowing with Himself. He came to save sinners, of whom each of you is chief. He came to seek and save you in your lostness, in your despair, in your sin, in your death. He came to be your Shepherd, to lay down His life for you. The Word became flesh to save you.
We beheld His glory, glory as the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. John was not at Bethlehem. He came to know and follow Jesus much later. He was eyewitness to His transfiguration where this Word in flesh was glorified with Moses and Elijah in attendance. He heard the voice declare Him to be the Son of the Father. John was there to see Him die in the darkness. And he was among the first to see the open and empty tomb. He beheld Jesus’ glory enveloped in our humanity.
In Jesus, the Word made Flesh, our humanity is glorified. The image of God, so marred and tainted by Adam’s sin, is now restored again. We are fully ourselves in Him because He is fully us without sin. This is the Lamb of God’s provision, the substitute Sacrifice baptized for us, being obedient for us, living for us, dying for us, rising for us, and all the while taking us along for the ride in His humanity all the way to His glory at the right hand of the Father. In Him you have been crucified, raised, and even glorified!
The Word became Flesh. There is no need for you to go to Bethlehem, except perhaps as a curious tourist. You will not find the flesh of Christ there. Only the remnants of that wondrous day when He was born. But do not despair! You are not sent to a manger and an infant. He is mangered for you in Word and Sacrament, swaddled in water and Word, bread and wine. There you must seek Him, and there He will find you and embrace you anew.
The Mystery of Christmas, the Mystery of the Word made Flesh comes to bear on us in the Word that rings in our ears, in the Holy Supper on our tongues, in the baptismal water. There the Word made Flesh encounters our flesh, there sins are forgiven, there we die and rise to new life in this Christ Child. The Word became flesh means that we don’t go groping about for God in heaven (as if we could even do that!) but that He comes down to us, yes, even today, to dwell with us.
The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. He dwells among us in Word and sacrament to save. He dwells among us in the least, the lonely, the unloved, the hungry, the thirsty, in the least of these He dwells among us to serve. We dare not disregard this, for as we have done it to the least, we have done it to Him. As we bend down in service to others, we serve Him who bent down as the suffering servant of all to save.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is what endures of Christmas, long after the gifts are opened, the decorations are gone and packed away, and the holiday joy gives way to the new week of work. God is with us in this Child Jesus born of Mary. He dwells among us that we too might behold His glory, now hidden, soon revealed.
Christ, by highest heaven adored
Christ, the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see.
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as Man with men to dwell.
Jesus our Immanuel.
In the name of Jesus,