“A Fleshy Word” – Christmas Day 2012

25. December 2012
Christmas Day
Exodus 40:17-21,34-38; John 1:1-14

And the Word became Flesh. In the beginning God the Father spoke. Begotten from His lips was the Word that made all things. God and Word are separate and yet the Lord your God is one (Deut 6:4). Proceeding from both Father and Word is the Spirit. Together three persons and one God. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Word. The same Word that spoke into the darkness and made light is the Light of men.

Some think this doctrine is just empty speculation or spiritual mumbo-jumbo. They say, “Jesus is just another guy with nice things to say. Whether He was God, is God, or became God-like is irrelevant. What’s important is what He said.” Nothing could be more damaging to the faith. If Jesus is not God then just another nice guy died 2,000 years ago as nice guys have died since the dawn of time.

What was confessed by Moses and repeated throughout the Scriptures is now utterly revealed by the Evangelist John: “The same Word of which I declared that it was in the beginning, through which all things were made, which was the Life and Light of man, became flesh.” As we confess and do not deny but confess each week: “Who was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” Just as John lays this doctrine of as the foundation for his Gospel, so too we lay the incarnation (enfleshment) of Jesus at the center of our faith.

You’ll notice that during the confession of the Creed it is the practice of our churches to either bow or kneel at those words. Our bodies confess what we believe. Christmas is not simply the birthday of a 1st century Jew. It is the day of the birth of the Son of God. It is the festival of the Incarnation.

“The most precious treasure and the strongest consolation we Christians have is this: that the Word, the true and natural Son of God, became man, with flesh and blood like that of any other human; that He became incarnate for our sakes in order that we might enter into great glory, that our flesh and blood, skin and hair, hands and feet, stomach and back might reside in heaven as God does, and in order that we might boldly defy the devil and whatever else assails us.” (Luther, AE22:110)

“The same Word, which became man, Mary suckled and carried in her arms as any other mother does her child. He came to men, lived and dwelt among them.” (Luther, AE22:112) He did not avoid humanity. We are not above His social status. He dwelt among us, indeed ate and drank with not only saints but sinners and tax collectors. Jesus is not some ghost or figment of the Christian imagination. He was seen, heard, touched, and followed.

Jesus became a natural man like any other man of flesh and blood. He had eyes, ears, mouth, nose, chest, stomach, hands, and feet, just as you and I do. His mother nursed Him as any other child is nursed. He acted as any other human does. He was born as a true man from the Virgin Mary; the one difference, however, was that He was not born in sin as we are, that “He committed no sin, and no guile was found on His lips.” (1 Peter 2:22)

John could have said “The Word became man” but instead he said “flesh.” This is intentional. Jesus didn’t become some kind of Superman, showing us all that we could be. No, Christ took on human nature to show us its weakness and mortality. In His death we will see in Jesus’ flesh the terrible judgment of God because of the sins of humanity. All the anger and wrath of God was not justly given to us but rather heaped upon God’s own son as He suffered and died. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13)

The sinless Lamb of God, born of Mary, would give His life as ransom for us. Thus, when the Evangelist says that we beheld His glory, he’s not referring to Christ’s spectacular appearance or miracles. We beheld His glory when He died our death and arose from the dead by His own divine power. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. (John 10:17).

St. John confesses in his Epistle: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” (1 John 1:1-2)

That’s what Christmas is all about. God made flesh to redeem our flesh. We have seen redemption and receive it. Jesus said: “Where I am, there you shall be also” (John 14:3) and “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19). Thus, for all who have received Him (lowly child and crucified God), who have believed in His name, He gave the right to be children of God. We are sons of grace and mercy though not of our nature. God is gracious and merciful by nature and we receive it in the Christ-child.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

The Nativity of Our Lord 2011 – John 1:1-14

25. December 2011
The Nativity of Our Lord
John 1:1-14

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
Dyer, Indiana