✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
It’s always curious to me that even in the secular and entertainment world, everyone feels compelled to point out what they think the “true meaning” of Christmas is. And then you’ll usually hear something about giving or world peace or being together with family or the warm glow in our hearts. Those are all certainly good things. But today’s Gospel from John 1 draws our attention to the real heart of this festival, the truth of what this Christ Mass is all about. It says very simply but very profoundly, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The center of Christmas is the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God, the historic fact that some 2000 years ago in a village called Bethlehem God visibly entered this world by being born as a true human being.
God became Man. The Creator of all things became a creature. The Lord of the universe sets aside His royal robes and exchanges them for a set of diapers and strips of cloth. The One who perfectly reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, takes on human flesh and blood. The Eternal breaks into time. The Son of God was given birth by the mother He had created, delivered by the one He would later deliver by His death on the cross. The Bread of life now humbles Himself to receive nourishment from her. St. Paul speaks of the marvel of this Child, “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
In the Old Testament, God’s dwelling place was a tent, and later a more permanent temple in Jerusalem. That was where the glory and the name of God dwelt among men. But now, in these last days, God has come to dwell with us in a far more intimate way. His dwelling place is now our flesh and blood. His temple is His human body and soul which He inseparably united with His divinity at His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.
This Incarnation is a strange concept to us. In fact it is an offensive thing to our fallen human reasoning that the infinite God and finite man can be brought together like this. Almost all religions have nice things to say about Jesus–that He’s a great prophet or teacher or guru. But other than Christianity, they all reject the incarnation, that God became flesh. And even for us, it can be a troublesome thing to ponder God’s lowering and emptying of Himself when we are usually thinking about how we can fulfill ourselves and raise ourselves up. Just like our first parents, we human beings all try to be like God. Not content to be creatures made in His image, we try to be independent creators of our own identity. We become competitors with God, wanting to be the masters of our own lives, to assert our self-exalting philosophies over God’s Word. Apart from His image, there is no inherent desire in us to become servants, nothing in us that would stoop down to the level of the manger, to lay down our lives and deny ourselves for the sake of another, particularly our enemies.
But that is precisely what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. He has reached down to us deeply, to be with us who continually strive to take His place. To save us who wanted to become like God, He became like us. He became the least among us, a poor and helpless infant. He came without our invitation, without our preparation, without our decision, without our welcome, without our help. This is entirely God’s doing, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
In so doing God has brought honor back to our dishonored humanity. Luther once said that the angels of heaven are not so blessed as we are, even though they are greater and stronger than we are. For the Son of God did not come as an angel, but as a man. This is the ultimate honor that God can bestow, to take up our human nature and become one of us. God dignifies our flesh and blood by taking it as His own. He didn’t simply take possession of a man. He became man, fully human. His body is not just some avatar that he inhabits and controls. God actually is man, with a human body and soul; divine and human natures, yet one undivided person. “The Word became flesh.”
And the Son of God did this without sin. That is the one difference between Jesus and us. Jesus has no earthly father. God is His Father. He bears our humanity without the inherited stain of Adam.
This too is cause for great rejoicing on our part today. For in this we see that our sin is something foreign to our humanity. The Word became flesh without sin. We often make excuses for our sins and imperfections by saying, “Well, I’m only human,” as if to say that what God made wasn’t really “very good” as He said, as if to say that our sin is somehow God’s fault. But the Word become flesh tells us that is not so! Our sin is not human, it is inhuman and subhuman. Sin dehumanizes us and makes us less than human. It is a foreign object, a cancer, a toxin that has seeped into our human nature and polluted it. It robs us of our dignity. It drives us to despair and a miserable death.
But the Word made Flesh recovers our humanity. He reclaims the dignity we once had as God’s foremost visible creatures. He restores the image of God to our flesh and blood. In Christ, God in His fullness is pleased to dwell with us bodily. We can boast before all creation that our flesh and blood sits enthroned at God’s right hand and rules over all things. Not just our souls but also our bodies, therefore, are sanctified and holy in God’s sight. Even the angels bow in adoration before this man Jesus Christ.
It used to be the custom to bow the head or even bend the knee in Church at the words of the Creed, “and was made man.” That is a good custom. We sometimes rattle through the words of the Creed as if we were in a hurry to get it over with. And we end up gliding right over the greatest wonder in this world: God became Man in His Son Jesus Christ. This is our God, the God who can be our substitute in death because He’s one of us, whose divine blood is sufficient payment to cover your sins and the sins of the whole world, the God who has taken up your suffering and death into His own person, who shared in your sorrows completely in order that you might share in His joy and His glory and His life.
The Word made flesh dwells among us still. Though He is enthroned in glory at the right hand of His Father, the Father extends His right hand into our midst. Jesus is still God with us. He dwells among us incarnate in the Word of the preached Gospel, in the Word of Baptism, in the Word of the Supper. His manger is now the baptismal water, the words of Scripture, the Bread and Wine. Here He continues to dwell among us kindly and gently, as humbly as when He was a nursing infant.
So do not look for God anywhere else except in His Incarnation, His real bodily presence among us. Don’t seek Him in His majesty but in His humility. Seek the glory of God in His flesh. For God has revealed Himself to us in a meek and humble way, a way in which we may look on Him and live. Here is the glory of God, full of grace and truth, our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal God in touchable, tangible skin. Hear it one more time, “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.” That is the real meaning of Christmas.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