This is a time of year when the night is filled with light. In every neighborhood, houses are decorated with lights for Christmas. There are white lights and colored lights. Some, like our house, go with the basic icicle lights that hang down from the edge of the house. But others go far, far beyond this.
As you drive around you can see some remarkable displays that have obviously involved a great deal of time and effort. The are houses that have been turned into glowing works of art as they have been wrapped in lights that perfectly illuminate the outline of the house and its various features. There are homes where trees outside have been illuminated, and fences have been wrapped in light.
And then there are displays that are certainly remarkable, though not for their artistic taste. There is one house have I have seen that has about twenty eight inflated and illuminated decorations. Almost every inch of the yard is filled with them and the figures themselves run the gamut of every possible one associated with Christmas – though I have yet to figure out what the Minions and a dragon have to do with Christmas. While this display is lacking in artistic skill, there is no doubt about the enthusiasm and effort that has gone into it.
The Gospel lesson for Christmas Day is also dominated by the theme of light and darkness as St. John begins his Gospel and speaks about the incarnation of the Son of God. He tells us that when the Word became flesh, life entered into the world that is the light for all people. The Christ child in the manger whose birth we celebrate today, is the light that frees us from the darkness and makes us to be the children of God.
If you look at the picture of St. John on the wall here in the nave at Good Shepherd, you will see that it says, “St. John the Theologian.” Our text this morning is a classic example of why St. John has been identified in this way. It is generally agreed that the Gospel of John was the last to be written. John writes to tell us what happened, but he does so in a way that shows his deep reflection on what it means as he was guided by the Holy Spirit.
John begins our text with an incredibly profound statement about the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God. He says, “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 were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John describes the Son of God as “the Word” which was a term that used in the Greco-Roman world to describe the ordering principle of all things.
Using words that echoe Genesis 1:1, John tells us that the Word – the Son – is God. He was in the beginning. He was with God the Father. He is God, and in fact all of creation was made through him. As the Creator of all things, he is he source of life. And we are not only talking about physical life. More importantly he is the source of spiritual life. John says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John tells us that because the Son – the Word – is the source of life, he is the light of men. But where there is light, there is also darkness. And this darkness is the darkness of Satan, sin and death. The apostle tells a piece of good news that we need to hear: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John has described the Word – the Son – as the giver of life and the light of the world. He then begins to talk about the reason we are gathered here this morning when he says, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” The Word, the true light came into the world. But the way that the Son of God did this brings us to the miracle – the mystery of Christmas. John tells us, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
This is what we celebrate today. The Word – the Son of God – became flesh. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary and then born on Christmas. He came into this world as the One who is true God and true man at the same time. Without ceasing to be the almighty Son of God – the Creator of the universe – he became flesh. He became a tiny baby lying in a manger.
He did this because of the darkness – because of Satan and sin. In chapter three of this Gospel we learn, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
This is who we are when we are conceived and born into this world. This is what the whole world has been since the Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sinned. This is who we were, subjects of Satan, trapped in the darkness of sin.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us in order to change this. Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary in order to carry out God’s saving work for us. In our text John says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
The incarnate Son of God entered our world – he became flesh – in order to give us this right. It is not a right that we could earn. It is a right that he had to win for us. The Word became flesh in order to be nailed to a cross. Jesus says later in this Gospel, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Son of God became flesh – he became man – in order to be the sacrifice for our sin. He came to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He was nailed to the cross and died. His flesh – his dead body – was buried in a tomb. But Jesus had come to defeat completely the darkness of Satan, sin, and death. Our Lord says in this Gospel, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Jesus took up his life again on Easter as he rose from the dead. He rose as the One who is still flesh – still true God and true man - for in his resurrection he transformed flesh so that it can never die again. This is the flesh he will give to us when he returns on the Last Day. Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus Christ has done this for us. He died on the cross and rose from the dead to free us from sin. He did this to give us the right to be the children of God. But this is not something that we could grasp on our own. John says in our text, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
It is God who has called you to faith in the incarnate Son. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Our Lord explained why this is the case when he spoke with Nicodemus and said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Sinful fallen nature produces sinful fallen nature. It is only the Holy Spirit who can cause to us to be born again. It is only by the work of the Spirit that we are born of God. And so in Holy Baptism you were born again – born of water and the Spirit.
Now, you are the children of God. Through the work of the Spirit you have faith in the Word become flesh – the baby in the manger who grew up to die on the cross and rise from the dead. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
We do not walk in darkness because through Jesus we are forgiven and know the Father. Because of Jesus we already have eternal life now, and we know that we will share in the resurrection of the flesh on the Last Day. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The true light has come into the world and enlightened us. And so now we seek to walk in this light. Jesus said, “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” We seek to live in ways the please God and love our neighbor. We do this because of what the Word become flesh has done for us. We do this because God has given us rebirth through his Sprit. We do this because of the love God has given us through the Christ child lying in the manger.
John summed this up when wrote in his first epistle: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Praise God for the love he has shown to us in the Word become flesh.