Christmas is indeed my favorite time of the year. I daresay the same is true for many of us here tonight. But as much as I love the lights, presents, food, music, movies, and family fun, most of all I truly love thinking about the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus. That the God of the Universe took on flesh and was born as a little baby, to live the perfect life, teach us in the way we should go, and ultimately die and rise again for our sins, is what Christmas is all about. In the classic 1965 Christmas special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Linus is right when in the face of commercialism, cynicism, and depression, he drops his security blanket to recite the Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2. Behold the babe lying in a manger. O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!
In our Prayer Book we have two sets of readings for Christmas with two different Gospels: we have the well-known story from Chapter 2 of St. Luke’s Gospel, or we have the opening verses of St. John’s Gospel. Here at All Saints, we typically read one set on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas morning. This year, we’re looking at St. John’s account on Christmas Eve. If Luke’s Gospel gives us the major facts of the Christmas story, focusing on the birth of the Christ Child, John’s gives us the big cosmic picture behind it, culminating in that remarkable, multifaceted statement, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” But let’s start at the beginning: John 1:1 (page 97 in the Prayer Book):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.
In these remarkable verses, St. John is tapping into a wealth of biblical and philosophical imagery. He alludes to the opening of the Old Testament, Genesis 1, which reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Yet, says St. John, the Word was there first. The Word was with God, the Word was God. And creation is made through the Word did. We have here the mystery of the Holy Trinity: one God, yet three persons. While our gospel passage doesn’t talk about the Holy Ghost, we clearly have God the Father and the eternally begotten Son.
But what of this title, “Word”? The Greek for this title is Logos, which had a venerable pedigree both among the Greek-speaking Jews and the pagan philosophers. Three or four centuries before our Gospel was written, the Stoic philosophers spoke of the logos as the active principle of reason that animates the universe and bridges the material world with the spiritual world. Around the same time, the Hebrew Scriptures were being translated into Greek. In this Greek translation of the Scriptures, logos was often used to speak of God’s message to his people, particularly his message through the prophets, that message that is given to us in the Scriptures. That is, the logos is the word of the Lord.
The Jewish philosopher Philo, generation or two before the New Testament, builds on both of these ideas, personifying the Logos as the highest of the “intermediary beings” that God uses to bridge the infinite gap between himself and creation. Philo identifies the Logos with the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, calls the Logos the “first-born of God,” and says that the Logos is what keeps creation from unraveling and dissolving into nothingness.
These early ideas of the logos hint at the ultimate truth, but our Gospel gives us something new, something even greater. The true Logos is not only reason personified, not only the message from God, not only the greatest of God’s spiritual messengers. No, the true Logos is God himself, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. Indeed, when speaking of our Lord’s Divine Nature, the Church Fathers often used our Gospel’s title of Logos to speak of that 2nd Person as distinct from the Father. Nevertheless, the Logos is indeed God himself, he is the very Yahweh or Jehovah, Blessed be He, who speaks in the Old Testament. As St. Ambrose writes:
Let the soul that wishes to approach God raise itself from the body and cling always to that highest Good that is divine and lasts forever and that was from the beginning and that was with God, that is, the Word of God. This is the divine Being “in which we live and are and move.” This was in the beginning, this is “The Son of God, Jesus Christ in you,” [St. Paul] says, “in whom there was not yes and no, but only yes was in him.” He himself told Moses to say, “He who is has sent me.”
Our Gospel also speaks of the Logos, the Divine Message and Messenger from God, as Light.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. … That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
Our Lord’s Incarnation, the Word taking on flesh, came during a dark time in Israel’s history. Israel had no king. Israel’s Temple was corrupt. Israel’s people were divided. And Israel was occupied by a foreign Empire. But the times had ever been dark in one way or another. There is a temptation in all of us to look back on the “good old days” and wish for a return to that golden age. What was Israel’s golden age? Moses’ day when people had to wander the Wilderness due to their sins? David’s day when despite having their greatest king Israel also faced constant warfare and even a civil war? Solomon’s day when the prosperity was propped up by political alliances that led to idolatry, sowing the seeds of the later Exile? Was there ever really a golden age?
