Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 1st chapter of John, beginning with the 1st verse.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
All mighty God, we thank you for your Word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you’ve done for us in Christ. Now, as we open that Word, we pray that your Spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your Spirit through the reading and proclamation of your Word this day. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“The Word Became Flesh”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the Christmas gospel, we are given a word picture of that first Nativity Scene in the stable in Bethlehem. It’s a picture that has been burned into the minds of Christians and non-Christians alike. Some of you might even have one set up in your yard or in your home. We have one set up over the TV cabinet in our house. No doubt, you have some sort of favorite Nativity Scene you picture in your mind when you hear the Christmas Gospel read each year.
For many, it’s merely a seasonal decoration to be taken down come December 26th. For us as Christians, we recognize there’s something special about that Nativity Scene. What is it? What might those people in that scene be thinking about as they gaze upon the Christ child? What was it really like to be there that first Christmas night? That’s what I want to explore with you this year. So with the eyes of faith, let’s go back in time to the first Nativity Scene.
The first thing that is going to stand out is the environment you’re standing in. Watch where you step; you might get an unpleasant surprise. After all, remember, this is a stable. Not the nice, cleaned up, pristine type you usually see in Nativity Scenes today, but a real stable, a barn, a place used to house animals. So that means, yeah, you have all the smells and everything else a stable usually has. This doesn’t look like the place where you’re going to find anything glorious. Finding glory in this scene is going to be like, well, finding a needle in a haystack. As we make our way through the stable, we see a young couple and a baby. Let’s go see what they’re up to.
We see the new mother, Mary, laying her newborn Son into his first bed, a manger, a feeding trough for animals. No doubt, this is not how she envisioned giving birth to her first child. And we’re not just talking about her surroundings either. You see, the last nine months have been quite a journey for this young woman. She was going about what up to that point had been a pretty ordinary life for a young woman in Nazareth and had even become betrothed, or engaged, to Joseph, the local carpenter. Things were going pretty well for her, and it seemed as if she’d just live her life anonymously until an angel showed up. “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). With that announcement, the angel declared to Mary that she would not only become a mother, but she would be the mother of the long-promised Savior of the Nations. Being a virgin, Mary asked how this would work, and the angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” (v. 35). It was clear from that moment that this was not going to be an ordinary pregnancy. Not only that, but she would have to face the ridicule and scorn of the community. And, of course, what would Joseph think of all of this?
Speaking of Joseph, there he is, next to his bride and the newborn child. He’s not rich by worldly standards. He’s certainly not a king or someone with a lot of power and stature in the world, or even in Nazareth, for that matter. He’s also been through quite an emotional roller coaster. Things were going along as planned, he had been preparing his home so that he could take Mary fully as his wife, and then, she had some bad news. “Joseph, I’m pregnant.” Joseph knows it can’t be his child. What has Mary done? Why him? Mary tries to tell him what happened, about the angel, about the conception by the Holy Spirit and that she had done nothing wrong, but he just can’t believe it. He considers what to do about the situation. He could turn Mary in; after all, in those days, adultery was an offense punishable by stoning to death. But he cares too much for Mary to have that happen, so he decided to just simply divorce her quietly and wash his hands of the situation. That is until he received a visit from an angel himself. In a dream, an angel tells him: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). Indeed, Mary was telling him the truth. The prophecy from Isaiah was true: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Joseph is now charged with the task of being the stepfather to the long-promised Messiah. Knowing that his savior from sin, death, and the devil is entrusted to his care is an awesome responsibility. There’s a lot of joy in that man’s face that night; he, a humble, ordinary carpenter, is among the first to look into the face of his Savior.
Off in the distance, we see some shepherds making their way into this scene. Yeah, those same shepherds we passed by out in the fields outside Bethlehem that you probably ignored on our way into town. They’re not the cleanest people in the world. Their occupation is among the lowest on the totem pole of the day. They are among the last people you would expect to be the first ones to pay homage to the newborn King. How do they know about this event? An angel appeared to them with this message: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12). An angel, sent from the presence of God himself, told them this! That this baby was the sign that God had kept His promise of a Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. So here, these shepherds come to see their Savior for themselves, to see that promise from God be fulfilled.
Now, as we look at those who are looking in at the Child in the manger, what do they all have in common? They were told what this Child was destined to do by an angel; a messenger sent directly from God. Quite often, you’ll see an angel depicted in a Nativity Scene. You’ll see one hanging toward the top of the nativity scene outside. The Greek Word for angel is literally translated as “Messenger.” The shepherds, Mary and Joseph, were all visited by a messenger from God Himself, who told them what this Child was destined to do. In the hymn “What Child is This,” we hear a hymn version of what this child will do, especially in the 2nd verse where we sing: “Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading. Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you. Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!” This Child was no ordinary child, He is Immanuel, God with us in human flesh. This is the long-promised Messiah, who would go to the Cross to win forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation for all people. This is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! This is God Himself! Today, through the reading of the Word, you have had a visit from an Angel, in this case, a called and ordained Messenger of God, who is bringing you the same message that the Angels gave to Mary, to Joseph, and to those Shepherds that first Christmas so many years ago. That message points you to the manger, where your peace, goodwill, and salvation are!
