The Nativity of our Lord

Readings: Exodus 40:17-21, 34-38 | Titus 3:4-7 | John 1:1-14

Text: John 1:1-14

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Those few words describe the most important event in all creation. You would think that the universe being created out of nothing by the Lord simply speaking His Word would, by default, be the most important. Or maybe when the Lord created humanity in His image and likeness. But no. The One through whom all things were made become one of us. Was born just like we were. Lived just like we live. Died just like we will die. So that everything else He did would be counted as ours. 

Last night we celebrated the night when Jesus was born. We remembered Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and angels. This morning, the opening of John’s Gospel reveals just how much the incarnation, that is God taking on our flesh, means for all of creation. Before this, the Lord was certainly our creator. But even with His image and likeness, we were not the same. God did one thing, humanity did another. God is perfect and holy, humanity chose sin and depravity. God is eternal and immortal, humanity chose death and self-destruction. One man’s sin reflected all humanity. One man’s death meant death for all. It would take the sinlessness of God to overcome inherited sin. But only a human being could do it for it to count for us all. 

The first half of Paul’s letter to the Romans lines this out far better than I. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 

And so, the Word who was with God, who is Himself also God, through whom all things were made, did something new. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God became a human being, just like you and me. 

But before that happened, the Lord first made the world ready. He set aside a people to whom He would be born. He gave them all the Law that He required us to fulfill. He had them hand it down from generation to generation. He kept those generations faithful, sometimes through only a small remnant. They were Jews. 

He also turned other kingdoms into empires that would conquer all. Persians, then Greeks, then Romans. Each adding another piece. The Persians funded the temple rebuild, and the walls that let Jerusalem survive. The Greeks brought the language that would unify the nations. And the Romans gave peace and free passage to all who were within their borders. So, at the right time, God entered His creation, took on human flesh, and was born to a virgin. He was named Jesus. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 

Jesus did not take a comfortable life. He did not enjoy the charmed life of those born wealthy. He did not inherit a life of power for those born into royalty. He did not inherit anything of note, except a name handed down from generation to generation. He did not live a life that only a few may know, but the life that all experience. A life of hardships, and loss, and pain. We read that 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 . . .” But He sets everything aside to be just like us. Not because He would like to fit in with us, or gain our favor. Rather that’s the only way we can be saved from our sin.

Jesus fulfilled all the Law that He had given to Moses and the prophets of Israel. Jesus lived His life without sin. He was blameless, spotless, just like the lamb of the sacrifice the Law required. By Jesus becoming human, we shared our sin and death with Him who had none. But the reverse also happened. for if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. He got our sin and death, we got His sinlessness and life. 

And did He ever take our death away! The spotless Lamb of God, was nailed to a cross in our place. He received the wages of our sin as one of us. He died a criminal’s death because He became one of us. He was buried alone in His tomb like we deserved. And in exchange, we are now children of God like the only-begotten Son. We stand without our sins before the judgment seat, just like Him. We have life instead of death, just like Him. Because, here’s the kicker. on the third day, Jesus stopped being dead. Not as a god freed from his humanity. Jesus rose in our humanity. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 

In the flesh, Jesus left the grave. In the flesh, He appeared to Peter, the twelve, and five hundred witnesses. In the flesh, Jesus remained with them forty more days after His resurrection. And, get this, when Jesus ascended back into heaven, He did it in the flesh. Jesus still has our humanity. That means that the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has our humanity joined in. God is no longer an other. God is one of us. Everything that is His, He has made ours. 

He has made us sinless, by taking our sins away, dying with them on His cross, and forgiving our sins forever. He has made us immortal, by dying and rising on the third day. He has made us children of God by becoming our brother. He has made us heirs of His kingdom in the same way. So this Christmas Day, we rejoice. We have heard the good news. We have good tidings of great joy that is for all people. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

The Nativity of Our Lord

Readings: Exodus 40:17–21, 34–38 | Titus 3:4–7 | John 1:1-18

Text: John 1:1-14

In dialog, God always goes back to the beginning, the foundation upon which He built.  Consider these examples from Jacob, Moses, and the prophet Isaiah:

“And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.” (Genesis 28:13)

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2)

“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:8-10)

The beginning of the Gospel according to St. John is no exception.  The Holy Spirit directs our attention all the way back to the beginning of creation and man in it, to our rebellion, and to God’s steadfast pursuit of His creature, fallen man.

