Christmas Day

The Holy Incarnation

Saint John 1:1-18

What a wondrous thing, that the eternal Word became flesh—that He who, in the beginning, was with God, was God, and by whom all things were made, became of the same mortal stuff as you and I while continuing to remain as He had ever been, very God of very God. This is what the yearly celebration of Christmas is all about, dear friends. It’s about bowing low before and giving thanks to our God who came down from heaven to save us, by becoming enfleshed for us.

Saint John, in his old age, was persuaded to write an account of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. I remember being told back in my seminary days that the evangelist had, for many years, resisted the idea of writing a Gospel because he saw no need for another. The three penned by Matthew, Mark, and Luke were enough, he felt. The bishops of Asia Minor, however, urged John to write another, specifically to combat the growing heresy of the Ebionites, a Jewish-Christian sect that taught that Christ did not exist before He was born of Mary. They rejected His divinity and His virgin birth. And while they had high regard for Jesus, they saw Him only as a prophet. To them, salvation was attained through one’s good works, and not by grace through faith in the good work of Jesus, God’s Son.

The first eighteen verses of Saint John’s Gospel that we have before us this morning, serve as a sort of preface to the rest of the Gospel account—a brief theological treatise, if you will, dealing, at the onset, with the Ebionite heresy, teaching not only that Christ existed before He was born of Mary, but also that He is true God as well as true Man.

In the very first verse, John identifies the pre-incarnate Jesus simply as the Word. Actually, in the Greek in which John writes, he calls our Lord the Logos, which does mean the Word, but more precisely it relays the idea of one who speaks—one who says—which makes sense considering what John says next about the creation of the world. Turning back to the first chapter of Genesis, we’re told that God’s creative work is carried out by God speaking everything into existence. “And God said,” and it was. John tells us that Christ is the Word who was in the beginning speaking everything into being. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

Now, lest anyone imagine that the Word that speaks everything into existence is merely an aspect of God, and not the person of Christ, John has already made it abundantly clear that the Word is God Himself. He also says that the Word is with God, which makes no sense apart from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which states that God is three Persons, but yet one God. The believers to whom John writes, would know this. They would know that it is according to the Father’s will that the heavens and the earth, and all things dwelling in them are made, that it is the Son who carries out the Father’s will and speaks it into being, and that the Holy Spirit then breathes the breath of life into created man.

This life, breathed into man by the Holy Spirit, however, is not merely life such as my little doggie Sebastian has, but is life that is unique to man, life that has its origin in the Word, life that is eternal, just like the Word. John says that “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The Evangelist then goes on to talk about the other John, the one called the Baptist. I always thought that the transition of thought here was a bit jarring. John’s telling us about Christ and the creation and the life eternal that mankind is given in Christ, and then we’re abruptly on to the ministry of the Baptizer. But, when you think about it, it makes sense, for the Baptizer is the one who paves the way for the coming of the Christ in this world—he’s the link between the eternal pre-incarnate Word and the Word made flesh. And with John’s work of paving the way being very much centered in his preaching of repentance, we are led to see the need for the Word to become flesh and dwell among us. Sin had robbed mankind of the life that had been breathed into us, the light that is Christ. So, as John the evangelist says, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” He came to restore what was lost to sin—both life that has no end and a right knowledge of God, whereby, through faith, we will “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Saint John, as he continues on in his Gospel preface, then brings up the heretical Ebionites—well, not by name, but he speaks of all those who, like the Ebionites, do not receive Jesus, who reject the truth of who He is and what the Father has sent Him here to accomplish. John doesn’t say what will become of such rejecters, except by contrast, when he tells us that, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” This last little bit about being born not of flesh but of God, is, I think, a bit of a teaser, if you will, to what John will reveal in the third chapter of his Gospel, where Jesus tells the Pharisee Nicodemus, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Your adoption by faith, your rebirth as children of God in Holy Baptism, is the way of life and salvation that you have in Christ, the Word made flesh for you.

Which brings us to verse fourteen, the culmination of Saint John’s brief treatise on the nature of Christ. The evangelist writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The eternal Word, the divine Logos, became flesh by being “incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary.” He was miraculously conceived in the womb of a virgin; He was born in lowly Bethlehem, as was foretold by the prophets. And He took on this real flesh and blood in order to be a real sacrifice for your sins and the sins of the whole world. And that, dear friends, is the glory of God that Saint John and the others beheld, and of which he speaks. The glory of Christ—the glory of His Father—is your salvation. It is the fullness of the Father’s love for His created children—the fullness that John says, “we have all received, grace upon grace.” It is the cup that overflows with goodness and mercy, for you.

John’s parting words in this first portion of his Gospel account is one last jab at the deniers of Christ and one last affirmation of the truth of our Christian faith, which he has been called upon to defend. He writes, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” The evil and wickedness of unbelief is fuelled by the imagination of the hearts of sinful men and women who claim to know God apart from Christ. They say that God is what they want Him to be—what they imagine Him to be—and from this wickedness of thought springs forth all the idols of false worship and devotion that fills the world. And behind all of that—behind the mask of idolatry—is the devil, whose only purpose is to overthrow what God has made and remakes in Christ. Therefore, John says, if you would know God, if you would have salvation and life without end, then look to Christ Jesus, the only Son of the Father, true God, the Word made flesh, who is at the Father’s side.

In Christ Jesus, dear friends, I wish you a very merry and blessed Christmas. Amen.