The Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Day)
December 25, 2019 A+D
St. John 1:1-18
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus, the Son of Mary, is God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It is possible that His taking up of mortality and meekness might deceive our fallen reason into thinking that He is only a Man. More likely, we will have to face blasphemers and heretics who deny that He is true God. John would have us know that the One who became Flesh, who laid down His life for us, is our God. Otherwise there is no point to Christmas and no hope for eternal life or forgiveness or even, truth be told, for oxygen. The declaration that He is the “only-begotten of the Father” is a description of His Divine nature. He is eternally begotten, the only Begotten of the Begetter,0 Son of the Father.
This is essence of being a s Son: to be begotten. The Man born of Mary is eternally and only begotten of the Father. He isn’t only a Son according to the Flesh. He is eternally a Son. Thus God reveals that He is Himself a family. The Father loves the Son whom He begets, whom He names as His beloved. The Father then is the Lover. The Spirit is Love who proceeds from the Father and the Son and reveals this Holy Family, the Trinity Himself, to us in His Word.
So it is that the Word became Flesh and unto us a Son is given. This Son dwelt among us and that that dwelling revealed His glory. We, not just John and the disciples or those who witnessed miracles, but all believers, we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father. This is not the glory of His human nature. It is the glory of the only begotten of the Father. This glory, which we behold, which we cannot contain nor fully comprehend, is the glory of the Father Himself who begets the Son. It is revealed to us in the Son who lays down His life as an act and fulfillment of love in obedience, as the begotten beloved One, thereby revealing His Father and the Spirit as Lover and Love. Quote John: “In this is love: God has sent His only begotten Son into the world.”
John reminds us here that no one has seen God at any time, except the Son who has descended to us. When Philip asks Our Lord to show them the Father, Christ will respond “Anyone who has seen Me, has seen the Father” and “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Do not be fooled by overly wrought Christmas carols. We do not see the Father, nor the glory of the only begotten, if we look in the manger. In any case, the manger is long gone. We do not see the glory of the only begotten either if we look to heaven or the marvels of creation, nor if we look to the mass of humanity or into our dark hearts. We might, however, glimpse God’s glory, His self-giving, in one another. For John says that love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God, and if we love one another, God abides in us and His love has been perfected in us.
But to truly see glory of the Father and of the only Begotten of the Father clearly and without corruption, you must look to the crucifixion, to the Sacrificial Offering of the Son made as a ransom and atonement for our sins. That is the glory of the only-begotten, the glory of Him who is begotten in love, from whom proceeds Love, and who thus loved the world. He loved the world by being lifted up from the earth in order to draw us to Himself. For this purpose was He given. “This is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
But we can’t watch Jesus being crucified any more than we can find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. We are beings stuck in time and the Word made Flesh, made mortal, likewise stuck Himself in time. He finished what we started. It is not on-going. The Sacrifice is complete, perfect, full. Were you there? No. You are here. You are corporal, limited, temporal. You are not without beginning. You weren’t there and you can’t go there. The cross isn’t there anymore than the manger is.
Now, we have visual depictions of it and musical depictions of it, to be sure. They are useful aids to our imagination and faith and minds, but they are not the thing itself. They are not His glory. His glory is His self-giving, His loving of the world by sacrifice. We can look upon it in our minds eye and by faith, to be sure, and if we are stuck on Patmos or some Siberian prison then that is what we must do.
But there is another place to look for the self-giving of the Christ for the salvation of the world, for the glory of the only begotten. It doesn’t require statues or paint or imagination. We can, we should, indeed we must, look with our ears. We must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. His Word is not simply information or description. His Word is living and creates what it demands. It is performative. It does what it says. It gives life. It changes us. Faith cometh by hearing. This isn’t an act of imagination or wish-making. It is believing.
So also we can, should, and must look upon the Body and the Blood that has been raised from the dead in Christ’s self-giving in the Sacrament of the Altar under bread and wine. This is not a sacrifice but is the fruit of the sacrifice. It is life and salvation. It is not simply a reminder or a ceremony. It is the thing itself, the new Pascha, the New Testament, the Life of God poured into and for the lives of men.
Look there, O Christ, and then having seen what appears as bread and wine you can say boldly with Simeon, “Mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation” and it is no figure of speech. You we can, “I have been washed in the Blood of the Lamb” and it is not a metaphor. You can then say with John that you have actually beheld the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father. You behold it in the Communion. You can even say with Job that your own eye balls have seen it while you stood upon the earth for yourself and saw Your Kinsman-Redeemer alive for you and for your salvation, in the Holy Communion.
There you see not only the glory of the only begotten, but also of the Father as Jesus explains ot the disciples; “He who sees Me, sees the Father” and “I will not leave you orphans.”
The only-begotten is in the bosom of the Father, not only now after His resurrection and ascension, but always, before time began, without beginning, and also in the manger, teaching in the Temple, and even on the cross. He is with the Father. So it is that He, the only-begotten of the Father who is eternally in the Father’s bosom, brings the Father with Him in the Sacrament and there He declares the Father to us precisely as Father, not simply Creator and Redeemer, but also as Begetter, that is the Maker of children. “I will not leave you orphans,” He says. “In Me, My Father becomes Your Father. In seeing Me, you see Him. We become brothers. This is our fellowship and union and is it without end.”
To us, a Son a given, and if a Son then also a Father, and thus likewise the right to become the children of God. We believe in His name, that is that He, Jesus, is Yahweh who saves His people. We are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, in water and Word, in bread and wine.
This too is part of His glory, the fullness which we have all received: grace for grace. For His glory is His self-giving. God is a Family. The Second Person is a Son, the first is a Father. And our salvation, to make us His family, is the prize and purpose of His birth and Sacrifice, the end and fulfillment of His mission, the reason He was given. The law was given through Moses, as was the Name of the God who is, Yahweh. Both have been superseded. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ, who is not just the One who is but is the One who is who saves and who declares the gracious Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and who setteth the solitary, even us, into a family.
The law was given through Moses, but unto us a Son has been given, and a Father, and a family. Look about yourself this Christmas morning. Look to your left and your right, in front and behind, and with eyes of faith to the angels and archangels and whole company of heaven, the great cloud of witnesses. Look to the people here gathered in the flesh this day like eagles to a Body. Behold, here in these pews your mother, your sons, your family. Behold the glory of the only begotten of the Father, who gives Himself in Word and Sacrament and neighbor.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
It is evident that He is a Man for He died and was raised to life again and both our reason and our experience know of men, while not of gods. If Jesus were not a Man then we would still be in our trespasses. Less obvious to human sight, though, is that He is eternal, without beginning and uncreated. He has always been and forever will be with the Father and the Spirit and is equally Divine with them, all things being made through Him, even though He, Himself, in a mystery as great as that of the Holy Trinity, has now been made. If He were not God, then He would not be worthy of our worship and worse still, we would still be in our sins. So it is that He is God of God and Light of Light, and He has become Flesh, that is, become a Man, the antitype of a lamb and all the sacrifices, the fulfilment of promise and prophecy, the embodiment of Adam and Israel and the Gentile, a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek, Creator as Creation, Immortal as Mortal. He has always been God and still and even as He is now forevermore a Man.