But this is far more than the voice of a disciplinarian who wants his wayward servants to get in line.  Your God wants ever so much more; He wants to dwell in your midst as He once did in the Garden before sin. 

We heard of this in the Old Testament lesson and the building of the tabernacle.  The story of Israel is that of God working to dwell in the midst of His people.  It runs through the promise of the land, to the ornate engravings in the Tabernacle and Temple which hint at Eden restored, and through the substitutionary sacrifices which restore peace with their God.  The apex of it all is that God dwells (or tabernacles) in the midst of His people.

Yet tabernacling in a building was not God’s final goal.  For how close can He be when His holy presence must be mediated by blood of sacrifices and smoke of incense?

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

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.

He desires to tabernacle among us creatures, becoming a creature Himself. 

This is to deal with sin once for all, no longer answering for human sin with animal blood.  He puts Himself under the curse, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4), so that He would gain reprieve for us.  The Word became flesh to suffer the agony of this body and life and to weep bitter tears in His mortal weakness.  He became flesh so that He could close His eyes and breath His last as we do, and to triumph over it. 

The Word became flesh in order to speak His Word not through an intermediary of a prophet or a dream.  Upon human lips, the very voice of God is heard: “Amen, amen, I say to you…” [Matt. 5:18; John 3:3; et al]  

The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us to share with us in our mortal weakness—”to be finite and circumscribed, to suffer and die, to ascend and descend, to move from one place to another, to suffer hunger, thirst, frost, heat”[1]  All so that, as St. Paul writes, “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8)  Yet being sinless as He is, He now in glory, intercedes for us and knows our pains, temptations, and enemies personally.

Far more than in a building, God tabernacles in our flesh.

There is still more that He seeks.  Yes, He tabernacles in the flesh of mankind, but still more, He has come to tabernacle with you:

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

He is working to restore that fellowship with man and woman He had so long ago (for us) now.  He has come to be received by you as your Immanuel, God with us.  Your Jesus, your Lord and your God [John 20:28].  Saying it that way doesn’t diminish His majesty, or the magnitude of His saving work.  Rather, it expresses the truth that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who led Israel out of Egypt, who calls a people for Himself from the ends of the earth, has also come for you.  “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you remember him, and the son of man that you visit him?” (Psalm 8:3-4, alternate translations of underlined words, זכר and פקד)

And what this means is that you are more than what your flesh and the world tell you.  In times of anguish and uncertainty, we feel that God is far off and uncaring.  If He really cared, He wouldn’t have let this happen!  When we have been belligerent and neglectful of His Word, our shame tells us that God hates us.  There’s no way the things I’ve done or thought or said could ever be atoned for!

Do not be unbelieving, but believe that God is constantly working for you to dwell with Him and He to dwell with you!  You, who lament your folly, do not think God has forsaken you, because as a man Christ has taken that for you too.  The extent He has gone to in order to bring you back, taking you from death to life, shows just how serious your God is to deliver and preserve you.

By the strength of His might, He has brought you to Himself.  In the trustworthy sign of Baptism, “He saved you in the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:4-7, Epistle reading) whom He has poured out richly on you.  He will assuredly not forsake you now, no matter how much hurt you bear, how much the Devil is pressing you, or how you have wandered in the past.

At the Last, you will enjoy an even closer dwelling than we have known so far. For He promises in that day to remove sin, death, and the devil far from us.  And of this, the Holy Spirit gave this vision to St. John:

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Thanks and praise to the Word made flesh, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

[1] Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VIII para. 10

The Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity A.D. 2018 (John 1:1-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

The Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity A.D. 2018

Text: John 1:1-14

The theory of evolution would have us believe that everything which exists is the product of natural forces—genetic mutation, chance, and death.  Before you have a visceral reaction against even the word “evolution,” take a minute to consider this naturalistic view of the world in light of what the Evangelist is saying here.

