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Sermon for Christmas Eve

John 1:1-9, 14

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was in the beginning with God.  3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.  9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Emanuel, God with Us

For the last four weeks, our anticipation of the coming of Jesus has been the focus of our readings and has also marked this season of Advent with the 4-fold focus of love, joy, hope and peace.  And part of what we’ve been anticipating these past few weeks was initially fulfilled in Jesus’ incarnation.  And because we’ve spent this time of waiting highlighting the joy, faith, hope, and peace that comes from God, these focused areas of Advent have, as a result, now carried us into Christmas.  Likewise, as Advent bears with it a longing, not only to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, it also has us anxiously looking for His return on the Last Day.  Therefore, Advent highlights the hope and promises, delivered by the prophets, as realized in the promised Emmanuel, God with us, even as we also acknowledge that some of what was prophesied, still awaits its fulfillment.

In the life and ministry of Jesus, some of those promises were fulfilled as He brought the grace of our heavenly Father into the lives of His people and especially as He suffers and dies for our salvation.  But we also recognize that the final consummation of the hope and promise of the prophets, will arrive at Christ’s final advent.  And when He does return, all will be fulfilled; all will be complete in Him.  Thus, the Nativity of Our Lord not only keeps us focused on the mission given to us by Jesus at His ascension, to go and make disciples of all nations, it also keeps us focused on His impending return. 

Thus, the entirety of Advent, the faith, love, joy, hope and peace of the Father all centers on the chief focus of the day—the incarnation of Jesus; of God’s own coming in the flesh to dwell among us.  But our focus on Jesus’ birth doesn’t stop at the manger; it also gives heightened attention, to how God dwells among us in our time, that is the time between the times, the time between His first advent when He was born, and His final advent on the Last Day.  

Even now, Jesus, who sits at God’s right hand in glory, still dwells among us in His word, in our Baptism, and in and under the bread and wine.  Thus, the wealth of biblical texts within the service and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, all serve to underscore Christ’s dwelling among us, where He has promised to be.  But His continued presence with His people is just one part of His story, for the rest of the story, for us to fully appreciate the Emmanuel we serve, we also need to look at St. John’s gospel which will be read at the end of the service.

      In the prologue to St. John’s gospel, we get a look into the bigger picture of who Jesus is and why He’s so very important in the story of our salvation.  It’s in the first 14 verses of John chapter 1 that we lay the foundation for all that we believe.  Beginning with verses 1-3, John reveals the identity of the incarnate Word.  John, in the opening words, “In the beginning”, purposefully place us with the first three words of the creation account found in Genesis 1.  The Word, that is Jesus, takes on prominence in that account as God the Father creates all things simply by speaking.  Thus, John proclaims in verse 3 that “all things came into being through [the Word], and apart from [the Word], nothing came into being that has come into being.”  Thus, Jesus is the conduit, the means through which God the Father choose to create, yet Jesus Himself is uncreated, having been begotten of the Father.  And this fact would prove to be of very high importance in the life of the Early Church as it confronted the heresy born of Gnosticism that teaches that the Word or the Logos in the Greek, was a created being.

John goes to great lengths to clarify for us that the Word is both uncreated and divine.  In verse 1 we read that the Word was with God, and, that the Word was God.  It’s this latter phrase that’s been mistranslated by other religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, in a vain attempt, try to deny the divinity of Christ.  But a careful reading of the original language clarifies that the Word John is talking about is “The Word is God.”  John then having clearly established the divinity of Jesus, turns to a main attribute of God’s begotten Word.

In verses 4 and 5, Jesus is also identified as the source of life, that is the light of men; He is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.  Both these attributes, life and light, will be significant themes in the rest of John’s literature, which will help keep us ever focused ever on the Word.  John, having established the uncreated, divine identity of Jesus, now shifts our attention to the one who gives witness of the Light, that is John the Baptizer.  

John the Baptist is identified in verse 6 and is set in contrast to God’s incarnate Word.  John, Jesus’ cousin, is a favorable, blessed character; nevertheless, he can only be said to be “sent from God,” while the Word was “with God” and is God.  Thus, while John is sent as a witness to the Light, he is clearly said to not be the Light.  Furthermore, the purpose of John the Baptist being sent is that “all might believe through Him.”

John then continues his description of God’s only begotten Son in verse 10 which states, that Jesus “is the true Light and enlightens all mankind.  This verse also points us back to verses 1 and 3, as the world is said to have been created through the Light, even though the world did not know Him.  John, now having firmly established Jesus’ divinity and attributes, goes further by focusing our attention on the purpose of the witness and the writing of his Gospel, that is faith, as those who believe in Him are said to have the authority to become the children of God.  And among the blessings of being God’s child is that we will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever, (Psalm 23:6).

All these verses lead us to verse 13, which highlights that this blessing of adoption and eternal life is by grace for those, born not from blood or the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God.  All this now culminates in verse 14 as the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.  In His incarnation, Jesus, the uncreated, divine Word, takes on our flesh and comes to live among us.  This of course confirms the duel nature of Jesus, fully human and fully divine.  Now if we were to stop here, it would certainly be enough for us to grasp the basic understanding and importance of Jesus in our lives as creator and redeemer, but John takes this one step further.  John also tells us that Jesus came to dwell among us.  And like the information given us in the previous 13 verses, the hope that John gives is in verse 14 is reassuring.

