We don’t know the exact day it happened. God doesn’t tell us, but we know Jesus was born. That is a historical fact. And that’s why you are here today. We have Constantine to thank for that. It was the year 336 and Constantine wanted to celebrate the birth of Christ rather than all the other celebrations going on around the same time – Hanukah and pagan winter solstice festivities to name a couple. Well, as the Emperor of the Roman Empire and a Christian, he could make that call. So he did. And here we are. It sounds simple enough: pick a day, call it Christ’s Mass, or Christmas, and let’s celebrate Jesus’ birth.
But we’ve turned it into this commercialized train doing warp speed down the tracks, and nobody is going to stop it. Christmas has exploded, and not in a good way. The music tells you about snowmen, Santa, sweat treats, and sappy feelings. The shopping deals start in November and you are urged to get out and shop ‘til you drop. Even now the thought is to get out there and find after Christmas deals. Millions of dollars are flying out of bank accounts to make sure that we do Christmas right every year. Having a celebration for the birth of Christ just doesn’t cut it anymore.
It was supposed to be that simple, kind of like the Christmas story John tells us today. The words before us in John, chapter one are straightforward. So clear and easy, in fact, that even a kindergartener could read them. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …In him was life and that life was the light of men…The Word became flesh… It’s not difficult to read it. We don’t need a professional linguist or theological scholar to get through this Christmas account. They’re simple, until you to start thinking about what these words mean. Christmas becomes a bit more complex. There is more going in here than we could ever comprehend. What child is this?
Throughout history, people have tried out many answers. There are some who said he’s a nobody because they say he never happened. They put Christmas and Jesus in the fairytale category. Then, there are those who said he was great example for us. The way he helped the poor and diseased when no one else would shows us what love is. They say Christ was showing us that love is accepting all people no matter what they say or do. Others said he was a powerful prophet who taught wise lessons about humility, finances, possessions, personal sacrifice, and determination.
Well, that’s not good enough. For people during the Apostle John’s day, for people during Constantine’s day, for people during any age of this world, it’s not good enough to think that Christmas is about the birth of a wise teacher, a great example of compassion, or just a fairytale on the level of The Grinch who Stole Christmas. People need to know the simple truth.
So God had the Apostle John write this version of the Christmas story in simple sentences to lay it all out there, describing what kind of child this is. And to start it off he says, “In the beginning…” That’s right! For John’s Christmas story, he goes back to where it all began. No Bethlehem here. No City of David. We don’t hear about a journey from Nazareth in Galilee. We go back before there was a Bethlehem or Nazareth. This Christmas story takes us to the beginning of it all.
Why does John go back so far? Why start with creation? Well, we have to see how vast God is. We have to understand that we cannot understand everything about God. He’s too big, too infinite, too omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. God is before us and after us. He fills all things. He’s the one who made everything and still makes everything work. He’s the almighty Creator.
Then, John wants to go back one step farther. He wants us to think of a time before there was time and space. Peering back into that mysterious eternity, John introduces us to this main character of his Christmas narrative with a unique name. This time of year, we would call him baby Jesus, the Newborn King, and Immanuel. But as we have already heard, John’s Christmas story is simple but a little different. He says his name is the Word. That title for God’s Son is simple and so beautiful. What child is this? He’s God’s messenger. He speaks for God. What God thinks, the Word speaks. What God desires, the Word communicates. And John says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God…” So you have the Word and God side by side, face to face, in perfect harmony, perfect agreement. It is the perfect relationship.
At this point, we have some answers for who this child is. He is there before the beginning. He is called the Word. And he was with God. These are simple answers. Christmas is supposed to be simple after all. But now John is going to start blowing our minds. John continues with something that sounds like a contradiction: “…the Word was God…” The Word was with God in perfect harmony. The Word was communicating for God. Even though the Word and God are two separate and distinct beings in eternity, they are also one, united and joined together. So when it comes to the beginning, the Word and God do not have one. God has always been. When it comes to creation, the Word and God did it together. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
If you want to know what kind of child this is laying in Bethlehem’s manger, you have to look around at everything there is. It’s all because of and through him. He is the Word that is both with God and is God from all eternity. You want to talk about an amazing birth with angels and shepherds? John wants you to know that before there was any birth, or any sheep, or anything out there at all… you have to talk about who this child is and what he has already done.
These are simple words but they go beyond what I can understand. And we need it that way. We need to know that this little baby in a manger is the eternal Word, that he is the vast and infinite God who made all things. We need to see how much care he took in making this little pearl of a planet. We need to know just how much we don’t know about God, because that makes this next part so amazing.
