The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us has to be the most profound understatement ever made, doesn’t it? What other event that happened over 2000 years ago in the backwoods of the Middle East continues to have such an impact on our world? No day inspires more people to generosity and gift giving – even among non-Christians – than Christmas (even if we wish more people realized that gifts are not the real meaning of Christmas). Today is still the day that more businesses are closed than any other. On no other day do more people, who for the other 364 days of the year could care less about God and his Word, show up in church to see what all the commotion is about – which is a good thing, even if they have to be coerced into coming. The incarnation of our Lord – Christmas – has had a greater impact on our world and on individual hearts and lives than any other event. So what’s the big deal? What happened that day in Bethlehem long ago that has such lingering consequences not only for this life, but for our hope for the next? The Word became flesh. That might be understating it, but the profound mystery and the unmatched testimony of our Lord’s incarnation cannot be overstated.
The first logical question is: where did this Word come from? In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Immediately John takes us to another place, another time, another book of the Bible. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) The event in Bethlehem’s manger was not an accident, not a coincidence of history. In God’s mind the manger was the goal of the creation. Before creation the One that wound the clock of time planned to become part of creation when the time was just right. The One through [whom] all things were made; [and] without [whom] nothing was made that has been made came to rest in Mary’s arms, the result of the Spirit’s conception and a virgin’s womb – in accordance with God’s plan of salvation. Our puny minds cannot begin to fathom the nature of a timeless, all-powerful, everywhere present God; but the miracle of Christmas is that this infinite God limits himself to the frail, finite form of an infant. All summed up in one profound understatement: the Word became flesh.
In reading this, you can’t help but wonder why John used the term Word to describe baby Jesus. Why not God became human or the Creator of the Universe became a creature or (if he was writing a precise confession of faith) the Son of God, the second person of the trinity, while retaining his nature as true God, took into his divine nature the nature of a true man, so that the nature and characteristics of each rightfully and only belong to the One known as Jesus Christ? John doesn’t do that, instead he calls Mary’s baby the Word. Why? Why do we use words? Without getting philosophical, the reason words come out of our mouths is because we want to reveal what we are thinking in our heads and opening our mouths and using words to articulate our thoughts has proven to be the best and most efficient way to do that. Children learn to speak because crying doesn’t clearly convey their desires. We have found that writing out our thoughts in Christmas cards is a good way of letting people into our hearts and lives.
The Word became flesh to reveal God’s hidden thoughts to the world. The Word became flesh because no human could ever hope to understand what was on God’s mind, either how he feels about them or what his will is or what his plan is for us and this world. But that didn’t stop man from trying. Already in the beginning, Adam and Eve tried to get into God’s head by trying to become gods themselves. Ignoring God’s clear, spoken Word they presumed to reach the divine by eating a piece of fruit. (Which, when you hear it out loud sounds completely absurd.) With one bite, Adam and Eve not only failed to become gods, they forfeited the holiness and immortality God originally intended for them. You would think that mankind would have learned its lesson from the results of that first sin. But we haven’t. We still make gods of ourselves by holding our own thoughts and reason on the same plane (or a higher one) than God’s. We still make ourselves gods by bowing down to the desires of our own dead, sinful flesh and by placing our trust in anyone and anything but God. And in doing so we simply prove day after day that we don’t deserve to live anywhere near the presence of God. Because we are so bent in on ourselves and obsessed with our own wisdom and creativity, we demonstrate that we don’t appreciate, love or trust the One who made us, preserves us, and died to save us. Like Adam and Eve the first commandment is still the one we break most frequently. The sad truth is that no amount of intelligence, effort or smarts can ever raise us to the level of God’s holiness and righteousness – and the only proper place for self-made gods is away from the only true God forever in hell.
That’s why God sent his Son into this dark world 2000 years ago. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us because we are completely powerless to make our home with him. The Word that is God became man to reveal God’s heart to us. The Word that created the universe became an inhabitant of his own creation to save the very creatures that had broken his creation. The infinite God became a baby. Try to wrap your mind around that. And then stop and admit you can’t. Know that this is one truth that you cannot untangle; it is a mystery that can grasped only by the Spirit’s gift of faith. In the manger, God speaks to us, reveals himself and his innermost thoughts to us. It’s a profound mystery – don’t try to understand it, simply believe it.
