Malankara World

Christmas Sermon - The Birthday of Jesus

John's Profound Prologue: The Mystery of Christmas

by The Rev. Charles Henrickson

"John's Profound Prologue: The Mystery of Christmas" (John 1:1-18)

Scripture: John 1:1-18

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 were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

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

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. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

The Holy Gospel for Christmas Day, John 1:1-18, which you just heard--this is usually called the "Prologue" of John's Gospel, since this opening passage introduces many of the major themes to be developed throughout the rest of the book.

Now if there were a contest for the most profound passage in the Bible, I think John's Prologue might win the prize. Nowhere are the most profound mysteries of the Christian faith expressed more deeply, and yet more simply, than here in this passage. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity; the doctrine of the person of Christ, his dual nature; the work of Christ, by which we are saved--all of these are caught and captured in the simplest of language, brief and succinct, and yet never to be fully plumbed in their depth. It's like an ocean: so deep and wide you can never finish exploring it, yet you can get in the water and splash around joyfully like a little child. John has a knack for putting the deepest truths in the simplest of language, and that gift is fully on display here in our text. Only eighteen verses, and any preacher could easily get eighteen sermons out of it, there's so much here.

And so this passage is perfect for Christmas. For here we find the astonishing, amazing, wonderful truth of what really happened on this day: The eternal God, who created all things, came in the flesh to be our Savior. There is nothing more profound and mysterious than this. Just try to wrap your mind around it. And yet it is so plainly stated. It's kind of like the greatest Christmas present in the world, wrapped in a plain brown wrapper. A great treasure, hidden in plain sight. That's what we have this morning as we explore "John's Profound Prologue: The Mystery of Christmas."

Even the first verse is utterly profound: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Here we have the incalculable mystery of the Trinity expressed in one simple sentence. "In the beginning." Here John is deliberately recalling the opening verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Something equally as major is what John is going to tell us about. "In the beginning was the Word." OK, we heard that in Genesis 1, in the account of Creation: "And God said, ‘Let there be light.'" "And God said, ‘Let there be . . ." sky and land and seas and stars and so on. Clearly, God created all these things by his powerful Word.

But the mystery that John is about to reveal is that this Word is not just an impersonal force but a distinct Person of the Godhead: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." "The Word was with God": There is the distinction of persons. This one called the Word, the Logos, is in a face-to-face relationship with God. "And the Word was God." Yes, this one called the Word is God in his very nature, in his essence, his being. Like I say, this is the mystery of the Trinity in as succinct and profound a form as you will ever find it!

Take that, you Arians and Unitarians, you Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, all heretics old and new! You cannot get around the divinity of Christ! It's right there in this one amazing verse: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And so our Nicene Creed speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ, calling him "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made." You do realize, don't you, that that last part, "by whom all things were made," is referring to Christ? It is. Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the eternal Word by whom all things were made. As John goes on to say, "He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made."

OK, so all well and good. We have established the divinity of Christ. Now what good does that do? What difference does that make in my life? In a word, everything! Because of what this divine Christ has within him and what he brings to us. "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." This is the life and the light we need and that we do not have apart from Christ. Without him, we are dead and in the dark. Dead men walking, wandering around in the darkness of our sin-blinded minds. That's the state of our world. But Christ's light and life pierces the darkness and illuminates our way, giving light to our souls. He quickens us, body and soul, giving us life, for he is the source of life.

"The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world." Now we're coming to the real mystery of Christmas. The eternal God did not stay aloof and remote, detached and distant from his creation and the people who sinfully rebelled against him. I suppose if I were God, I might do that, just write you bad people off and wipe you out. But, thank God, I am not God! The true God is a lot more loving than that, more merciful, a lot more creative and righteous and intent on life. That's why the true light was coming into the world.

And now we come to what might qualify as the single most profound sentence ever written, one verse that could fill volumes. Here is the mystery of Christmas, in the greatest words your ears will ever hear: "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." Angels pause and bend their knees as they ponder this mystery.

"And the Word became flesh." The fancy term for this is the "Incarnation," the "in-flesh-ment" that happened when the Son of God became the son of Mary. How is this possible? With God, all things are possible. The Creator of the universe, born as the child of a woman. He whom the galaxies cannot contain, laid in a cradle.

Poets, preachers, and hymn writers have marveled over this mystery. Luther, Gerhardt, they couldn't get over this. It always stopped them in their tracks as they tried to put this into words: "Ah, Lord, though you created all, how weak you are, so poor and small, that you should choose to lay your head where lowly cattle lately fed!" "He whom the sea and wind obey doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness. Thou, God's own Son, with us art one, dost join us and our children in our weakness." Wow! Amazing!

This is the hiddenness of Christmas, that that little baby, born in a manger, is the very Son of God and the Savior of the world. But that's how God operates, doing great things in lowly ways. God, lying in a manger. A king, dying on a cross. New birth, given through water and the word. Holy body and blood for forgiveness, in common bread and wine. Such is the hiddenness, the mystery, of God's dealing with men for salvation.

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." There's a lot packed into that word translated "dwelt." Literally, it could be translated "tabernacled." "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us." It's the same word used for the Old Testament tabernacle, the dwelling place of the Lord God in the midst of his people. The tabernacle was the place where God guided and guarded, gathered and governed, his people Israel. The tabernacle was where he forgave their sins, through the sacrifices he appointed.

Now that is what Christ has become for us, God's tabernacle in the midst of his people. Christ Jesus himself is the ultimate and final sacrifice for all of our sins, giving himself into death on the altar of the cross. "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Do you wonder why the Son of God came in the flesh, as one of us? So that he could die, that's why. Jesus died as our perfect substitute, taking the punishment we sinners deserved upon himself. And because he is the Son of God, his death has infinite worth, his blood covers the sins of the whole world. Christ came at Christmas so that he could redeem us on Good Friday and lead us out from death to life on Easter.

"Full of grace and truth," that's how this Jesus Christ comes among us. Full of grace and truth, grace upon grace. As I say, there's so much here to ponder, in this most profound of passages, John's Prologue. This is truly the marvelous mystery of Christmas. For here in the lowly coming of the Christ child are God's gifts in all their fullness, given to you this Christmas morn. The gifts are wrapped, and you can find them under the tree. They may not look like much on the outside, but they are glorious! Go ahead and open them up. These are no ordinary Christmas presents that you put aside and are done with in a week. No, these gifts will take you a lifetime to open and enjoy--and then some! Merry Christmas!

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