Worship

A savior born to dwell among us

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Watch the Livestream beginning at 9:45 a.m. on Sunday. After the Livestream, the video will be available to watch anytime.

First Lesson: Isaiah 52:7-10 (NIV)

Second Lesson: Hebrews 1:1-9 (NIV)
Gospel: John 1:1-14 (NIV)

Sermon Theme: “What a Child this is!”

Music:

  • Pre-Service Christmas Carols Singalong
  • Hymn CW 354 O Come, All Ye Faithful
  • Hymn CW 350 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • Hymn CW 358 Of the Father’s Love Begotten
  • Duet – Mary, Did You Know?
  • Hymn CW 353 Joy to the World

One of my favorite parts of the way we Lutherans celebrate Christmas is the hymns we sing in worship. The quieter hymns of Christmas Eve as we looked in on the stable to see Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger. And the boisterous, exuberant hymns of Christmas Day when we sing about joy in the world and angels singing. I love them both. I often say that Christmas Eve is about remembering the events of Christmas, and Christmas Day is about celebrating what it means. Today as we look at John 1 for that meaning, we turn to one of those great hymns. The question the shepherds must have asked, and the one that’s so important to us too. What Child is This?

It’s the most natural question you could ask, if you can put yourself into the mindset of someone that doesn’t already know. Why does the Christian world stop on this day and meditate on what happened? To the point that even secular western culture takes a break. Why does Christmas mean so much that even nonmembers seek out churches to visit and members we don’t’ see any other Sunday feel the pull to come back? It’s not because of the question, but because of the answer. What child is this? No, I tell you what we say on Christmas morning is “What a child this is!” This child is unlike any other in human history, and his birth is worth pondering for a few more moments.

If you wanted to sum up Christmas in one Bible passage, I don’t think you could do much better than John 1:14. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” That, my friends, is the essence of Christmas, not just the theme of our service today. John begins his whole Gospel account of the life of Christ by introducing Jesus as the “Word.” In fact, if you substitute “Jesus” where it says “the Word” here what John is saying is perhaps more clear. Look at verse one: “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Isn’t that amazing to think about? Jesus existed long before Christmas. Yes, Jesus was born on Christmas and conceived nine months earlier, but he existed long before that. This infant we see crying in the manger was with God, is God, even before time began. His birth in Bethlehem doesn’t change his divine nature. Rather, it adds humanity to it. The Word became flesh.

A few years ago I read a Christmas Eve article suggesting that on that night of faith people should just choose a religion, any religion, and follow it wholeheartedly. The gist of the article was that it didn’t matter what faith you pick as long as you’re sincere in it. It sounds nice, but it’s precisely at Christmastime that we see what makes Christian faith so unique and different. The manger is what sets the Christian faith apart from every false religion in the world. Only in Christianity does God become human. In every other religion, god keeps his distance. People have to come to him. But our God didn’t just write a letter or send a representative. He didn’t just come to appear to us or visit us. He actually became one of us. He spent nine months in a womb, putting on the same human flesh that you and I have right now. What a child this is! The eternal creator, become a part of his creation.

Why? Because our world had become a very dark place. A world dark with sin. Adam and Eve had brought it into the world. And every man, woman, and child descended from them inherited their corrupted heart. You see it. Love conquered by selfishness. Fear overcoming compassion. It’s in us, and in everyone we know. Adam and Eve acted in selfishness when they sinned. At that moment, the human race basically said to God, “God, we don’t want you to be our Father anymore. We want to be on our own.”

And ever since then, the world has been a dark place spiritually. Deep down, everyone knows that there’s something wrong here. Something missing in our lives. On our own, we have no relationship with God. Those living without Christ have an emptiness in their hearts, even if they don’t realize it. There’s a dark cloud hanging over our whole planet, and it’s not going away. People try to forget about that with decorating and snow men and cookies and gifts – but once the wrapping paper is torn off and the cookies are just crumbs we find the cold and darkness of life in this sinful world still holding on. Yes, there’s sin in our world. There’s sin in my heart. Sin leads to death. And sin leads to hell.

And that’s why God became man. That’s why he stepped into our world. Look at verse 4: “In him (talking about Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” When God stepped into our world, it was as though a bright light had been turned on in a dark and dirty basement. Jesus, the light of the world had come. In him was something that was lacking in our world, and that something was “life.” Not physical life – there’s plenty of that. The “life” that Jesus brought into the world was a spiritual life that brings eternal life. That’s life, and Jesus brings that to you. That’s what Paul meant in Ephesians 2 when he wrote, “Because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions.” What a child this is, who brings life and light into the darkness and death of our sin!

But why the miracle of the incarnation? Why become flesh? Why couldn’t Jesus just come down and share the Word with us and set us all straight? You know the answer. God became flesh because our flesh was so corrupted by sin that we were lost. In order to bring humanity lasting and eternal life, he had to die. When a baby is born, you’re not supposed to think about how that baby is going to die. And yet, when you look at the infant Jesus, he came for that reason. To live perfectly in our place so that he could give us righteousness. And to die innocently also in our place so that he could take away our guilt and punishment. What a child this is, who comes to carry our burden and give us his holiness!

John tells us what happens to all those who believe in what the infant Jesus would someday do. Look at verse 12: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” All who believe in Jesus and trust him as Savior will become the children of God. What a promise! God became a part of our human family, so that we could become a part of his heavenly family. Jesus took on our flesh, and died with all of our sins, so that you and I can one day rise from the dead, with none of our sins. What a child this is!

So what is Christmas really about and why do we celebrate it with so much effort? Because as the hymn says, “this, this is Christ our King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.” This is no ordinary baby and no average prophet. This is no coach or mentor or trainer. This is God himself, come to save us. Christmas isn’t about the baby in the manger. It’s about the God-man on the cross that it would bring.

So even though John 1 never mentions a stable, a manger, or Mary or a baby, it tells us the most important truth of Christmas. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh and his dwelling is with us. That’s a Christmas message to last the whole year. What a child this is! To him be glory and praise. Amen.

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