“The Word: Tabernacled and Received” (John 1:1-18)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
Friday, December 25, 2020

“The Word: Tabernacled and Received” (John 1:1-18)

On this great festival of the Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Day, the Holy Gospel every year is St. John’s profound prologue that opens his gospel. And today, as we look at this text, I want to zero in on three portions of this prologue, under the theme, “The Word: Tabernacled and Received.”

First, the Word. And that literally is the first thing John writes about in his gospel, namely, the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” “In the beginning”: John here is intentionally recalling the opening verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And John is saying that in the beginning, before anything was created, there was this one called the Word, who was with God. John isn’t telling us yet who this one called the Word is–he will get to that later–but he is saying that this Word was there with God in the beginning, likewise active in the creation of the heavens and the earth. “All things were made through him,” that is, through the Word, “and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

“And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is a brilliant way to convey the mystery of the Godhead. For it shows the distinction of persons: The Word is with God, in a face-to-face relationship with God. And at the same time it shows the divine essence of this one called the Word: He is truly God in his being. In doctrinal terms, we would say that the Son is distinct from the Father, and yet is also truly God.

The true divinity of the Word, the only Son of the Father, who like the Father was active in creation. The reading from Hebrews 1 says the same thing: God “has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He 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.”

And this is the idea behind the word John uses for the “Word.” It’s the Greek word, Logos. The Greeks thought of the Logos as the organizing principle holding the universe together. Logos means ordered thought, rational speech; a coherent, intelligent design, you might say. But what the Greeks could only speculate about as an organizing principle, John now reveals is a person. A person, not a principle! The Logos is the eternal Son of God, through whom all things were created and hold together.

Well, that’s nice, John, but so what? You’re talking about creation and the cosmos and big concepts like that. But what does that have to do with anything? What does the Logos, the Word, have to do with us and our life?

John tells us in verse 14: “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 Word, the Logos, became flesh! This is astounding! This is mind-boggling! This is the miracle of Christmas. This is the incarnation. The Logos, the eternal Son of God, the one “by whom all things were made,” as we say in the Creed, “for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” Amazing!

That the eternal Son of God could come in human flesh and be born, the babe of Bethlehem–how can this be? But it is! Poets have tried to express the awesome mystery of this birth. Paul Gerhardt’s hymn, “O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is,” which we just sang, puts it well: “He whom the sea and wind obey doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness. Thou, God’s own Son, with us art one, dost join us and our children in our weakness.”

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He became our brother, God in the flesh did. Jesus did not keep socially distant. He got right down among us, in our midst and in our mess. He dwelt among us.

The Greek word here for “dwelt” is an interesting one. It could really be translated, he “tabernacled” among us. It’s the same word that’s used to refer to the Old Testament tabernacle, where God dwelt in the midst of his people Israel. What God was doing at the tabernacle, God now is doing in an even greater way in the birth of Christ.

What did God do at the Old Testament tabernacle? This was the place where God’s people could know for certain that God was dwelling in their midst. And that was a great assurance. At the tabernacle, the Lord was among them, to guard and protect them. At the tabernacle, the Lord was among them, to guide them and instruct them. At the tabernacle, where God had instituted the priesthood and the sacrifices, the Lord was among them to forgive their sins and to cleanse them from their impurities.

What all God was doing in the Old Testament tabernacle–all that was pointing ahead to what God would do in a much greater way in the Word made flesh. In the birth of Christ, God is tabernacling among us! Jesus Christ is dwelling among us, in our midst, to guard and protect us, to guide and instruct us, to forgive and cleanse us. Jesus is doing all that, for you! He comes and tabernacles among us, full of grace and truth.

Tom Egger, Old Testament professor at our St. Louis seminary, has an excellent article on this point in the current Lutheran Witness. “Tabernacled among Us,” the article is called, and I encourage you to read it. Egger writes: “God provided blood atonement for sinful Israel in the tabernacle. But here in the manger lies the new and better tabernacle, built not with poles, rings and ram’s skins, but with human flesh, born of Mary. With this flesh, He poured out His lifeblood once and for all to atone for stiff-necked sinners.” And having been raised from the dead, Egger says, “Jesus is the new and better tabernacle and abides with us always.”

Brothers and sisters, people of God, by tabernacling among us, by shedding his blood for us on the altar of the cross and by rising from the tomb in victory over death, Jesus Christ has won for you forgiveness for your sins and life with him forever!

The Word became flesh and dwelt, tabernacled, among us. Now how do we receive him? Do we receive him, or do we reject him? Not all have believed our report, as the Bible says. Our text from John 1 puts it like this: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” That was true back then, and it is still true today. The world around us does not receive Christ. Many people you know do not receive him. They don’t think they need a Savior from sin and death. That’s why they have no interest in church. But they are wrong, dead wrong.

“But to all who did receive him,” John writes, “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.” You, dear brothers and sisters, you know that you do need a Savior from sin and death. And you know that this Savior is Jesus. Only he can save you and put you right with God. You realize your need, and you receive the gift. Jesus himself is the greatest Christmas present. He gives himself freely to you. And you receive him by faith. You trust in him, not in yourself, for your salvation.

God has given you the gift of faith to trust in Christ. God works this faith in you by the Holy Spirit, through the gospel, through Word and Sacrament. In Holy Baptism, you were given the gift of the Spirit to trust in Christ your Savior. In Holy Baptism, you were born again, by water and the Spirit. This was God’s doing, not your own. Now you are God’s child, headed for heaven. As they say, Christmas is for children. And you, dear friends, you are the baptized children of God. Christmas is for you.

“In the beginning was the Word,” the Logos, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt,” tabernacled, “among us.” And to all who received him, “who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” These are the three Christmas presents we find in John’s gospel this morning. “The Word: Tabernacled and Received.” A merry Christmas indeed!

Published in: on December 24, 2020 at 2:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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