The Nativity of Our Lord
December 25, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
A good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s really that simple. The beginning introduces you to the main characters and lays the foundation for the narrative that follows. The middle begins with a complicating incident, then deals with a problem, often with a major change for a character. The end is the resolution of the conflict; but by passing through the crisis, nothing is the same as it once was.
The story of Jesus has been called “the greatest story ever told.” Its beginning is literally in the beginning, which is where the evangelist takes us. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word (v 1). For emphasis, he says it again, This One was in the beginning with God (v 2). The Word itself does not have a beginning, but He was in the beginning. All things that have a beginning have their beginning through His personal agency. With these few words we are brought back to Genesis: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). It was the beginning of a very good story.
But the complicating incident was complicating indeed. In the beginning was the Word, but man rejected the Word for another speech. And darkness fell upon the world. Sin, death, and the devil now reigned. The story quickly became troubled. Rebellion, murder, adultery, theft, deceit. The new normal was that instead of bearing the image of the Divine Word, who was oriented toward His Father in love, the world became inwardly oriented. Incurvatus en se. Curved in upon itself.
Even though the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it (v 5), the darkness did not love the Light. God sent His Word by patriarchs and prophets, judges and kings, but the people continued to reject the Word who was from the beginning. The persecuted those who spoke the Word, and killed some of theme.
For a while there was silence. Daily life still went much like it had, and that old Word was preserved in the ceremonies, but there was not a prophet speaking. For centuries. Until There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, to bear witness concerning the Light, so that all would believe through him. This one was not the Light, but he came to bear witness concerning the Light. The true Light which enlightens all men was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him (vv 6-11).
The Word came to His own people, but He came in a way that He had never before come. He did not send Elijah or another prophet. He did not speak through patriarchs or judges or kings. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). The Word Himself came in the flesh.
If there’s one thing you should remember this Christmas, it’s that the glory of God is not found in a majestic sunset over the mountain, or the sound of waves crashing on the beach, or in miraculous signs and wonders. God’s glory is found in the flesh of the baby that lies in the manger.
But if His own people did not receive His Word when it was spoken by the prophets, they absolutely did not receive the Word become flesh. This is offensive to human nature. In the life of Jesus, we see the glory of God begin to take a peculiar shape. It’s not victorious living. It’s not miracles and wonders. The glory of God begins to take the shape of the cross. Which is even more offensive to human nature.
When some Greeks come to the Word become flesh on Palm Sunday, Jesus answers, The hour has come, so that the Son of Man may be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit (Jn 12:23-24). The glory of the Word become flesh is now shown clearly in His death.
It’s a surprising glory. The glory of death. But it’s not like the glorious death of a brave soldier in battle. It’s a slave’s death. Hung up for all to see. Mocked. Shamefully treated. Spit upon. Suffering. Alone. Forsaken. At the end of it all, the last words of the Word become flesh are, It is finished (Jn 19:30). The Word that was in the beginning comes to His end in death.
But the ending at the cross isn’t the end of the story. The death of Jesus Christ brings to completion all that had come before it—the word of prophets and kings and patriarchs. It brought to an end the promise from the beginning that God would unite Himself with man to crush the old evil foe. It is finished. But it’s also just beginning.
The Word That Was in the Beginning Is Completed in Christ’s Death; But for You It’s a New Beginning
Very early on the first day of the week (which could also be considered the eighth day of the previous week) while it was still dark, a Light began to dawn before the sun rose. Like the morning star that appears just as the darkness starts to dissipate. Mary and some other disciples came to the tomb, but they found no dead flesh there. Instead, the white linens that had covered the dead body were neatly put in order. And angels proclaimed that the Word that was from the beginning, that had become flesh, that that met an end on the cross, was now risen.
When He had overcome the darkness of death, the Word rose again from the dead to bring life and immortality to light. Like a spotlight on a dark stage, the Word illuminates the way for you to also overcome death’s darkness.
This is the glory of the newborn baby we celebrate today. The Word becomes flesh, but His glory is His death and resurrection. You behold this glory, because we don’t celebrate the birth of a dead historical figure, but the living Son of God, who by His death conquered death. And because of this He presents you with a second birth.
But as many as received Him, He gave to them who believe in His name authority to become children of God, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of a man, but begotten of God (vv 12-13). This is the birth from above which Jesus describes to Nicodemus by night. It’s the birth of water and the Spirit.
You have received this birth in the water of your baptism. You are enlightened by this gift to see that Christ’s death is both His glory and yours, because in the font you joined Christ in His death and resurrection. What He endured becomes your gift by faith in the name that is placed on you. Your baptism is not the work of a man of flesh and blood, but it is God’s work.
As we celebrate the birth of Christ, we must not forget that we also celebrate the new birth given in baptism. That is the critical incident that brings you into the new story begun with Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
We are now in the middle of the story of this new creation. And there are many complicating incidents along the way—our own sinful flesh assures us of that. But because of what was finished on the cross by the Word become flesh, no complication, no sin, not even death itself can author the ending of this new story.
It is, in fact, a never-ending story. Because the Word who was in the beginning, who became flesh in time, now sits at God’s right hand in heaven. He still bears the marks of His cross in the flesh. And those marks are not only proof that it is finished, but this is also begun. A new creation. An eternal creation. World without end. Amen.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard