Preached Christmass Day 2011
St. John 1:1–14
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I bid you welcome to the great feast of the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the true Saviour of the world. Allelulia!! Let us rejoice in His coming among us! Allelulia!! Christ is born, rejoice and be glad.
You might have come this morning expecting the lessons to include the Christmass story from St. Luke’s Gospel account, Chapter 2, but as you have seen, that was not to be. Instead, we are confronted with two somewhat theologically difficult passages of Scripture, the beginning of St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, and prologue to the Gospel of John. The Church is concerned that we establish in our minds immediately just who this is that we are celebrating. Who is this Christ? Whose birth causes all this commotion some 2000 years after the fact? Why does it still matter at all? Is this, perhaps, really all just a huge shopping event, the sort of thing that “Black Friday” suggests? Is this whole Christmass season really nothing more than an attempt to deal with the shortening daylight hours in our dreary northern climate? Who is this Christ?
Recall first that the Letter to the Hebrews was written to the Jewish people by St. Paul in an effort to convert as many of them as possible to the Christian faith. In writing this, St. Paul is specifically writing for a Jewish readership, so he begins by reference to God, the patriarchs, and the prophets, the very basis of the Jewish society. Hebrews 1:1-2 1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; He is saying that the God of Abraham who has previously sent the prophets has now sent His Son, and that the Son is the active agent in Creation. The original does not say, “His Son,” but rather, “a Son,” as God has many sons as the source of all life, but only one Son like this One. He then goes on, Hebrews 1:3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Notice how St. Paul identifies Christ with God the Father when he uses phrase like being the brightness of his glory and express image of his person. This is pointing to the divinity of Christ, to the fact that He is identical in nature to God the Father. The words the express image of his person carry this message particularly well. In doing this, St. Paul is expressing the same thought that we have in the Nicene Creed when we say “Being of one substance with the Father.” This was where the Council of Nicea struggled and eventually came up with the word homoousious to try to express that unity of substance in Greek. St. Paul then goes on to describe how it is Jesus Christ Himself that keeps the entire cosmos functioning by His own almighty hand, it is He who takes away all of our sins by His great sacrifice of Himself on the Cross for our redemption, and then finally His return to glory at the right hand of God after His ascension. All of this is presented to the Jewish people as evidence to bring them to Jesus Christ.
We notice that in Hebrews 1:1–2, there is reference to God speaking to the people. When we turn to the Gospel lesson, notice how it beings with reference not to a person, but to the Word, a Word which of course speaks. John 1:1-3 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. It is very quickly evident that the Word that is with God the Father in the beginning is the same Jesus Christ that was described by St. Paul. Notice that v. 2 says that Word was with God the Father and that Word was also God. Then in v. 3, we learn that the Word was the active agent in Creation, the role that St. Paul had ascribed to Jesus Christ. It is clear that the Word described in the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel is in fact the exact same person as Jesus Christ described by St. Paul in writing to the Hebrews. St. John was writing in Greek to a wider audience, the entire Greek speaking population of the Middle East, but they are both speaking about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Saviour of the World.
There can be no question whatsoever that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the God–Head, equally God with God the Father. Looking a bit further, we know also that there is God the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the God–Head, which completes the Holy Trinity. The great miracle of Christmass is that the Second Person of the Trinity saw fit to leave His divine state and become a mere human, just like each of us, in every respect except that He was without sin. Thus He left His home in Heaven, He came to earth and took on mortal flesh, so that He could suffer all the ills and discomforts of this mortal life. He could know pain and hunger, He could be hurt and He could know joy and friendship. He could know the full range of human emotions and feelings. Jesus Christ was fully human. He became what He had not been; the divine became human. This dual nature of Christ is very difficult for many people to grasp, and many have rejected it as untrue. It is, however true, and shows the limitless power of God. Nothing like this had ever happened before in the history of the world, nor has it happened again since. He did this in order that He might eventually suffer and die for the sins of the world, after first teaching and preaching for several years throughout the length of the Jewish nation. This miracle of God coming to earth and taking on human flesh is what is called the Incarnation. This was an absolutely essential part of the whole mission of Jesus Christ to human kind.
If we move further down in the prologue to the Gospel of John, we read John 1:10-11 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. This reminds us of the life and ministry of our Lord during His time among us some 2000 years ago. He did in fact come into the world which He had created, to live among God’s Chosen People, the Jews, and to minister to them. While a few of them did indeed hear and respond to His message, the vast majority did not. They did not recognize that this was the Messiah that they had awaited for many generations. He did not say the things they expected to hear from their messiah, and so they did not receive Him. Think of the pain this must have caused Him, who had already stepped down from His divine state in order to become fully human, and then to have mankind largely reject Him because they did not accept the message that He brought. This must have been incredibly painful, and yet, this was only the beginning.
Speaking of those who did not reject Him, we read John 1:12-13 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Those who did receive Him would be the few who were the seed of the Early Church, the handful of followers who went on to spread the Gospel of Christ throughout the world. St. John says that they were given the power to become sons of God, which we know to be true, as we are received into Christ’s holy Church through baptism as he indicates in the next verse speaking of being born of God. We who have come into the Church through baptism and continue on to a fully developed Christian faith have indeed been given a great power simply by believing on the Name of Jesus Christ.
The closing verse of the prologue reads John 1:14 And the Word was made 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. This is essentially a summary of all that has gone before. To say that the Word was made flesh, is to say that the divine Second Person of the Holy Trinity has taken on mortal flesh and a reasonable soul making Him subject to all our human hazards. The phrase and dwelt among us, can also be translated as and tabernacled among us, to convey the idea of the Shekinah of the Lord, the spiritual aura that surrounds the physical presence of the Lord. This leads directly then to the understanding of the part in parentheses, this is the visible glory that we can behold, the Shekinah of the Lord which for our Lord Jesus Christ is exactly like that of God the Father.
In His role as Mediator between the Father and fallen man, He is full of grace in the sense that He brings all the blessings of grace, of justifying, pardoning, adopting, sanctifying, and persevering grace. He brings all light, life, strength, comfort, peace, and joy to man to restore him to the Father. He is also The Truth, the source of all real Truth, the fulfillment of all prophecies regarding Himself and the Father’s promises to mankind. He is the very definition of sincerity and integrity.
This is the Jesus Christ who is born this day in the City of Jerusalem and in our hearts as well. Let us rejoice and be glad that He may be with us always, now and forever more. Christ has taken human form for our benefit. God has come to man! Christ is born! Allelulia!!
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.