A Sermon for Christmas Day, by Pastor Jon Zabell
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Dear Children of God, through Faith in Jesus,
Merry Christmas! Today we focus on the words that form the heart of John’s Christmas gospel. Our text says: The Word became flesh.
The words themselves are easy to understand. The Word became flesh. The Word is God. God became flesh. God became a human being. We call this the incarnation. The baby in the manger is God incarnate. God in human flesh. That’s Christmas.
But how can this be? God is limitless. He exists in all places fully at the same time. He also has limitless power and wisdom. On the other hand, “flesh” refers to a human being. Human beings are totally limited by our flesh and blood - we can only be in one place at a time. We are also limited in power and wisdom. Now here in John’s gospel we hear that the limitless Son of God became a limited flesh and blood human being.
We might try explaining it by saying that the Son of God shrunk himself down to human size. We can sort of imagine that. But that can’t be right, because then he wouldn’t be God anymore. God can’t be limited. Or we might imagine that the Son of God just made himself look human. We can sort of imagine that, too. But that’s not what happened either. The Word became flesh. At Christmas the one who is truly God also became truly human. We might try to solve it by saying, “God can do anything.” It’s true, he can, but that doesn’t help us make sense of how the Word became flesh. Let’s say God wanted to shrink the solar system down so that it fit in the palm of your hand. Since he can do anything we can imagine a tiny little sun and the planets in orbit floating around it there in our hand. But what if God were to insist that the solar system which actually does fit in your hand isn’t shrunk down at all? That the sun is still 90 million miles away and still as hot as it always was, and that the planets are just as big as they always were AND they are fully there in the palm of your hand? That’s a little bit like what God tells us through John when he says, The Word became flesh.
God has given us brains and he wants us to use them to reason things out. And we can do amazing things when we put our minds to it: advancements in medicine and communication, science and the arts. But when it comes to the Word made flesh we have to sacrifice our natural reasoning ability and just take God at his word.
When we do that, we’re faced with another puzzle, and that is: Why do we need the Word to become flesh? We know we sin. It makes sense to us that we need some kind of help from our Creator. But we would have thought the only help we needed from God is that he would teach us to do good things. Just tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.
Our problem is worse than we would have thought. Sin goes beyond those things we’ve done that we regret, things we’re working to change for the better. Sin is a condition our parents passed on to us. Teaching us to stop sinning would be about as effective as teaching a cancer patient not to have cancer. More than that, our sin stains everything we do, even the good and nice things. Though we can’t feel how depraved we are in our sinful nature, on our own we are pure evil without even the tiniest spark of goodness in us. As the Apostle Paul says, “Nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature.”
Fellow sinners, let’s take these words to heart. When we think of our own sin we can only see symptoms of it. A harsh word here, an angry thought there. A little lust, a little lie. It seems like we should be able to handle these things on our own. But the Lord is like a doctor who uncovers a disease you didn’t know you have. Sin is a deadly disease. If we don’t deal with it, we will end up in hell for all eternity.
We need a complete overhaul. We are so lost in sin that we can’t be fixed. We need a righteousness transplant, but there’s only one righteous donor - only God. But our donor also needs to be compatible and only a human being can do that. We need someone who is both God and man to sacrifice himself for us.
And so we are back to the glorious good news of Christmas. The Word became flesh. God doesn’t attempt to explain how this can be so. We wouldn’t understand anyway, and it wouldn’t help us if we could. Instead he simply points at the babe in the manger and says, “for you.” And along with his promise, he sends his Holy Spirit to break through our natural sinful pride and our sin-stained reason and he gives us the humble faith of a child.
Glory to God in the highest! We have the Savior we need! We are rescued from hell! We are headed for heaven!
And... we continue to need him every day. Though we have Jesus already, and with him all the righteousness of God, our sinful nature continues to cling to us. It corrupts not only our heart but also our mind.
We may think we’re fine without God’s help. We may think we have what it takes to handle ourselves. Even though we know from God’s Word that this isn’t true, we may still think this way. We need to fight that. Every day we need to sacrifice the sin-stained reasoning of our minds, and listen to what God says.
And what does he say? He says, “Take eat, this is my body. Take drink, my blood of the covenant. Given and poured for you.” He knows very well that the mystery of Communion doesn’t make any sense to us either. We can’t understand how Jesus has enough body and blood to last for all those Communion suppers over the past two millennia. We can’t taste the body and blood of Jesus, we can’t sense its presence in any way. If we relied on our own reasoning ability alone we’d have to say it’s just bread and wine and nothing more.
Once again the Lord doesn’t try to explain it. He simply points at it and says, “for you.” And we sinners get to receive the very body and blood of our incarnate Savior. The one who was born in the manger, who walked on water, who went to his cross. We get to ponder what we can never understand on our own, that the limitless Son of God is contained in the limited vehicles of bread and wine. Another mystery! Another miracle! It’s a little bit like Christmas all over again.
Christmas. Communion. It seems that God’s way of helping us is by giving us impossible things to believe, and inviting us to trust him. He’s not trying to trick us or fool us. This is kindness. He’s teaching us and training us to lean on him.
We need that. We struggle to trust God. When we think about our lives, we may draw a conclusion that God doesn’t care about us. Why do we get sick? Why do the people we love die? Why do we have to have pain? Why does tragedy have to strike? Why? Why? Why? We may rack our brains trying to figure out what possible good thing God has done, and we may end up empty. We may have to conclude there is no reason! It’s a horrifying thought.
At Christmas time God says, my dear child, set your reason aside. See the Word made flesh for you. He is your Savior, I love you. If I did this for you, you can trust me to love you in everything else, too.
At Communion he says it again, my child, set your reason aside and receive the true body and blood of your Savior. This is for you, just for you. Don’t try to understand. Just know this: I’m with you, I will bless you.
In love, God hides himself behind things that seem to us not to make any sense, and when the rest of life doesn’t make sense we aren’t surprised, and we know where to find him: always in his Word.
God’s Word is our lifeline, not our intellect, not our plans, not our ability to figure things out, but God’s Word alone. Whenever the struggle is intense, and the world is too much, and all appears lost, when every earthly thing we love is gone, the Lord draws us close to him and gives us all we need for this life and the next by means of his Word.
We’re all here to celebrate Christmas. We have more to celebrate today than our Savior’s birth. Today we celebrate his incarnation. The Word became flesh for you and me. What a wonderful mystery!
The other parts of Christmas make us happy for a little while. The cheery lights in the dark of winter, the gifts wrapped in bright colored paper, the special food we only let ourselves eat on special occasions, the time with family and friends. They’re all good things, but the happiness these things add isn’t the kind that lasts very long. It’s true of all the things in this world. Whatever joy and amazement we experience from these things quickly fade.
But the mystery of the incarnation is something to ponder for all eternity, and with it, God’s grace for lost sinners, and his eternal blessing for all who believe. The Word became flesh for you!
Sermon Copyright (c) 2021, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Green Bay, WI 54301