Now while the familiar translation “dwelt among us” is faithful, it does lack a bit of precision.  Here the original Greek is better translated as, “He tented among us.”  This tenting refers to the days when God dwelt among His people in the original Tabernacle tent.  And the theological implication here is very significant.  What John is driving home is that the incarnate Word is the fulfillment of that tent Tabernacle.  Jesus will later make it known that He is the fulfillment of the Jerusalem Temple in the next chapter, when Jesus tells the religious leaders, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three day.” (John 2:19).  John further underscores Jesus is the fulfillment of the tent Tabernacle when he declares that we have beheld His glory.

It was the glory of the Lord that filled the Tabernacle and later the Temple.  Both, as we know from scripture, were locales of sacrifice.  And so it will be with Christ, as He tabernacles among us.  John records that Jesus is glorified by means of His cross (John 17:1).  Therefore, Jesus is His most glorious and most divine, when He suffers and dies for our sin.  What John is telling us is that the Word-become-flesh and is the fulfillment of the Tabernacle and Temple.  And that significance is more profound when we consider the purpose of the Tabernacle and Temple.  Both the Tabernacle and Temple were the location of God’s grace and mercy.  

When there was need of forgiveness, it was found first at the Tabernacle and then at the Temple, that’s why God established them.  There, through the Tabernacle, the Temple and in Jesus, God promises to dwell in grace and mercy for His people.  Therefore, we have hope because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; His glory is “full of grace and truth.”  Grace is what was promised at the Tabernacle and Temple.  

Now that same grace and truth is found only in Christ, where God dwells, His very presence is among us, in the presence of His only begotten Son.  God has pitched His tent with us so that we can behold His grace.  The incarnation of Jesus gives us the assurance of God’s grace for all the world.  Christmas therefore is the culmination of our anticipation this Advent season; Jesus is the love, joy, hope and peace of God and ends with us rejoicing in the incarnation:  A chief mystery of the Christian faith, the eternal God takes on human flesh. 

St. Augustine marveled at the incarnation in which the Creator of all things enters His creation, in which He enters a womb that He had formed.  This fact then transcends our minds, which makes sense because God transcends our minds.  Yet we in faith, this Christmas season, confess the incarnation; we believe it; we rejoice in it, and we receive unending blessings from it.  God in human flesh, brings all God’s blessings to humans.  And chief among them is His grace.

When John speaks of the incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh, he shares with us the divine purpose for the incarnation.  “The Word became flesh and tented among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth”.  Emanuel, God with us, is God’s message to us which gives us reason to rejoice, for the Word has become flesh so that He can dwell among us.  And this is the exact message that we need to hear today.  The Word—that is, the eternal, divine Son of God—has become flesh.  He took on our human nature, flesh and blood, in the womb of Mary and was born in the flesh.  Jesus tents among us.  

Everything that God promised about the Tabernacle now stands fulfilled in Jesus.  He is the place where God dwells among us.  There’s no longer any need for a Tabernacle or Temple and the Tabernacle was a place of awe.  And now that awe is bound up in Jesus.  Yet God chose to come and be born and appear as any other child.  There was nothing in His appearance to make Him more glorious than any other child.  Yet we still marvel at Him.  

In this man, the eternal God dwells.  The child lying in His mother’s arms, is the one through whom all things were created; even the motherly arms in which He lies.  Stop for a moment and marvel at the majesty of that.  How great is our God that He can humble Himself to be born of Mary, yet remain the source of all things?  But in our adoration, we must never be fooled by Christ’s humility as He comes as a baby.  

He is the holy God.  And an honest assessment of our sins should leave us shuddering in fear when we think of approaching the One in whom we behold.  But there’s reason why the faithful kept coming to the tabernacle.  Yes, it was an awe-inspiring place as we behold the glory of the Lord.  Yes, it’s fearful to know that we cannot hide our sin or explain it away as we behold His glory.  But God also knows that we are sinners who cannot live to tell the tale if we behold His unfettered holiness.  So, He puts on a mask, a mask of human flesh so that He might truly be present with His people, and we would still live.  You see, that’s God’s grace.  That’s the Tabernacle.  And it’s all bound up in Jesus.  

Here in the child born of Mary, is God dwelling among His people full of grace.  He doesno’ want to be apart from us, so He put on human flesh as a mask.  And all of that grace is in Jesus.  But that grace comes at a price; a price that you and I cannot pay.  So Jesus paid the price in His flesh.  The glory of God was revealed in its fullness at the cross.  The night that He is betrayed, Jesus prayed, “The hour has come; glorify Your Son” (John 17:1).  

In God’s unending grace, we have the place to dwell—in the Tabernacle, in Jesus.  His presence, glory, and His grace is no less available for us today than it was when He was lying in Mary’s arms.  He still wears a mask today, so that He can dwell with us.  His glory was manifest to us in our Baptism, a glory that remains with us.  His glory is ever present with us in Scripture.  And His glory is present in and under the bread and wine.  In His holy supper, He comes to us with the same body and blood that Mary held in her arms, the same body and blood that was crucified for our salvation, the same body and blood that rose from the dead, the same body and blood that will come again for us on the Last Day, the same body and blood in which we behold His glory, the glory of the One and only from the Father, full of grace and truth.

In His incarnation, Jesus came to dwell with us.  This is the message of Christmas, and that message welcomes us home!  We’re at home right here, because Christ is present with us through His Word, in Baptism, and in His Supper.  God is at home with us because of Christ.  This is what we’ve been singing about this season, “God’s own Son is born a child . . . ; God the Father is reconciled.”  In Jesus, God Himself is in our midst full of grace and truth.  So tonight, even as we await His second advent, we celebrate God’s presence with us, in the promised Emmanuel.


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