            This is an especially appropriate topic to consider on Christmas, because of our Savior’s birth into the human world.  There are many Christian fellowships that see no problem with the theory of evolution or even promote its cause.  May we be strengthened in our faith to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ!

            St. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things through Him were made, and of what exists, nothing was made apart from Him” (vv. 1-3).

            The human wisdom of evolution tells us, In the beginning was something that already existed.  We’re not sure where it came from, but we’re pretty sure that’s how things were 13,798,000,000 years ago.[1]  Then, that pre-existing matter exploded and set off the biggest exothermic reaction to ever happen.  So many billions of years later, you have the world as we know it.  “Math, science, history, unraveling the mystery that all started with a big bang.”[2]  This is quite a different story from St. John, claiming unprecedented insight 14 billion years after the fact.

            The problem isn’t the numbers, because Christian squabbles over how many thousands of years is just as trivial as evolutionists’ how many billions of years.  God doesn’t tell us, because it’s not important.  It comes down to Who was there when it happened.  Was it an impassionate, mindless glob of energy that governed itself by laws of physics?  Or was it a God Who is the originator of everything, and creates by His Word?

            Now, certainly it would be an impressive achievement for this God to create all that exists—the Milky Way, stars, galaxies; earth with its oceans, mountains, deserts, and clouds; immense varieties of land, sea, and flying animals.  All of this is remarkable, but what are we to be considering it?  How did we become self-aware, intelligent, adaptable, and able to communicate?  St. John continues, “In [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light in the darkness shines, and the darkness has not overcome it” (vv. 4-5).

            If everything were a result of natural forces, what is man?  An animal amid a great company of different species.  Man is certainly a noble animal, but who’s to define what is noble or valuable?  Man must be filled with hubris to think of himself as superior to any animal or plant or rock.  It’s all matter, and all of us came from the same atoms.

            On the other hand, if we believe St. John, we see that the same God who created all things out of nothing, also gave mankind a very special place among “all things that exist” (v. 3).  Everything that exists was made through the Word of God, but “in Him was life and the life was the light of men.”  What gives man his nobility and his value?  God does, the very Author of Life does.  And among all creatures that have the breath of life, He gave His Light to man.  Therefore, in the words of Genesis, man is created in the image and likeness of God[3]—thinking, self-conscious, emotional, relational, creative, and able to communicate.  Communicate with whom?  With God and with one another.  God created through the Word, expresses Himself by words, and reveals Himself to man through the Word.  God created language just for mankind.

            And God does more than simply communicate with man.  According to who He is, He relates with man.  This relationship with man is deeply damaged on man’s side: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.”  Later, John will explain, “The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”[4] The people God created to know him and know one another, used another of their God-created attributes—a will of their own—to refuse Him.  In so doing, they became so darkened, that even when God the Word came into the world in the flesh, man knew nothing of Him.

            Naturalism can account for none of the unique blessings and unique curses belonging to humanity.  According to evolution, death is a natural part of the system, a recycling of matter.  If man behaves like an animal, it’s because he is one.  The evils which we hate are taught to us and are simply our desire to propagate our own genes.[5]  But these theories offer no answer to pain, loss, grief, or pangs of conscience.  All they can do is point you toward death as an escape into oblivion.

            But St. John tells us of so much more for humanity.  We have more than a futile, animal existence.  And when we experience pain, loss, grief, and guilt, it is not simply up to us to bear that burden and think our ourselves out of it.  We are creatures of God, beloved by Him.  He never casts us off as refuse.  He shares His own likeness with us!  And where does He show that in more brilliant clarity than in the Incarnation?

The God who created heaven and earth, who personally formed each of us in our mother’s womb, bound Himself forever to His creation.  The Word became creature of this creation through the womb of the Virgin.  And now there is nothing that can wrench us from His hands.  In former times, God said, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”[6]  But when the Word became flesh, He moved in with us permanently.  The Word was made flesh, and He is now forever human, just as much as from “the beginning He was with God and was God.”

In the words of the Nicene Creed, for us men and for our salvation, He became man.  The Word became flesh to purify it—to purify us from all ungodliness, which shows itself in idolatry, rebellion, murder, sexual immorality, and greed.  The Incarnate Word purifies us by taking all these things into Himself.  He takes dying people of the flesh, and raises us up to be children of God, sharing in His life.

