Sermon for Christmas Day, 2021

Text: John 1:1-14

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The beginning of John’s Gospel takes us back to the very beginning of all things, that is, to creation. Moses records for us in Genesis 1 that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them out of absolutely nothing. He spoke it into existence. St. John writes that the Word was in the beginning and that the Word was God. How can both of those things be true? How is it that God can both be the one speaking and the Word that is spoken? The answer, of course, is that while there is only one God, there are are three persons. This is one of the many places in the scriptures that we see evidence of the Triune God. It is unmistakable here that the Word is God and that God is the one speaking. There are clearly two persons of the Trinity present in St. John’s Words. Additionally, this makes it clear that Jesus is not a created being, but he is the creator himself.

These may seem like simple truths that we’ve always affirmed, but the fact is that there are many in the history of the Church who’ve claimed to be God-fearing Christians who have rejected these things. Arius was a Fourth Century heretic who denied that Jesus was truly God. Arius claimed that Jesus was God-like, but was not of the same substance as the Father. “There was a time when he, that is, Jesus, was not” according to Arius and his followers. Even though Arius was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Nicaea in 325, his heresy persisted. Today, it manifests itself in the Jehovah’s Witness cult that often looks somewhat Christian, and may claim to be, but denies the divinity of Jesus Christ, and may, therefore, not be considered a Christian group.

While we may not always feel qualified to articulate what the Holy Trinity is, we affirm it as truth because that is the God of the Bible. Yet there are some sects that claim to be Christian even today that reject the doctrine of the Trinity. The most prominent one is the Oneness Pentecostals. They teach that God is not three distinct persons, but that he appears in different modes. They teach this in spite of the obvious example we have at Jesus’ baptism, where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all clearly and distinctly present. Also, Jesus speaks individually of the Father and the Holy Spirit as he teaches his disciples and others.

What this shows us is that it remains important for us to care about theology. When we lose a proper theology and teaching of who Jesus is, we lose the central teachings of the Church itself. Let us never shrug such things off as unimportant or become indifferent to them! Instead, let us cling tightly to God’s Word where he reveals himself to us. When we don’t understand it, let us not just throw up our hands and give up, but let us seek greater and greater understanding of God’s Word.

John also makes it clear that the Word was with God in the beginning. I know I’m jumping the gun here, but it will become clear in the rest of the Gospel lesson for today that the Word here is none other than Christ himself. Jesus was with God in the beginning. That is, he was there at the creation. He, like the Father, is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. The pre-incarnate Christ was, in fact, all over the place in the Old Testament scriptures. We’ve already shown that he was there at the creation. He was one of the three visitors that came to Abraham to warn him about the destruction that was to come to Sodom and Gomorrah. When “the angel of the Lord” appears, that’s usually Jesus. He comforted Hagar when she was sent away by Sarai, Abraham’s wife. He spoke to Moses from the burning bush. He blocked the way of Balaam and his donkey when he was trying to go and curse Israel. He called Gideon to be judge for the people of Israel. He spoke to Manoah, Samson’s father, and announced that his barren wife would give birth to Samson who would judge the people of Israel. He fought off the Assyrians who came to attack Israel. These are but a fraction of the examples of places where the second person of the Trinity was active either in speech or action in the Old Testament.

The difference, of course, is that now this Word, this Christ, is no longer hidden from human eyes. He has veiled himself in human flesh, but because the veil is made of human flesh, you can look at him. We learn from the scriptures that no one can see the face of God and live, but Jesus takes on human flesh like ours so that we can see him with our own eyes. Jesus Christ, true God and true man comes to make his dwelling among us. Literally, the text says that Jesus comes to “tabernacle” among us. The use of this word makes us think of how he was present with Israel during their wandering in the wilderness and during the early years of their time in the Promised Land. God had the people build a tabernacle (a tent). He would come and dwell among them by “sitting” on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. Again, though, because he was true God only, no one could see him. The holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant was housed, was strictly off limits, hidden behind two layers of think curtains.

But God does not hide himself behind think curtains now. Make no mistake about it, he is every bit of true God that he was in the Old Testament, but now he dwells among us. Now we see him face to face. This is the significance of the birth of the Christ. Yes, Jesus has always been here. God has always been near. But now he is here, in the flesh, for you. Now he dwells here, among you, in human flesh. The incarnation of Jesus began when he was conceived in the womb of his mother, the Virgin Mary, but it continues even to this day.

You may think that since his ascension he doesn’t dwell here before our eyes anymore, but the fact is that his ascension actually makes it possible for him to be on altars across the world all at once. See there on the altar is another tent. Beneath that tent are the vessels by which Jesus feeds us with his body and blood. 2000 years ago Jesus came into the world as a man. Jesus, the light that the darkness cannot overcome, still shines in the darkness of our world today. I don’t need to prove to you that the world remains a dark place filled with sin and death. But sin and death did not and cannot overcome Jesus, the light of the world. The light still shines today. We have seen his glory and continue to see it as he continues to dwell among us to grant us the forgiveness of sins.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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