1 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 all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 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 did receive 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 Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
When I was a kid, we used to do this thing on Christmas Day where my brother, sister, and I would look for a small pickle ornament that was hidden somewhere in the Christmas tree. Have you ever heard of this before? There are a lot of hypotheses as to how this ever became a thing to do at Christmas, but the one that my mom taught us seems logical.
Putting an evergreen tree up in your house became a thing around the 15th century in Germany. It’s a symbol for the tree of life. And so they brought this tree in their house at Christmas because Jesus is the Life, he gives us the gift of life, and he will bring us to heaven where, as the Bible says, we will enjoy the tree of life forever. And they decorated this tree sometimes with candles because Christmas is all about the light that shines in the darkness. Their ornaments on the tree were cookies, apples, and other fruits and vegetables because the tree of life is something that we will eat from. That’s why a lot of ornaments nowadays are round balls that look like apples and pears. So here’s where we pick it up with this pickle thing. My mom said, according to tradition, that the pickle was the last ornament hung on the tree. It was hidden and then the game was that whoever found it first would get an extra present. So that’s why we did it as kids.
We read through this Christmas gospel from John 1 every year on Christmas day, and it’s straightforward and clear language. There are no big theological words here, just plain normal words that we use all the time: “beginning…the word…with God…was God…” But there is something hidden in here that is a lot more profound than getting an extra little present. Because hidden in these words is the greatest Christmas gift we have.
The true gift of Christmas is not a great man, a miracle worker, or compassionate leader, because it is something far greater. John wants us to see just how great it is and so he goes way back to the very first words of the Bible, “In the beginning…” But John goes ever further back than Genesis, to a time where was no earth. What was there? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God was there before Genesis 1. And God was not alone. The Word was with God, but the Word also was God. Jesus is one of the persons of the eternal Triune God. Astounding to think that Christmas started before Bethlehem, before the shepherds and angels, before Mary and Joseph. Because the one whose birth we celebrate today, has no beginning.
But why did he have to be born here in this world? I don’t claim to know anything about engineering, but when an engineer designs a machine, he has a specific job that it is designed to do, right? That machine does not need to do anything nor everything. It has a precise purpose. When an architect sketches out a building it is to fulfill a certain function. If it’s a church building it will look one way, a house another, a store still another. Likewise, when God made this world and put us here, it was for a specific purpose: to love our maker, to give him glory as an unequaled powerful and loving God, and to be a blessing to our fellow human beings. We were designed in the image of God to reflect his love, care, thoughtfulness, and productivity.
But quite quickly after we were placed into this paradise, we failed to keep God’s image. We did not live up to our purpose. That is why we needed God to become man. We couldn’t fix ourselves and get rid of the brokenness. We needed the one who made us to fix us.
There is another reason we needed God to come here. People often look at God as distant or hidden. Sure, he says he is watching over you and helping you, but sometimes it’s hard to see. It seems like God is way off in his perfect home not having a clue how hard it is to live as a human being in this dark world. Christmas shows us that our God knows and understands us better than we often think. If we say, “God, do you know what it is like to face endless temptations,” Jesus says, “I can recall more than 30 years of experience fighting off the devil with my thoughts, words, and actions.” If we say, “God, do you know what it is like to be so scared that you can barely function,” Jesus replies, “I can relate from that night in Gethsemane where my sweat was drops of blood and my prayers begged my Father to change the plan.” If you say, “God, you can’t understand what it is like to have family and friends let you down again and again,” Jesus answers, “Do you remember my disciples Denying Peter, Betraying Judas, Doubting Thomas? I think I get it.” Even if you say, “Jesus, do you know what it feels like to carry a burden of guilt and shame? Do you know what it is like to feel like God is against you, like he has abandoned you,” Jesus responds, “I can understand better than you, because I carried the burden of sin for the whole world. My Father would never abandon you, because when I was on the cross paying for your sins, he abandoned me.”
And still another reason we needed God to come here. The God we have is so huge and powerful and divine and vast and mighty and holy and eternal and on and on and on, that we could never begin to comprehend him. That’s pretty clear with this title before us today, “ὁ λόγος.” What does that even mean? It can be translated “word” or “statement” or “communication.” But we’re not just talking vocabulary here; it’s the message or the embodiment of an idea.
How can we possibly understand a being that could call all things into existence simply by speaking? That’s why smart science people have tried to answer that question by saying he didn’t. Their brain power is too small to understand how this world came into being. Jesus is so far above us, so much beyond us, we cannot grasp the breath of his knowledge or the limitlessness and eternity of his power. The title “the Word” wraps all of that up in a package that says we have an awesome God.
But we need to understand him, at least to some extent. We need to know what he wants and does not want of his creation, how he feels about us and our sins. So, we needed him to reveal himself to us, that we might understand what he wants us to know.
To really understand someone requires words. Imagine you are walking through a park or the mall. You see a man in his 30s. Just by looking at him, you come to some conclusions. He has no ring on his finger, so he’s likely not married. He has a big beard, a plaid shirt, and tight jeans, so you conclude he’s a millennial hipster. He’s eating a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, mushrooms and pickles, so you assume he is dieting or a vegetarian. Just by looking at him, you can figure out a few things. But would you say you actually know him? I sure hope you’re not the judgmental. To really know him would require a conversation with WORDS. So, when Jesus is called “the Word,” the Spirit is telling us he is the way God reveals himself to us. He is how we get to know God. We can sure look at things in Creation and deduce that God is powerful, wise, and creative. Yet only in looking at Christ Jesus can we really see what is in God’s heart. Only in looking at Christ can we see that God is loving, that he doesn’t wish to destroy sinners, but save us.
And so, “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.” Jesus came. The hidden God became known here among us. God “made his dwelling” here. I like how that is the past tense. It means God did that in the past. He came here once, but he didn’t stay because that was not the job. The job wasn’t to make this place his home. It was just a dwelling. The Greek word means “to live in a tent.” It wasn’t permanent. The Word became flesh so that he could remove the darkness we made. The Word became flesh so he could reveal himself as the God who loves us. The Word became flesh so he could save us from sin and open up the doors to a new home. The first time, God came here to dwell with us, so that there would be another time where God could dwell with us, when we are taken to his home in heaven forever.
There is only one way that eternal life in heaven can be ours. There is only one way to be on God’s side, a child in his eternal family. John says that you cannot be born “of natural descent.” It’s not about having the right parents or genes. John says that you cannot have this by “human decision.” That means you don’t decide to make heaven your home. It is “of God.” Heaven, being part of God’s family is a gift given by God. And he does it this simple yet amazing way. Through the written Word, the living and active Word of God, the Spirit creates faith in us and ties us in faith to the incarnate Word. They are inseparable. To be in the Scripture is to be in Christ Jesus our Lord. Apart from Scripture, you are apart from the Word. That’s why we join in worship, why we encourage Bible study, why you read your Bible at home and have devotions with your family. Because without the written Word you don’t have the incarnate Word, who came to remove our darkness.
So here we are today, marveling all over again at the miracle of the Incarnation, taking in that Word of God. Brothers and sisters, hidden in here is something better than a pickle in a Christmas tree and an extra little trinket. Hidden in this Word is the eternal Word who took on human flesh to save us. Hidden in this Word is the greatest gift we could ever have: the Light of life that drives away the darkness of sin, death, and hell. Hidden in this Word is the eternal Word who took up residence in our hearts so that we could be called “the children of God.” There is no greater gift at Christmas than this Word:
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 all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
…to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
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.