We can ask the same questions about our own dark times; what was our golden age? In truth, the times have ever been dark in one way or another. So, we need the Light of the World to shine in the darkness. We need the Word made flesh to bring us hope. God’s solution to darkness is to become one of us, to take our sins upon himself, to reconcile his creation through his own blood. The transcendent God drew near to us. He came into this world as one of us, shining his light into the darkness.
And thus, he conquered our great enemies of sin and death. St. Basil the Great writes:
When the grace of God our Savior appeared and the Sun of justice rose, death was swallowed up in victory, unable to bear the presence of true life. How great is God’s goodness, how deep his love for us!
Yet not everyone saw this light. Our Gospel continues:
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 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: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And here we have the great irony of the Incarnation. Many of those to whom the Messiah had been promised, many who had been looking for him, many who had put their hopes in a new and better King, missed him. They didn’t recognize him when he came. They remained in darkness, despite the Word and his Light.
But God would build himself a people. For those who received him, God gave them power to become sons of God. He gave us new birth. That birth wasn’t about bloodline or ancestry. It wasn’t because we tried extra-hard in our flesh. We didn’t will our adoption into being. No, God willed it. God made it happen. He reached out to us because our arms are ever too short to reach him. And in doing so, God the Son gives us everything that is his. St. Augustine writes:
Those whom he wished to make his brothers and sisters are the ones he himself freed and made joint heirs. … He was not afraid of having joint heirs, because his inheritance does not become less if its possessors are many. Those very persons, since he is the possessor, become his inheritance, and he in turn becomes their inheritance.
Lest anyone here wonder if God has reached out to you, the very fact that you are hearing his word, sitting in Church on the night we celebrate the Incarnation of the Logos, is the proof that God has done so. The invitation to turn to him, to be adopted as Christ’s brethren, to be a member of God’s household, is always open here in God’s house. Unlike the Temple of the Old Testament, there is no veil separating God’s presence from his people. Indeed, St. Paul tells us that all who repent and are baptized, joined to Christ by faith, become God’s very temple. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us, now and forevermore.
This brings us to the Climax of today’s Gospel in Verse 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.
How did God send his message? How did he give us the Divine Word? How did he give us Light to shine into darkness? How does he adopt us? How does he make us his temple? “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” God the Word tabernacled with his creation.
In classical theism, we often speak of God in his essence as being “without body, parts or passions.” That is, God is not a “thing,” he is not part of creation, and thus he cannot be affected by things. Creation cannot change him. And that is indeed good theology; a God that could be acted upon would not quite be a God “of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness.” Yet that also means that such a God cannot truly sympathize or empathize with his people, as he has no pathos, no suffering, to join with theirs. A transcendent God certainly can reach out, he can have pity and mercy, but he does not experience our trials.
Until he takes on our flesh.
In assuming our humanity, the Divine Word doesn’t diminish his Divinity. He doesn’t change the nature of his Godhood. But he does add a human nature to his Divine one. He truly becomes one of us, sin excepted. He is true man and true God. And it is a true human nature that he assumes. As St. Gregory of Nazianzus famously said, “Whatever has not been assumed has not been healed.” To heal our fallen, broken, and sinful humanity, the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. This then unites our humanity to God himself. As St. Athanasius explains:
He was made man that we might be made god. He manifested himself by a body that we might receive a conception of the unseen Father. He endured the hubris of humanity, that we might inherit incorruptibility. For on the one hand, he himself was in no way injured, being impassible and incorruptible and the very Word and God; but on the other hand, in his own impassibility he maintained and preserved those human beings who were suffering and for whose sakes he endured all this.
He does indeed suffer for us, as one of us. And yet his Divinity isn’t diminished. His Godhood isn’t tainted or injured. Indeed, as St. John Chrysostom points out, his very suffering becomes glory. Not only, he says, do we admire the Lord Jesus for his miracles, but also for his sacrificial death. His sufferings are the means of grace and truth. For by them he shows his “kindness and power.” He defeats death by dying, sacrificing himself for us his brethren.
The Word was indeed made flesh and dwelt among us. He is the very message and messenger from God. He is the Light that dispels our darkness. He was born of flesh that we might be reborn. He died in his flesh, that death would be conquered. He gives us grace and truth. Behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father. O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.