The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
Sunday, December 25, 2011
“Christ’s Birthday Is Our Birthday, Too” (John 1:1-14)
Whose birthday is it today? Well, that’s a good question. Of course, we’re celebrating the birth of Christ. It’s Christmas, after all. But at the same time, it is through Christmas, through the birth of Christ in the flesh, that other children are born, too–namely, the children of God. That’s us. And so today we’re celebrating the birth of Christ, first and foremost, but also with it, our own birth as God’s children. I can put our message today into one sentence: The Son of God became man, so that the sons of men could become the children of God. Let me repeat that: The Son of God became man, so that the sons of men could become the children of God. Or to put it more simply: “Christ’s Birthday Is Our Birthday, Too.”
You get both here in the Gospel for today from John 1: The birth of Christ in the flesh, and our own birth as children of God. The birth of Christ: “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.” And our own birth: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become 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.” Let’s now take up both.
First, the birth of Christ. “The Word became flesh,” our text says in verse 14. And that goes back to the first verse of the chapter: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” What is John saying here? When he calls Christ “the Word,” he’s talking about our Lord as the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, preexistent, before the creation of the world. True God, “begotten of his Father before all worlds.” “In the beginning was the Word”: This is referring to the divinity of God’s Son. His person distinct from that of the Father: “and the Word was with God.” And yet being of one substance with the Father: “and the Word was God.”
By calling Christ “the Word,” John is saying that Christ is the active agent of Creation. The term “the Word” here is the Greek term “Logos.” “Logos” means “reasoned speech,” “organized thought expressed.” The Greeks thought there had to be some organizing principle holding the universe together. The Hebrews thought of it as the Wisdom of the Lord, giving order to Creation. So to call Christ the Word, the Logos, is to say what the Epistle reading today says: He, Christ, God’s Son, is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” All of this, then, is wrapped up in the term, “the Word.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That’s Christ, the Son of God from eternity. Then verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh at Christmas, born of the virgin Mary. That’s an astounding miracle and a profound mystery, as deep as the mystery of the Trinity. This coming in the flesh of the Son of God is what we call the “Incarnation,” literally, the “enfleshment” of the Son of God. Here we must pause and bend the knee, as we contemplate this truly awesome event. God came in the flesh. The Creator of the universe humbled himself and came born as a little baby, laying aside the full use of his divine glory, in order to dwell among us as our brother.
The Incarnation of Christ. God in the flesh. Or, in a word, Christmas. That is the astounding thing we celebrate today. But why? What does this have to do with us? Everything. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That means that God came and lived among us, dwelt among us, literally, he “tabernacled” among us. What God was doing when he came among Israel in the tabernacle and the temple, being present in their midst to guide and guard his people and to forgive their sins–this is now what the Son of God is doing, in an even greater way, by coming in our midst and dwelling among us. As the incarnate Savior, the Son of God in the flesh, Christ came to do the ultimate tabernacle job for the whole world.
Do you have sins that need forgiving? Don’t answer that question too quickly or too glibly. Think about it for a moment. Does your conduct measure up to God’s standards of pure love for him and pure love for your neighbor? The Ten Commandments are the measuring stick, and they include every thought, word, and deed that you think, say, or do. Do you have sins that need forgiving? I think so. God’s word says so. And the judgment on your sin is death.
Do you have death that needs undoing? Yes, you do. And that includes the Big Death, too, eternal damnation. How are you going to get out of that? You can’t talk your way out of it. No excuses. That won’t cut it.
So if you’ve got sins that need forgiving, and if you’ve got death staring you in the face, I’ve got good news for you: It’s Christmas! To deal with your sins and undo your death–that’s why Christ came in the flesh. Christmas happened so that you would be saved, saved from your sins, saved from your death. And the only way for that to happen was for the Son of God to take on our flesh.
Only a man could die for man’s sins, if God is to be a just judge. But only God’s death, the death of the sinless Son of God, would be big enough to do the job. That’s why only the incarnation would get the job done. This is why Christmas happened, because God in his great mercy and love willed and knew that Jesus would be the Savior of the world.
So that’s why we celebrate Christmas as the birthday of the Christ. But now, how is it also our birthday? As I say: The Son of God became man, so that the sons of men could become the children of God. This is what John is saying when he writes: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become 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.”
Friends, when we believe in and are baptized in the name of Christ, we become the children of God. This is the new birth. Our natural birthday did not get us into God’s family. Our new birth does.
You were not born into God’s family because of your human ancestry, because you come from good German Lutheran stock. You were not born into God’s family because you “made your decision for Jesus” at some revivalistic rally, as though you gave birth to you.
No. you were born into God’s family, as our text says, “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” The Holy Spirit was working through the gospel, through Word and Sacrament, to bring you from death to life, to quicken your heart to receive the gift, and to give you the gift of saving faith. The glory all goes to God. If you are a baptized, believing Christian, you have been born of God. Both the birth of Christ as the Savior and your birth, your new birth, as a Christian–it’s all God’s work. To God alone be glory.
We are now the children of God. This is a great family to be a part of. To have God as your Father, to have Christ as your brother, to have the Holy Spirit as the one who keeps you in the faith–this is a great thing. And there’s more. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” That will happen at Christ’s second coming. Then we will rise to meet him, with glorified bodies, to spend eternity in a beautifully restored creation, no more sin or sorrow. Yes, to have God as your Father, Christ as your brother, the Holy Spirit as your helper . . . to have all these brothers and sisters around you in the church, here and around the world, and a whole host of saints in heaven . . . to have forgiveness for your sins, help in living the new life, and to have eternal life waiting ahead of you as your sure hope–what a wonderful thing it is to be the children of God! And it’s all because of what happened at Christmas.
“The Word became flesh and dwelled among us,” and, “to all who believe in his name he gives the right to become the children of God.” And so it is through Christmas, the birth of God’s Son in the flesh, that we come to our own new birth, birth as the children of God. The Son of God became man, so that the sons of men could become the children of God. Christ’s birthday is our birthday, too.
HaiI, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!”