Christmas Day, 2016
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
“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 was not any thing made that was made. 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” (John 1:1-5).
Prior to the Incarnation—which occurred at the Annunciation, nine months before Jesus’ birth—prior to that, this is how we spoke of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity:
We refer to Jesus as the Divine Word. The Pre-Incarnate Christ. The logos.
This is how we flesh out, no pun intended, the various places in the Old Testament where there is a strange, Christ-like figure.
In Creation, it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:1-3).
The Father created, the Holy Spirit was hovering of the face of the waters, and the Son, the Word, spoke everything into existence. In the beginning was the Word.
Another example is in Genesis chapter eighteen when, “[Abraham] lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him” (Genesis 18:2).
When they speak it says, “The Lord said…” (Genesis 18:10).
So how can the Lord speak from the midst of three men?
Though He had not yet become flesh, the Word was with God and the Word was God. So we can’t be surprised that the Word speaks.
Perhaps the most well-known example of this is when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar who, looking in, declared: “’Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods’” (Daniel 3:24-25).
He was not yet made flesh. Not yet dwelling among us. And yet in Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
After the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar praised the true God, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his [messenger] and delivered his servants, who trusted him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (Daniel 3:28-29).
Whether it’s Wisdom in Proverbs or the Angel of the Lord or just Yahweh, the Lord, the Divine Word was at work in creation and after creation and always.
“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 was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
The first thing that was created was light.
The very first thing God did in creating was to shine forth His marvelous light. Let there be. And there was.
In what we call the Creation, there has always been light.
Now, follow closely. If light was created first. If there has always been light. That means there has not always been darkness.
Darkness is the absence of light.
The only way for there to be darkness is to obscure the light.
The only way for there to be darkness is to put something in the way, in between, you and the light of men, Jesus the Christ.
But take heart. Fear not. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Nor can it ever.
Darkness has no offense. As soon as the light touches it, there is only light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
At this point, I think it’s a fair question to ask why I’m speaking in such a philosophical way. This isn’t normal.
And it’s because I want to be sure to confess what Christmas is all about.
Christmas isn’t about a seven pound eight ounce baby and a bad hotel.
There wasn’t an inn. We can call what there was a split-level house. No room on the floor for guests. So, Mary took her child downstairs. That’s what it was.
Nor is Christmas about cattle lowing or donkeys braying. There’s not a single verse that requires animals to attend the birth of Christ.
And the magi—how many were there? We don’t know! Other than to say “more than one” we don’t know. Plus, they weren’t at Jesus’ birth, they were probably there two years later.
Yet our depictions of the birth of Christ always contain these things.
But before you go out and dismantle your nativity scene, or string me up by my thumbs for saying such things, I don’t think any of our depictions of Jesus’ birth need to change, but we do need to understand the big picture, what all this is really about.
What Christmas is about.
For that, we need the last verse of today’s Gospel lesson: “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” (John 1:14).
The Incarnation is of tremendous importance.
The Word became flesh. Not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God, that’s how the Athanasian Creed confesses the oneness of Christ. And this is what Christmas is about: God and sinners reconciled.
Humanity, since the Fall, was doomed apart from the intervention of God. He promised a Redeemer, the one who would be born of woman, who would crush the serpent’s head.
That our Redeemer is God Himself, the divine Word become flesh, dwelling with us, is overwhelmingly comforting.
If all He did was create, He might just walk away.
But our God promises and acts. He creates and sustains. He made man and became man to redeem man.
In dealing with the heresy of Arius, St. Athanasius confessed the wonder of the Incarnation by saying exactly that: God redeemed that which He became.
He didn’t become the world to redeem us. We’re not the world. He didn’t become an angel or a bird. He became man.
And so man—male and female—is redeemed in the work that the Word made flesh accomplished.
“To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [brothers and sisters of Christ] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
This is how you know you’re saved—God became flesh and died for sinners. To win you away from sin and death and deliver you safely to God the Father.
Confidence in salvation is not derived from inside yourself. You’re not saved because of a commitment you made or a choice. You’re not saved simply because you prayed a particular prayer, read a particular book, or attend a particular church.
Certainty regarding salvation is derived from God’s will and work and Word, from outside ourselves. He comes to us.
The most important events in history for every Christian are the days God chose them.
God was already choosing you when He created light, when He bestowed life, and when He sent Jesus into our flesh to be our brother, to bear our sin, and to be our Savior.
God chose you in Holy Baptism, marked you with the sign of the Cross as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, and put His name upon you, claiming you as His own.
God chooses you for salvation—He chooses and desires all for salvation—yet we see that there is, sometimes, something in the way, in between, man and the light of men, Jesus the Christ.
We can call that darkness, and it is both joy and terror that the darkness has not and will not overcome the light.
It’s a terror because we pray for the repentance of many.
It’s a joy because we’re ready.
When it comes down to it, this is Christmas:
The certainty of our redemption in the Word become flesh.
He became man to deliver man and even to raise man up to life everlasting.
That doesn’t mean you should tear down your nativity scenes or move the magi. Christmas plays can have animals. And we can sing about the cattle lowing.
And, we should remember that the reason for the season is not simply the birth of a child, but our redemption from death.
After the birth of Jesus, these were the first words spoken from God to man: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
He became man. To redeem man.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And never will.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!