The Word became flesh...
Children of God, through faith in Jesus,
It’s wonderful to watch a little child at Christmas time. The decorated trees, the colorful presents, the bright lights. Grownups have seen these things before, so we might take them for granted. Look at it all through a child’s eyes and it’s like you’re seeing it for the first time.
The trappings of Christmas work best when you can watch a child enjoy them. But the message of Christmas fills all of us with the wonder and joy of a little child. Whether you’re a three-year-old kindergartener or a seminary professor, whether you’re brand new to the faith or you’re a lifelong Christian, the message of Christmas puts us all on the same level. Together we wonder in awe at a message we can’t fully comprehend and yet is at the same time our everything: The Word became flesh. That baby in the manger is both God and human, God incarnate.
We need him. Can we talk about need? Every Christmas movie has someone who needs a change in life. The Grinch is grumpy, or George Bailey is ready to give up, or Ebenezer Scrooge is greedy. They’re great movies, and those problems are real problems. It’s just that Christmas movie problems don’t even scratch the surface of what’s really wrong with you and me, or any of us. Underneath the Grinch’s anger, George Bailey’s despair, and Scrooge’s greed is something deeper and darker: pride. Pride says: Me first, then you. Pride says: Me first, then God. Name any other sin you can think of, and it starts with the deeper, darker sin of pride. What sin could be worse than that? Pride is high treason against the Lord himself.
Do you have this problem? Sinful pride? Well, just think back on your life, there’s plenty of evidence there. Pride has led you and me into anger, despair, and greed. But pride can also lurk undercover behind our hard work and our obedience. If for some reason you can’t think of evidence of pride in your life, then just ask: was I born? If you were, you were born in pride’s grip, the same sin that grabbed hold of your parents and their parents going back to the first sinners, Adam and Eve. So let’s tell it like it is: you and I are guilty of pride, of saying to the Lord our God: Me first, then you.
We need something more than Cindy Lou Who to warm our Grinch-like hearts. More than Clarence the angel to show us we have a wonderful life. More than Jacob Marley’s ghost to wake us up from our Scrooge-like greed. We need pardon for our high treason against the Lord. We need God to enter our world on our behalf. We need the Word to become flesh. We need God incarnate.
Miracle of miracles, he’s done it! See the baby in the manger! The same God who created Adam and Eve out of the dust of the earth became a human being himself. And he entered our sin-cursed world, where all creation groans, where dust turns to dust. He came to experience pain, grief, and death. Yes, let Christmas be about presents, and trees and lights, but don’t stop there. The Word became flesh. This baby in the manger is God Incarnate: God in human flesh.
Here’s where we all become little children again. So put the grown-up in you away. A grown-up’s mind is on things like property taxes and shingles shots. Be a child again and ask the questions a child might ask. How can one person be both God and a baby at the same time? We can barely figure out how one person could be both a Packers fan and a Vikings fan at the same time. But God and human? How? Is he like two people fused together, one human, one divine, like a couple of 2 x 4’s glued tight? Or how about this? Is he actually just God posing as a human being, like an episode of Undercover Boss? Or maybe, is he actually just a human being with a lot of supernatural qualities, like Spiderman? Or is he half man, half God, kind of like the mythical Hercules who had Zeus for his father and a human mother and came out somewhere in the middle? Or what if he takes turns - sometimes God, sometimes human - depending on what’s going on, like the way we wear different hats - a mom, a worker, a friend? Like a child pestering his mom, we could go on and on, and God wants us to. He wants us to ask - as Mary did: How can this be?
But then, more importantly, God wants us to receive his answer with the trust of a child. How can this be? we ask. He says, It just is. Truly human. Fully God. One person. And all of our own attempts at explaining fall flat. We either make him less human, or less divine, or something other than one person. He’s very happy we asked with childlike wonder how this can be, but he’ll be even happier when we’re ok with trusting things we can’t understand, the way a child trusts her parents.
And maybe the grownup in us is ready once again to step in: Ok, ok, so I can’t fully understand. I guess that means I don’t have to think about it anymore. But the Lord won’t let the mystery of the incarnation fade from view. He puts it smack dab in front of us every time we take Communion. My body and my blood, says Jesus. Even if you’re only halfway listening, you can’t miss the human nature of Jesus in those words. And even the wisest among us has to ask another childlike how? Shouldn’t Jesus’ body and blood have run out long ago? If I’m donating blood I have to stop at two pints. Since Jesus is truly human, shouldn’t the same apply to him? And if Jesus has ascended into heaven, shouldn’t his body be there? How can it also be here or anywhere else? My human nature doesn’t work that way. If there are two great Christmas parties to go to, I can’t do both at the same time, I have to pick one. Since he’s truly human, shouldn’t the same apply to him? And yet Jesus, who is in heaven, and who is on earth, and who is everywhere, says my body and blood, here and now in Communion, over and over again. Again, God is inviting us to be like children, to keep asking: But, how?
And again, he invites us to receive his answer with the trust of a child. Are you ready? Here’s his answer: When God became man united in one person, the divine nature receives nothing from this union, but the human nature does. So when Jesus walks on water, that’s his human nature, too, gaining things from this union with the divine. Later, on the eve of his resurrection, in his flesh and blood he passes through a wall to be with his disciples. So also his body and blood are present in Communion. And yet his human nature still remains entirely human, and his divine nature is not in any way lessened. How? we ask. He says, It just is. Why? We ask. He says, Because I said so.
Ok, ok, we say. We should keep asking childlike questions, and we should keep receiving God’s answers with the trust and innocence of a child. We get it. We should be more childlike in our faith. Is that all? And our Father in heaven says, That’s only the beginning! And he says: Now that I have your attention… See the baby in the manger? He’s for you. Truly human, this Savior is your true substitute. Fully God, everything this Savior does fully counts for you. See the glorious wonder of this mystery! If we were to change what God says even a tiny bit to make more sense to us, the gift loses its worth to us. Take him at his Word and you have freedom from guilt, death, and hell. Listen my fellow sinners: God Incarnate has gone to his cross for you. He is risen for you. He is ascended for you. His body and blood once given and shed, distributed in Communion is for you. It’s all for you. And it all starts here, at Christmas, when the Word became flesh, for you.
And yes, Christmas is also about being loving to others. It’s about giving generously. It’s about going and telling it on the mountain so all may know the good news. It’s about living in a new way, being the new person that you are through faith in Jesus. All true. All essential. But don’t be so impatient for changed actions in yourself that you skip past the wonderful miracle of God incarnate for you. Without that, every attempt you make at new life will be nothing more than a Christmas movie.
Friends let’s stay awhile at the manger of our Savior, even after this service is done. Let’s come back to him again and again in Word and Sacrament every single chance we get. Like Mary, let’s ponder these things in our hearts, long after Christmas day is past. Here is a miracle beyond all miracles. A gift beyond all gifts. Here is where God sparks childlike faith in us our whole life long. Our Savior is God incarnate. The Word became flesh for you, for me, for the world. Amen.
Sermon by Pastor Jon Zabell
Copyright © 2022, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Green Bay, WI 54301
Bible text, NIV © Biblia, 2011