What’s amazing as we take one last look at this scene is how humble it is. The Word made flesh is born not in the powerful city of Jerusalem, but lowly Bethlehem. His parents are not of the family of Caesar Augustus, the Emperor of the day, but a humble carpenter and a young maiden. His first visitors are not rulers, military leaders, or the rich and mighty of society, but humble, lowly shepherds, among the lowest of society. His first bed is not the comfortable cradle one would expect to find in the palace, but an old wooden feeding trough filled with some straw. While angels sing “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” that night in the sky, it’s hard to find the glory because it’s hidden in simple human flesh.
For most of our world today, when they gaze upon a Nativity Scene, the true Glory of God gets passed by. That’s the blindness of sin at work. You see, if we’re going to talk about that baby in the manger, we have to talk about him being a Savior. And when we talk about Him being a Savior, we have to talk about being saved from something, in particular, our own sin of thought, Word, and deed. And on a day where the world wants to talk about peace and joy and just being happy, they want to keep that part of Christmas quiet. But God has sent you a messenger today who has shared His Word with you, so now, you see that this picture in Bethlehem for its true glory. You see your Savior looking up at you in that manger. The One who was born to save you from sin, death, and the devil! And that’s good news!
When one thinks about it, just as His life begins in a humble, seemingly un-glorious way, His life will also end in a similar way. His glory will be hidden then when that same flesh we see in the manger is pierced by nails driven into His hands and side, and that same blood is shed on a cross outside of Jerusalem. To the eyes of the world, it’s one of the least glorious scenes one will ever see. But through the eyes of faith, we see the true Glory of this Man as our Savior suffers the punishment of our sin on that cross. That’s how He brings us peace with God. That’s what He was destined to do from his birth in this stable!
Christmas is a time of peace, joy, and happiness for the world. Yet, that doesn’t change the fact that we live in a sinful, fallen world, and there are many people, some even reading this today, who have a hard time seeing it or feel that their “Christmas Joy” has been ripped out from under them. This Christmas, some worry about their future; will they still have a job next year? How will we provide for our family’s needs? Others will sit down for family gatherings today, and there will be an empty place because a loved one in the family has died. Others suffer through pain, suffering, and loneliness this Christmas Day, caused by the actions and words of others who intended to cause that hurt, which leaves them ripped of any sense of joy and happiness, and they wonder if they will ever experience joy again. For them, a sentiment of peace and joy this Christmas is next to impossible to find or some sort of a cruel joke.
But with the eyes of faith, we look into the manger and find our true peace. That peace that the angels spoke about is not a worldly peace that can be easily disturbed, but a peace we have with God. Because of what His Son will do for us, our sins of thought, Word, and deed are forgiven! For those of us who worry about what the future will bring, we find peace this Christmas day because of the Baby in the manger! For those who have lost a loved one who has died in the faith, they can be comforted at the thought of their loved one spending this Christmas festival with that Baby forever, where they no longer know tears, sorrow, or pain. It’s all because of that baby in a manger.
He’s the greatest Gift ever given! Lots of gifts are going to be exchanged today. Some of them will be great gifts, things you’ve always wanted. Yet, toys break, electronic gates go on the fritz or quickly become outdated. That new sweater you got will get snagged on the filing cabinet and become unraveled. Gifts of this world wear out or break. This gift in the manger from God to us, the gift of His Son in human flesh to save us from our sin, death, and the devil, is the perfect gift. It never stops giving. It never comes in the wrong size. It never wears out or breaks. And in the Christmas Gospel, you see this Gift face to face!
As you look at that scene today, let your eyes of faith transport you back to that day in Bethlehem. Take in the humbleness of the scene. Reflect on the fact that the almighty God of heaven and earth has chosen this humble scene to begin His life of service to you. Remember that this scene was necessary to win the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life. This scene, and what this Baby is born to do, is where you will find your true joy and peace this Christmas day and this Christmas season! Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Lord, don’t let us miss You this Christmas season. Help us to simplify our activities and traditions so we can focus our celebration on Your birth. You have come to us as a small child, but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts, the gift of eternal love. As we celebrate your birth, may we begin to see the world in the light of understanding you give us. As you chose the lowly, the outcasts, and the poor to receive the greatest news the world had ever known, so may we worship you in meekness of heart. May we also remember our brothers and sisters less fortunate than ourselves in this season of giving. Thank You for being the Prince of Peace, and I ask You for that supernatural peace to reign in our hearts. Thank You for the simple but life-changing message of Your love for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Scripture taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)® Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Sermon contributed by Rev. Christopher Martin.
In the Christmas gospel, we are given a word picture of that first Nativity Scene in the stable in Bethlehem. It’s a picture that has been burned into the minds of Christians and non-Christians alike.