25th December 2006
[Merry Christmas everyone! This is the second part of a Christmas sermon presented here with only minor editing. The first post may be found here]
Johnâ€™s Metaphysical Manger (John 1)
The second passage I want to direct our attention to helps us understand some of the theological implications of the birth of Jesus. The passage I am referring to is chapter one of John’s gospel. In this highly metaphysical and philosophical passage the significance of the birth of Christ is interpreted theologically.
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived [tabernacled] among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a fatherâ€™s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, â€œThis was he of whom I said, â€˜He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.â€™ â€?) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fatherâ€™s heart, who has made him known.
The Mystery of Christmas: The Incarnation
This passage tells us a number of things about that baby in a manger. In particular it tells us something about the divintiy of the Word and the ministry of the Word.
â€œIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.â€? John tells that the baby in the manger is divine; God made human, God incarnate. Johnâ€™s Christmas account revels in the mystery of the incarnation. The word “incarnation” and the adjective “incarnate” come from the Latin in carne â€œin flesh.â€? Note the progression: In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. Note that John says not that â€œGod was the wordâ€?, but that â€œthe word was God.â€? John is not saying that the Word is â€œa god,â€? as though the Word was a lesser god alongside the supreme God; nor is John saying that the Word was simply â€œdivine,â€? nor does John say that the Word did god-like things without possessing the divine nature; rather John is saying that the Word is God in his very nature, yet without exhausting the being of God. The baby in a manger was fully human and fully God. He was God incarnate: “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.â€?
The divine nature of the Word is seen in his activity in creation (vv. 1â€“5), revelation (vv. 5, 9â€“12, 18) and redemption (vv. 12â€“14, 16â€“17); in all these God expresses himself through the Word. The baby in the manger, the Word made flesh, was with God at the beginning and all things came into existence through him. The Word also reveals God to us. Paul says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Both the deity and the humanity of Jesus are fundamental to his saving work. Itâ€™s because Jesus is God the Son â€“ the Word made flesh â€“ that we can know God, itâ€™s because Jesus is God made human, that we can understand his death as the supreme evidence of Godâ€™s love for us.
There is more to Christmas than our minds can comprehendâ€¦ when we come to Christmas, when we look upon that baby in a manger we are looking upon God incarnate. We are looking upon a mystery. Thereâ€™s More to Christmas than Meets the Mind.
The Paradox of Divine Condescension
And this is the mystery of Christmas. Here you have the paradox of divine condescension; the mystery of God accommodating Godself, God becoming human.
At root, to save us God came not in his full glory as God but rather as a human; God came as a baby crying in his motherâ€™s arms, a baby that required feeding and changing, a baby that was entirely and hopelessly dependent on others. God hid his glory, he limited himself. Remaining one with and equal to God he took the form of a slave. By becoming one with us, he was able to share our sorrows, bear our burdens, and ultimately die a criminal’s death and atone for our sins and unite us to God.
That is the real meaning of Christmas, and itâ€™s my prayer for all of us — as we get together with friends and family, as we eat turkeys and hams, as we do all these good things — itâ€™s my prayer that we would also realize that there is much more to Christmas than meets the eye and that the miracle of Christmas is not how much turkey you can eat, but it is that God so loved the world that he was willing to take on human flesh and enter this world as a helpless baby… a helpless baby that would one day die a criminalâ€™s death on behalf of us all.