Grace and truth be to you from our Savior, the Christ-Child. Amen.
Sermon text: John 1:14,16 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw for ourselves His glory, glory as of the Only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. For from His fullness we all received, grace upon grace.”
Perhaps the best name for the Church Year is “The Year of Grace”. For we walk through the Year with the God of all grace and truth. And this, not only on Sundays, but every day.
Beginning with last night, now is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus; the mystery of how the God of creation became part of creation Himself.
The story is well known. How the angel appeared to the Virgin Mary; how the Holy Spirit came upon her and she conceived and gave birth to her firstborn, the Son of God; and how the angels announced this in great splendor to the lowly shepherds. Now the sermon text is from John and John doesn’t have all this information. Luke and Matthew do. Some would say that Luke 2 and the end Matthew chapter 1 are the only accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Bible. Well, as far as a narrative, a listing of the events in story book form goes, yes, that’s true. But there are actually 2 other places in Scripture (4 total) that give us an account of Jesus' birth.
John chapter 1 is one of those other places. (The other is found in Revelations 12.5). As opposed to Matthew and Luke’s narrative, John’s account is sort of a ‘behind the scenes’ look. John begins his gospel by writing, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
As well as anyone can do in human language, John has given us a glimpse of that which is unknowable, the inner-workings of the Trinity. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit to describe this mystery in terms of language itself, describing Jesus as the eternal Word, now made flesh.
In a sermon on this same text from John 1.14, Luther has something quite ‘interesting’ to say about the phrase, “And the Word became flesh.” In his usual, straight-forward and honest style of preaching he describes us humans as (quote) “a poor bag of worms.” Not a sturdy box, but a flimsy bag; not full of precious jewels, but full of stinking, disgusting worms.
In this analogy, the worms are our sin and the bag is our flesh (our body and soul), which has been polluted by our sin.
And this nasty, filthy bag is what the eternal Word clothed Himself in when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. This is the form in which He “dwelt among us.” His bag looked and smelled like ours in every aspect; all except for one: He had no worms of His own. That is to say, He was sinless. The worms (sin) that He carried around were ours.
The perfect and Holy Son of God humiliating Himself by coming down to the slums. But not without a purpose: God became a bag of worms to change us, who are the ‘poor, stinking bags of worms’ into ‘sparkling chests of gold’.
By the time Jesus made it to the cross, His bag was filled with the stench and dirt from every human, for all time. What an awful sight! But, at the same time, what a glorious sight.
“And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw for ourselves His glory [and not just any “glory”, or “status”], [but] glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father, [and not just part of that glory], but full of grace and truth.”
Glory? He was carrying around all our stinking sins, even our worst ones. He was a spiritual garbage dump, yet through all that, John, the other Apostles, the other disciples and all the followers of Jesus, still saw in Him, the glory of God. They saw the glory because they were seeing with their own eyes the prophecies of the Old Testament being fulfilled day by day in this God-man Jesus. And by what they saw with their physical eyes, they believed with their eyes of faith. They believed that this One was taking upon Himself the sins of all men. And more than anything else that is the glory of God. That is the grace of God. That is how God cares for us most, in the sacrifice of Himself, taking the punishment for us. He took our punishment that we might have His glory.
This ‘exchange’ is the only reason we have anything to celebrate this time of year. Presents are nice and receiving them brings much excitement, but that excitement and those toys won’t last. The only gift that really lasts is the very gift of eternity itself, which we receive by the grace of God. And that grace is embodied in the babe born in Bethlehem, whom the shepherds found lying in a wooden manger, whom we find lying on our wooden altar. The shepherds would have missed something great if they had ignored the promise told to them, if perhaps they would have tried to go and find Jesus in the inn rather than the stable. Likewise, we would miss something great if we ignore the promise told to us, if perhaps we go and try to find Jesus other than in the Word and Sacrament. This Jesus is the Reason for the Season, take and eat, take and drink, receive Him now as He comes swaddled in bread and wine.
How often do we hear the Christian slogan this time of year: Always keep Christ in Christmas. And that's important, without Christ there would be no Christ-mas. But we Lutherans don't stop there. Christ didn't come just to be adored and served. He came to serve and to be received. So we also say, Always keep mass in Christ-mass. It's no coincidence that we invite our Lord to come to us in His holy Supper today. God is not far off, He is here, and He continues to come. He is not only the supreme ruler of the cosmos, He is also Immanuel, God with us, now, God for us.
That's the very message the angels came proclaiming to the shepherds that night. And the angel's sermon wasn't only for the shepherds. He also says to you this morning, “I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy. Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in David’s city.” The angel doesn’t say, “a Savior was born,” but rather “your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born.” In the same way, he doesn’t say, “I have good news,” but rather “I have good news for you.”1 Christ is born for you, to bring grace and truth and life to you! He is grace and truth and life in the flesh. Jesus is, as our text says, “full of grace and truth.” And He fills you with His fullness (most powerful) in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar where He strengthens and preserves you in the thing most needful for this life and the next.
And as if that weren't enough, He doesn't stop there.
“For from His fullness we all received, grace upon grace; [one gracious gift after another gracious gift].” Where we are empty, Christ is full and He fills us. Where we are incompetent, full of sin, in constant grief and suffering, and altogether dead; Christ comes with wisdom from on high to exterminate our worms of sin, and to bring good news of great joy that, in Him, we are made alive, we are saved; from ourselves, from the devil, from hell itself. This is the Christmas promise; this is grace. And it comes freely and abundantly in the form of Grace Incarnate, Christ our Lord.
His love and peace and comfort flow to us like a stream. But it doesn’t just stop at us. The river doesn’t dam up at the gates of our hearts. The gifts we have in Christ flow through us. We are first receivers of Grace and then, also instruments of Grace.
You are being used as an instrument of grace. First, Grace came to you on your baptism day, when the seed of faith was planted in your soul by the Holy Spirit when the pastor spoke the Words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” From then on, you have been a child of Grace, continuing in your baptismal grace; a recipient of God’s gracious gifts, one after another, after another as you come to receive Grace where Grace is promised, in the Divine Liturgy of the Church. And from the overflow of this life-giving stream of spiritual nourishment, God blesses others through you. He uses you as His ‘secret agent’ of Grace. When you use your talents in love toward others: when you encourage them, or when you anticipate a need and work to meet that need, when you forgive a person for sinning against you. But especially you are an instrument of grace when you speak to others about the gifts that you have received, and continue to receive, because of Christ.
Dear Christians, Grace has come. We see Him in the arms of His Blessed Virgin mother. He is a treasure which nothing else in the whole world can be compared. He is the satisfaction for every accusation of sin against us; He is the star of hope that shines its brilliant rays into this sin-darkened world; He alone is the immovable pillar to which our weak bodies and souls must cling; and He is the guide who brings us safely through sorrow and death into the open gates of eternal peace and joy.2 Having seen His salvation, we continue to sing with Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
To Christ be all glory and praise forevermore. Amen.
1 Luther, By Faith Alone, December 22
2 Lenski, The Interpretation of John’s Gospel, pp90-91
[Artwork by Ed Riojas]