The Word became flesh. This God, who can do more with a single breath than billions of people can do with their entire lives, he decided to come here and live like one of us. He traded his eternal throne of heaven, as the creator and ruler of all things, for a feeding trough. He gave up his unlimited power and knowledge to be a helpless little baby. He did that for you and for me, so that Christmas would not be about dollars and decorations, about deception and, for some, depression. Instead, it is a time of good news and peace for all. The creator of this world was content to be born in a stall so that you and I can have a place in his mansions.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. The Word, who created mankind, had to become a man himself in order to save his beloved creation. This is the message of Christmas for you, the simple truth of a God who loved you enough to be one of you. The Word became flesh. If we don’t have this kind of Christmas, then we don’t have a Savior. The Word became flesh just like you.
Have you ever had trouble sleeping because you are dealing the things that you did or didn’t do? You’re upset because you realize that your title is spiritual failure, again. You wonder how you can fall back into the same sins that said you wouldn’t do anymore – the same feelings or same words. Do you wonder if God can ever understand what you are going through when you are having struggles or sadness? He can. The Word became flesh. Jesus knows exactly what it is like to live in human flesh. He was tempted in every way, yet was without sin. Jesus knows your frailties and my weakness. He knows what it is like to like in a fleshly world like this. He became flesh and he did it perfectly so that he could be the Savior for every one of us on this pearl of a planet.
John says the light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it. God was not willing to let this world sit in its own handiwork. Where there was darkness, God brought light. With every promise God made, with every message of good news and hope God was shining his flashlight in the darkness. It happened when God told a man named Noah to build a boat. It happened when God made a bold promise to a 99 year-old man named Abraham. It happened when God told David that he would have a future son who would establish a kingdom for God’s people forever. It happened when prophets told God’s people that rescue and restoration was coming. It happened when angels appeared to shepherds in the fields nearby. It happened when Magi saw a special star and made a long journey. It happened when apostles and evangelists walked miles and miles to bring the news of the risen Christ to people who had never heard it before. God’s light was shining in the darkness.
That kind of light still shines. When God’s people gather (even a week after Christmas because we had to cancel a service), there’s a light. When God’s people give church invitations to friends and neighbors, that’s a light. When children sit up front here to sing and proclaim the real Christmas story, that’s a light. When you forgive as the Lord forgave you, that’s a light. When you stand on the foundation of God’s holy Word, the Word that was with God in the beginning and was God, that’s a light. God’s light still shines, and he uses you to do it.
But it doesn’t always seem to work, does it? Noah only had 8 people on that boat. Everyone else mocked him and perished in the flood. Abraham’s wife laughed about the thought of a child for an old couple. David’s sons became kings, but often the apple didn’t fall far from the tree – they were liars, sexually immoral, and murderers. God’s prophets and apostles went to great lengths to preach good news, but were often persecuted and even killed for the message they spoke. The light, well, it’s not always understood today either. Watch the news, walk around in a store, listen to people at the gym. The darkness is creeping everywhere. Invitations go out, facebook posts go up, and you ask someone to come, but not everyone wants to hear the good news of great joy that is for all people.
We know this darkness, often times too well. It lingers in our hearts towards people who are different. It creeps into our conversations when our words are not decent. It covers our actions when we are selfish or when we are alone and there are no eyes on us. We each have our own battle with darkness that we cannot overcome.
That is exactly why the Word became flesh. Jesus came here to be a light in our darkness. And in love he let the darkness overtake him so that it would never overtake us. He gave up his human life so that we wouldn’t have to. Jesus came down from heaven so that he could suffer the punishment of hell for us. He took our fear of darkness and death away forever. Every ounce of guilt that we produce and carry, Jesus has removed and replaced with the light of life. Our greatest need is not a bunch of presents under a tree. Our greatest need is forgiveness and life, so the Word became flesh to do just that.
What child is this? What a great question. And what a fantastic answer we hear today. He is the eternal God, who created all things. He is the Almighty, who decided to leave heaven to live, die, and rise for us. He is the light that shatters our darkness. He is life that defeats death. As John puts it so beautifully, he is the one who gives us the right to become children of God. Now there’s a gift. And friends, that’s a gift that will be with you every day in the New Year.
The words are simple and clear, but the meaning boggles the mind. What child is this? Listen one more time to the Christmas gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it…
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!