Sermon for Christmas Day
John 1:1-14 + Exodus 40:17-21, 34-38 + Titus 3:4-7
You just confessed a few moments ago your faith in some of the key portions of the Athanasian Creed. And at the end of it you said, “This is the true Christian faith.”
Do you realize, my brothers and sisters in Christ, that you are in a minority? You’re in a minority because the vast majority of people in the world stayed home today and didn’t venture out to a Christmas service on a Saturday morning of all days. But much more than that, you’re in a minority because you know and confess the true Christian faith, which means that you know why Christmas matters. You know why today is a day of joy to the world. You believe in something that the vast majority of the world rejects. You know and believe in The Simple, Saving Truth of Christmas.
The simple, saving truth of Christmas is summarized beautifully in our Gospel from the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel. John uses lofty language to teach these simple truths: Christ is true God and true man, who has created all things, and has been given to man as Life and Light, although only a few of all those to whom he is revealed receive him. This is what John would have us know and believe about the child whom Mary laid in a manger.
First, that Christ is true God. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All sorts of false teachings have arisen about Christ. Some have said that he was the first thing God created. Some have said that he didn’t even exist before he was born of Mary. Some have said that Christ and the Father are just different names for the same divine Person. Some have said that Christ was the first spirit-child of a God who was once a man.
But all we have to do is pay attention to what John says. In the beginning, the Word was. Not “he was created,” not “he came into existence.” He was. The Word was. If he was already in existence at the beginning of creation, then he had no beginning and is not part of the creation, and therefore, he is God, because there is God and there is the creation of God. There is nothing else.
The Word was with God and the Word was God. John would have us understand the unique relationship between God the Word and God the Father. The Father exists of himself. The Word is spoken from the Father’s heart and has his existence from the Father, just as a human word comes from the heart of a speaker and has its existence from the speaker. Now, we human beings have new thoughts, new ideas, new desires, new feelings all the time. We learn things, we change our minds. God, however, is eternal and changeless and the Father’s thoughts are eternal and changeless, so the Word from the Father is eternal and changeless, and is the exact representation of the Father’s being.
So the Person of the Word of God is true God, and yet not the same Person as the Father – or as the Holy Spirit. That’s absolutely impossible to comprehend, but it’s the simple truth taught by the Scriptures. Christ, the Word, is true God. Anyone who denies that Christ is true God denies the true God and cannot be saved.
A second simple, saving truth of Christmas: Christ has created all things. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John would have us recall what Moses wrote in Genesis chapter 1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. How? By his Word. God said, God said, God said. It doesn’t say that in the beginning God created the Word through whom he created everything else. Instead, it says that God said, and his saying, his Word, created all things.
So the Person of the Word of God is responsible for the existence of all things visible and invisible. He is the Creator God – in whom, as Paul says, we live and move and have our being. Anyone who denies that Christ is the creator of all things denies the source of all things and cannot be saved.
Third, John teaches very simply and very plainly that Christ is true man. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. As the Word, as the Son of God, the Person of Christ has no beginning, but was there already in the beginning. But the miracle of Christmas is that the eternal, uncreated Word of God became “incarnate,” that is, he joined himself inseparably to human flesh of his own creation so that in Christ, God is Man and Man is God. Whoever denies that Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate – true man – denies the Christ of the Scriptures and cannot be saved.
Fourth, John teaches very simply and very plainly that this God-Man, the Creator of all joined to his creation in the Person of Christ, has been given to man as Life and Light. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. Because of our sin, all was death, all was darkness and despair. But in the God-Man, born in Bethlehem, in the 33 years he spent on the earth, in his life, in his death, in his resurrection – there was life and there was light. John the Baptist testified to that light. There was God the Lamb of God earning life for sinful man. There was God revealing the light of grace to a world in darkness. Only in Christ was there life and light, only in that man who made his dwelling among us for 33 years.
But as St. John says, the light still shines in the darkness and life is still given to men in the preaching of the gospel, in the Holy Scriptures, in the Sacraments, through his ministers, Christ comes and reveals his life and his light. Even now, as we contemplate the mystery of the incarnation – the simple, saving truth of Christmas – there is life in these words, and light is shining in the darkness. In Baptism, Christ truly comes with his life and his light. In the Holy Supper, Christ truly comes with his flesh and blood, born in Bethlehem, to give life and light to sinful men.
Apart from Christ, all is darkness and death. But John teaches the simple, saving truth that Christ has been given to man as life and light. Only there. Only in him. Whoever denies that simple truth cannot be saved.
And sadly, that includes most of the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. The Word became flesh to reveal the love and the grace of God to the whole world of men, but men loved darkness rather than light. The world still loves darkness rather than light, still wants to wallow in sin, still wants to earn its own way to salvation. To receive Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem as the eternal Word of God now incarnate, to receive Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, as the only life and light of men – the world is unwilling.
And you were part of the world, too, lost in darkness and death, but here you are, gathered together on Christmas Day, believing the simple, saving truth of Christmas, receiving the Christ child for who he is: true God, true man, who created all things, who has been given to man as life and light. To all who received him, 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. Marvel at God’s grace, sing joy to the world, for the Lord is come and his gospel has taken you who were once unwilling and made you willing to receive the Word of God incarnate, to know him and to trust in him, and so to be saved by him.
This is the simple, saving truth of Christmas. Wouldn’t it be a happier time of year if everyone knew it – and if we all remembered it? The truth is, Christmas is not about presents and trees! And it’s not about family or friends or a job or health or money or a meal. Whether you have those things or whether you don’t have them, Christmas remains the same for all: it’s about the true God who was born as a true man – the creator of all things, who has been given forever to all men as life and light. If you know him as St. John reveals him, then you are in a minority, but it’s a blessed minority, because you have Christ, and in Christ you have all things – even forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. Give thanks to God on this Christmas Day, and rejoice in the simple, saving truth of Christmas. Amen.