But just because someone is speaking, doesn’t always mean that anyone is actually listening, does it? Pastors and wives know that truth very well. And as sinful humans who retain the ability to ignore God; who often think that we are just fine on our own (thank you very much!) – mankind didn’t really want to hear what God had to say through that baby born in Bethlehem. In our fallen, flawed way of thinking, we thought we already knew what was on God’s mind because we still have a fuzzy, barely legible copy of his will written on our hearts. In our arrogance, we put a finger up to God’s lips and say “Don’t waste your breath, we’ve got this.” John put it this way: he was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. The world, of which we were a part, had no need for the Word in the manger, because it presumed to have God’s mind and salvation all figured out. Obey, serve, work, give, love, feel, earn, strive, try harder, be better, do more…and on and on and on. Study any of the religions or philosophies of the world that don’t find their roots in the manger (and sadly some that do) and you will find humans still trying to become god-like through their own effort. It’s really not strange or rare at all. The religion of works is not foreign to our hearts and unacceptable to our minds. It’s the religion we were all born into, the religion of the sinful flesh, the religion of reason, the religion of Satan. And that is what makes the revelation of God’s hidden thoughts in the manger so precious and so unmatched.
God’s testimony in the manger is this: we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father. The message that is foreign to our hearts and unacceptable to our natural minds is that salvation isn’t something we do; it’s something that must be done for us. To a world bound and determined to work its way up to God, the manger says: “God has come down to you.” But that’s still not the most unexpected, most profound part. John saved that for last: the One and Only, who came from the Father, [came] full of grace and truth. The hidden, unimaginable thought of God revealed in the manger is that his heart is full of grace and truth toward his proud and rebellious creatures.
The Word made flesh testifies to God’s grace – that is, his undeserved love for us. Our sinful hearts cannot fathom sacrificing ourselves for our enemies. (Can you imagine sacrificing your life to save the life of an ISIS soldier?) But God can and did and the manger is proof. The manger is where God proved that he so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) The manger is the place where God says to a world, that could and should only expect anger and wrath from him; that he is not angry, that a fiery home in hell is not what he wants for us. The manger is the place where God puts his finger up to our lips and says, “Stop trying to earn my love – because here, in this baby I give you the one thing I love most.” The manger is the place where God wants us to drop our sins, our problems, worries and concerns so that his Son can carry them to the cross to pay for them and remove them forever. The manger is where dead creatures like us come to receive life and it’s the reason we are confident that death will serve as the gateway back to God’s presence in his heavenly family. Or again, as John puts it: to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. All who believe that this baby is the Son of God who came to earth to save them will be saved forever.
Until then, the Word is the truth that leads us through this dark world. Not one truth among many. Not a truth that is true for some people but fails for others. But the one, certain, reliable, unchanging truth of the one, true God. The Word made flesh in the manger is what we must cling to in a world that is still filled with darkness. There is the darkness of the world that tries to convince us that there is no God (or, if there is, that he’s absent and uninterested), the darkness that tries to convince us that the manger is only one of many perfectly valid ways to achieve godliness, the darkness that tries to convince us that God is still angry with us, still demanding more from us, still expecting us to work our way up to him. There is the darkness of our own guilty hearts that tries to convince us that God couldn’t possibly love sinners like us. The truth of the manger is that God loves us so much that he became one of us. The truth of the manger is that he wants us to live with him forever and that faith in the baby lying in the manger is the only way for that to happen. Like the Magi following the star to the manger, follow this light because it is the one and only path back to God, the one and only truth that will never change, the one and only place that we can know what God really thinks. And the best part is that what God thinks is better than we ever could have imagined: he loves us so much that he sent his Son to live, die and rise for us. That is the matchless testimony of the Word made Flesh in a manger in Bethlehem.
To say that we have barely scraped the surface of what the Spirit reveals in these 14 verses is an understatement in itself. But I pray that our celebration of our Savior’s birth has once again kindled in your heart a blazing fire of faith in the Word made Flesh. A profound mystery – that God became one of us. An unmatched testimony – that full of the Father’s grace and truth, he came to save us. Look closely at the baby in the manger. Lying there in the hay, that’s God himself, God’s heart revealed. See his little eyes filled with compassion and love for you. See his little hands and little feet that he will allow to be pierced with nails for you. See his tiny head that will wear a crown of thorns for you. See a tiny chest with a tiny heart that beats with eternal love for you. In that manger is your God and your Savior. He is the only reason to celebrate today. Place your trust in him and you will have a very Merry Christmas. Amen.