This is the universe we exist in—not a chaotic, heartless mass of energy and matter.  We exist in a creation that is tended and cared for by an Almighty Creator.  But even more than that, though we are corrupt and dying, our Creator also took it upon Himself to save us.  In the Word made flesh, we have a God who takes a dying humanity into Himself that through Him we may have life eternally.  Amen.

[1] Give or take 37 million years.

[2] Theme song to the TV show Big Bang Theory

[3] Genesis 1:-26-27

[4] John 3:19

[5] A rationale espoused by Richard Dawkins in “The Selfish Gene” (Oxford, 1976)

[6] Isaiah 49:16

Nativity of Our Lord (John 1:1-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Nativity of Our Lord + December 25, 2017
Text: John 1:1-14

This morning, we complete our series on the pivotal point in the Nicene Creed (which we just confessed).  “For us men, and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made Man.
As 21st century Christians, we take these words for granted.  That the Son of God became man was the scandal of the first five centuries of the Christian Church.  It was already brewing in the days of John the Evangelist, when he warned believers, 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist.” (1 John 4:2–3) But it continued through the councils where one after another teacher tried to skirt the Scriptural truth: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  “He was made man.”  “Homo factus est.” (Latin for the same) was the rallying point for the true Christian faith.  How could the Word become flesh?  How could God become man?  Perhaps it’s better to answer with Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
All those who have been led astray have gone that way because they compared God’s ability to human understanding.  If we cannot let go of our own limited understanding and philosophical rules, we miss out on tremendous truth that God became man.
In the truth of this, there is astounding comfort!  Because God became flesh, we have a high priest who sympathizes with our weakness, as the Scripture says, 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16)   Our God shares our flesh. He is not aloof from our bodily pain, but He shares it.  Whenever you are assaulted by Satan, He has been there too—and overcome for you.  In the depth of despair when we want to cry out to someone who can both understand and help, cry out to Jesus who shares your flesh!
Because God became man, we have a God who is not aloof from us, but is intimately connected with our lives.  3He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)  Consider your griefs–pains of body, family discord, facing poverty, or losing your spouse or a child.  You know your own experience of that pain.  But, now consider what these verses say: Your God, your Savior Jesus, is so well-acquainted with grief and sorrow that He feels it personally.  His coming in the flesh means that He is not a God who stands far off from your anguish and simply sends a sympathy card.  He sympathizes by becoming one with you and the whole race so that He can uphold you and bring you out of this valley of sorrow to eternity!
Because God became man, He is able to give us strength with His Body and Blood to eat and drink.  54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54)  We feel the pangs of death, and see the effects of its approach.  But Jesus, our God in the flesh, has made atonement for sin by the cross, entered the grave and risen.  Now, He gives us, who live under the shadow of death, His flesh to eat and His blood to drink.  Though His flesh and blood, our weak flesh and blood has eternal life.  In this Sacrament, He preserves you through every temptation, disease, and even your own passing away.
Even though human wisdom may not comprehend how this can be, believe His holy Word:
12To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the [only-begotten] Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:12–14)
These words proclaim to you salvation, comfort, strength, and eternal hope.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No One Can Name Themself a Child of God (John 1:1-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
The Nativity of Our Lord + December 25, 2016
Text: John 1:1-14

Who has the authority to make someone a child of God?
Who is a child of God, a Christian?  Who makes that declaration?
Not what family you come from, whether a Christian home or not.  This is difficult for Christian parents to accept when their children seem to lose their faith.
Not what our flesh desires.  Our sinful nature wants all the benefits of being a child of God with none of the repentance and dying with Christ.  Old Adam wants carte blanche to live his own self-defined life and go to heaven when he’s done.
Not the will of man.  That is, nobody decides to be a Christian.  Nobody can make themselves a believer.  “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”  Don’t believe it because Luther’s catechism says it.  Believe it because God’s Word said it first.
All of you who are gathered here to worship the Incarnate Lord and celebrate Christmas, rejoice!  Your being a child of God is God’s handiwork, called by the Gospel, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, sanctified, and kept in this true faith to life everlasting.