The Christmas Narrative According to St John

Sermon for Christmas Day based on John 1:1 – 14

Even atheists believe in Jesus. That is, even atheists accept the fact that Jesus is a real, historical character. The common consensus of society is that He lived about two thousand years ago in the Near East, drew lots of followers and was a religious leader. This they do not deny. What they do not accept, however, is that Jesus is God. In fact, this thinking is a common driver among religions. Take Islam, for instance, which is a religion invented in the 7th century. Muslims regard Jesus as a prophet, but only a man. A more recently invented religion, Mormonism, which is in many ways simply a copy of Islam, also rejects the divinity of Christ, as do the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on.

But this is nothing new. Man has been rejecting Christ since the Fall. John wrote his Gospel to address this very issue, for in his time also, there were those who rejected Jesus as the Son of God. John records many incidents where Jesus is rejected by people during His earthly ministry, and His divinity is questioned. That Jesus is the Son of God, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, of one substance with the Father; this is what John seeks to prove in his Gospel.

Before John, Matthew and Luke had already recorded the Christmas story and how it fits into world history with Caesar Augustus’ census at the time of King Herod and even the genealogy of Jesus traced back to Adam. John takes a different approach. He doesn’t start with a genealogy or the infancy narrative, but with, “In the beginning was the Word.” John goes back to the beginning – the beginning of time. He goes back to the beginning of the Old Testament, to Genesis, where it is written, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

John writes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Thus, John is not pointing to the manger as the origin of the Son of God, but he is pointing to the beginning. God the Son was with God the Father in the beginning, and the world was created through Him. There was never a time that God the Father was without His Word – His Word, through which the universe was created. This Word cannot be anything that was created, since all things were created through this Word. It was God’s Word, “Let there be light,” that created light. It was God’s Word, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters,” that created the sky. Everything was created by God’s powerful Word.

John also makes clear that in the beginning, not only was the Word with God, but that the Word was God – fully God, yet distinct from the Father. So here is John’s genealogy of Jesus – Jesus is the great I am. Jesus is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rv. 22:13). Thus Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am [Jn. 8:58].” In John’s genealogy of Jesus, the Son of God – the pre-existent Word, always existed with the Father, He is the beginning and the end – He is eternal. It is a genealogy of one.

And the Word came to earth. The eternal God came to earth. Matthew and Luke give us the infancy narrative of the stable and the shepherds. Here is John’s infancy narrative: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” It’s a little different from Matthew and Luke, but in no way does he disagree with them. The little baby in the manger is the very Word of God incarnate, the Word of God become flesh.

Here, we have a problem. Our reason cannot comprehend this. The God who created the universe, comes to dwell among His creation, and chooses to be born of a woman, born in the same messy way all of us were born – and in a humble stable, no less! We cannot even wrap our minds around the concept of God’s timelessness, that He has always existed, that He has no beginning or end. And in John we hear that He became one of us!

This is too much for us to handle. This was too much for the Jews to handle. The Jews responded by persecuting Jesus because of this. They persecuted Him because He called God His own Father, making Himself equal with God [Jn. 5:18]. They wanted to kill Him for saying, “Before Abraham was, I am [Jn. 8:59].”

Others respond by rejecting Jesus and making up their own way to God. That’s what all these other religions have done. Whether it’s one of the religions mentioned earlier, or any other false religion, they all seek a way to God apart from Jesus. The true light was in the world, the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him, and to this day does not know Him. Without the Word of God, the world is in darkness, and without hope.

What about you? How do you respond when God’s Word is too much for you to handle? How do you respond when God says something that does not make sense in your judgment? “God must not have meant what He said?” “God spoke to certain people at a certain time, but the Bible is out of touch with today’s world?” “I will use my reason to decide what in the Bible is reasonable and what is not?”

But if reason could keep us on the right road, God would not have given the Scriptures to us. When human reason seeks to decide what is right and true, it seeks to twist Scripture according to its own fancy, thinking that it knows better than God.

But we are speaking of God. Is it a marvel if we do not completely understand? God’s thoughts cannot be comprehended by mere mortals, except for what He reveals to us. We cannot read the mind of God, except what He speaks to us. We know of God only what He has revealed to us in His Word, what He has revealed to us in and through Christ.

In Christ we see God’s love for mankind. In Jesus, we see the face of God. Jesus is God. He came to earth, taking on our flesh. He had to take on our flesh in order to die. He had to be God in order to be the sacrifice for our sins [Psalm 49:7 – 9]. Jesus is the light of the world, He is our life. To all who believe in Him, He gives the right to become children of God.

But this also is too much for our reason to handle. The cross of Christ contradicts human reason most severely. The cross is foolishness to those who do not believe. It makes no sense to human reason that the death of one who is innocent should satisfy the wrath of God against all the sins of the world. But for us who believe, the cross is the power of God to salvation [Rom 1:16, 1 Cor. 1:18]. In faith, we hold fast to the promise of the forgiveness of our sins on account of Christ’s death for us.

We should keep in mind that John wrote his Gospel to ordinary Christians and made the words perfectly intelligible. He gives us everything we need to know and believe. Through faith, we believe God’s Word even if it does not make sense to our human reason.  It is God’s Word that saves.

Jesus, not our reason, is the key to our salvation. He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me [Jn. 14:6].” Jesus also says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die [Jn. 11:25 – 26].”

So human reason be damned! The Word made flesh is our life. And God the Father proved the divinity of Jesus in raising Him from the dead; proving that everything Jesus said is true. The Resurrection also proves the Father’s acceptance of Jesus’ death as our substitute. The Resurrection proves that God the Father accepted Jesus’ suffering and death to be for us. So, regardless of what human reason says, faith says, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”

Today, we celebrate the infancy narrative of Matthew and Luke. We remember the birth of Jesus announced by the angels, worshipped by the shepherds and magi, and that He was born to the virgin Mary. But we also celebrate the infancy narrative of John. We remember that this infant born in Bethlehem is the eternal God in the flesh; the Light who came to shine in the darkness, to make us children of God. We remember that this infant in the manger left the glory of heaven and came to save us, in order to take us to heaven. This truth we can believe, because God tells it to us in His eternal Word. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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