25. December 2011
The Nativity of Our Lord
In the beginning was the Word. Christmas is your opportunity to celebrate the eternal begotten-ness of the Son of God. All Christendom rejoices in the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of the virgin mary. The festival of light cuts through the darkness of the season, our lives, and our very soul.
How is it that our savior is begotten of the Father from eternity and is also born of the blessed Virgin Mary? How is it that the Word of God that made the heavens and earth is now made man? This is a great and wonderful mystery. It is real reason for the season. Christ, the eternal Word, is both God and man, begotten in eternity and born in time.
I was riding in the elevator to see our dear brother Henry Klopp who has been in ICU since Tuesday. Joining me was a staff person at the Franciscan-owned Hospital. Uncharacteristically, I was in the mood for chit-chat. I asked, “what are you doing for Christmas?” Thinking this was a Catholic hospital and all, I expected her to to say, “I’m going to mass to celebrate the birth of Christ.” The name for the holiday is fitting to its true purpose. But I digress. Instead she said, “I’m spending time with my family. And you?” I said, “Yeah, of course!” The elevator door promptly opened, to which she responded, “that’s what its all about.”
Huh? Is the celebration of our Lord’s nativity really all about family? I thought: no, its all about Jesus and His birth. Then again, she may be right. Christmas is about contemplating our brother Jesus who is born of Mary, His mother, begotten of God the Father, and conceived by the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from both the Son and the Father. Christmas is all about family, Christ’s family.
Jesus’ lineage makes the confused and riddled, mixed and blended families of our world look simple. His mother is about the only one who is normal and then again, she conceived a son while remaining a virgin mild. Perhaps then Joseph, who resolved to divorce her but changed his mind after receiving an angelic vision? That’s far from normal and most people these days ignore their dreams or interpret them ala Jung and Freud. Joseph suffers his betrothed and her seeming illegitimate son as Jesus’ earthly adoptive father.
St. Matthew links Jesus to Abraham and the beginning of the promise. St. Luke tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of old and draws our eyes to Adam. He is the long-expected answer to Isaiah and Micah, to David and Samuel. Elizabeth and Zechariah have waited. Simeon has waited. The promise has come. Jesus’ lineage is not merely prophetic but it is in blood. He is of the house and lineage of David, all through not Mary but his adoptive father Joseph.
Adoption is weird but not too weird. Even if Jesus shared no DNA with Joseph, legally He is entitled to the birthright of the firstborn of Joseph, David, Abraham, and Adam. He is the inheritor of the great nation.
The mystery does not end there. Virgin conception is odd and utterly unrepeatable. No woman has conceived apart from man. While her cousin Elizabeth’s barrenness was healed by God, the conception was by their respective husband. Not so with Mary. She has had no relations with her husband. Her son was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The power of the Most High overshadowed her. Elizabeth is a sign that there is nothing God is not able to do. So, the Spirit conceived the Son of God in her womb, who is yet Mary’s son—True God and True Man.
If the one born of Mary is also conceived of God, then joined in Him are two impossible things. No one can be both God and be man. For man is finite, created, limited in power and knowledge, with beginning and with and end. God, on the other hand, is infinite, unlimited in power and knowledge, without beginning and without end. Two opposites cannot be joined, we think. Two utterly different things cannot be bound together. The mystery does not end.
In the midst of these things we cannot understand, the Angel speaks: For with God nothing will be impossible. The mystery is deep and wide in Matthew and Luke. St. John takes it to a higher level. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
With that opening foray, the great mystery of the incarnation is confessed. That simple but messed up family tree (virgin conception, adoptive father) became incomprehensible. Mystery is added upon mystery. Jesus, the Word, was in the beginning. He is with God and He is God. He is Son of the eternal Father from eternity. He and His Father are one God.
Not only that, Jesus, the Word, made all things, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. Jesus is the Word that spoke in the darkness and created the heavens and the earth. The Father spoke the Word and the Sun, moon, and stars were made. The Word separated the seas and dry ground. Jesus made the creatures of sea, of air, and of earth. The Father breathed Jesus by the Spirit and said: Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.
Only by Jesus is there life. Outside of Jesus, there is no knowledge of the Father nor of the Spirit. Without Jesus, the true nature of God is unknown. Yet, in the blessed incarnation we learn who God truly is. We learn that He is a loving and merciful Father who gives all good gifts to His children. We see the love of a Father in that child conceived in Mary’s womb, nursed at Mary’s breast, and carried in Mary’s arms.
Given to Mary is gift unlike any other. For no other child was given by the Holy Spirit, perfect and sinless. Even her sinful flesh has been redeemed by the child born of her. He is life and the light of men. This light shines in the midst of things we cannot understand and banishes all darkness.
Yet, who knew? All their neighbors saw was another illegitimate child. They saw another child born into darkness, ignored by most, and un-miraculous at best. Yet, the Evangelist John confesses that Jesus, true God and true Man, is the true light, which enlightens everyone… He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. Only a handful of shepherds and a few magi from the East thought anything of this child or His crazy, messed-up family.
The lady in the elevator is right. Christmas is all about family, Christ’s family. That includes God’s the Father, the Spirit of Father and Son, the blessed Virgin Mary, the noble adoptive father Joseph. But the mystery does not end there. This family includes you. 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.
You are members of this royal family. This family may be strange. It may even be a bit odd. No wonder His own did not receive Him. Yet, in Jesus, we see and become who we truly are. Children of God. Made in His image and likeness. Adopted coheirs of the heavenly kingdom. Conceived of the Spirit. Delivered miraculously through the church’s womb. Nurtured with pure Spiritual milk. Born of God and born of man.
God has begotten His Son, forever joining the Godhead to humanity. 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. This is a great and wonderful mystery. It is real reason for the season. Christ, the eternal Word, is both God and man, begotten in eternity and born in time. And you too—born in time and now reborn into eternity.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church