This Christmas morning, I want you to use your imaginations. First, imagine that you know absolutely nothing about God. Second, imagine you’re driving around Appleton. As you drive, you pass a church, whose sign invites you, “Meet God here today!”
Your curiosity piqued, you turn into the parking lot and walk inside. As an usher leads the way, millions of thoughts race through your head. “What will God look like? What will God say to me? What should I say to God? Why did I wear sweatpants?!” Curiously, the usher leads you into an alley behind the church.
Outside, he points to a crude barn, filled with the sounds and smells of farm animals. Your eyes settle on a young, lower class couple, staring with wonder into a feeding trough. As you approach, wondering where God is, you finally notice a newborn baby in that manger. A smiling man to your left, smelling of sheep and open pasture joyfully exclaims, “This is the Promised One! This…is…God.”
“This helpless baby? Unable to speak or care for himself…this is God, the Savior of the world? I might not know anything about God, but this baby can’t be God!”
Today, we don’t have to imagine, because on Christmas Day, we stand in that stable next to Mary and Joseph, our hearts pounding in rhythm with the shepherds’ as we gaze in wonder at the baby of Bethlehem, as we Meet God…in a Manger.
That’s difficult to comprehend. The Apostle John’s contemporaries questioned, “Why would an all-powerful God become a man, especially a helpless newborn?” Really, those questions still persist, just with a different flavor. Today, the question isn’t, “why would God become man” but “how could a man be God?” People see the baby in the manger, the man dying on the cross and think, “This can’t be God.” But the conflict point is the same for both questions—people struggle with Jesus’ humanity. If Jesus is true man, how can he also be true God?
And so the Apostle John, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote in order to showcase God’s grace through his son, Jesus. John stated, “These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” John wrote so people wouldn’t scoff, “This child is God?” but by faith exclaim, “This child is God!”
From the first words of his gospel, John highlights the unfathomable good news of Christmas, that that infant born in Bethlehem is God; the Savior of the world, clothed in flesh and blood, true God and true man. Our Christmas joy and hope centers on this one verse: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” But why does John refer to God the Son as “the Word?”
Words are used to communicate, and God uses his Word to communicate with us, through his Word in the Bible, but even more completely through his Son, the Word. Without the Word, the mind and will of God would remain hidden, but Jesus, the Word, is “the image of the invisible God.” Everything God wants to reveal about himself, his nature, and his feelings towards us, are communicated through Jesus. As Hebrews says, “In the past God spoke…through the prophets…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” As the Word, Jesus is both the message, and the messenger!
The word God spoke, promising a Savior to Adam and Eve after the fall into sin, is fulfilled by the Word. The word of the prophets, pointing ahead to the coming of “Immanuel” “God with us” is fulfilled by the Word, who took on flesh and blood. As we meet Jesus in that manger, we meet God; because Jesus is God, and because God reveals himself and communicates through Christ.
First, in Jesus, God reveals his love. Look what the Word willingly set aside to become man! John says, “In the beginning was the Word.” In the beginning at creation, the Word already was! Not created, without beginning or end. The Word was eternal. “The Word was with God.” Literally, the Word was face to face with God. The Triune God– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit lived in a perfectly unified relationship, finding complete joy in each other, without the dysfunction and jealousy that sometimes categorize our families around Christmas. The Word wasn’t just hanging out with God, like a kid at the adult table. “The Word was God.” And as the all-powerful God, the Word was the creator of all things! “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
We can’t fully appreciate the love God communicates in Christ unless we understand what the Son set aside to become a true man. The eternal Word, without beginning or end, took on human flesh that began in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and ended with his death on the cross. The Word, who enjoyed a perfect relationship with the Father and Spirit, bore human flesh and blood to the cross, where he would be forsaken by his Father to pay for the sins of the world. The Word, who stretched out all-powerful hands to create the world, now stretched out infant hands to grasp his mother’s finger. God’s love is unfathomable, and it shines forth through his Son, the Word, true God, who willingly set aside all of the power, glory, and perfection of Heaven, to take on the weakness of human flesh, the helplessness of infancy, and the mortality of human nature…for sinners like us.
This isn’t just God saying, “I love you.” This is God saying, “I love you” and then backing it up with the most selfless, loving action possible. Bill Gates wouldn’t swap lives with a homeless man. So why would the Word set aside everything, to become nothing? Because as we meet God in a manger, we meet God’s perfect love for the world.
Even more, look at the world God perfectly loved. Jesus wasn’t born of a Virgin because he knew he’d be welcomed with open arms. As the Son entered the world he created, a fellow man with the people he knit together in mothers’ wombs, “the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” It would be like a college student getting home on Christmas break, and asking his parents, “Who are you?” How could you not recognize the one who made you?
Isn’t that our struggle too? Failing to recognize Jesus for who he really is? We see the child of Bethlehem and think, “He’s too helpless to solve my problems.” We hear the Word and think, “God can’t possibly keep all the promises he’s made.” We see Jesus die on that cross and think, “That can’t be enough to pay for THAT sin I’ve committed.”
Really, any doubts we have about God stem from a failure to recognize who Christ really is: The all-powerful God who is mightier than any problem; the Word who never fails to keep his promises; the God of love, who mercifully took on flesh to forgive every sin, even the sins of those who don’t receive him. As we meet God in a manger, we meet God’s perfect mercy for the underserving.
Into a world of darkness, sin, and unbelief, Jesus came. He came to shine in the darkness, to give light and life to the blind and dead. As we meet God in a manger, we meet God’s perfect plan for a world needing rescue.
As John said, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” The Word took on flesh and shone his light in this dark world, to win eternal life. Light and life are linked. If the sun stopped shining, all life would cease. If you put a houseplant in a dark closet, it dies. In the same way, without the light of Christ in this dark world of sin and unbelief, everything would be doomed to eternal death. Only through Christ’s light can we have life!
Christ had to take on a mortal human nature so he could die to pay the ransom price for hell-bound sinners. Christ had to be born true man, so he could live perfectly as the perfect substitute for imperfect sinners. The Word had to proclaim himself as the Savior, so that unbelievers might believe in him, because “to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Note that verb. He GAVE the right to become children of God. When you gave gifts this Christmas, did you give them even to kids and adults who weren’t perfect all year? Forgetting the naughty list, or what the Elf on the Shelf saw, you gave gifts, even to imperfect people. Why? Because you love those imperfect people.
In the same way, Jesus gave this right, this gift, not to people who earned it by being good enough. Jesus gave this gift, this right, to undeserving sinners who understand their complete helplessness without their Savior. Jesus gives this gift, because he is love.
I hope you treasure these words in your heart. “Jesus gave the right to become children of God.” Because of that child born in Bethlehem, you are God’s child. If Christmas saddens you because your family is scattered or shattered by sin, remember that you’re a loved member of God’s family. If an empty spot at your table leads you to mourn this Christmas, remember that your brother Jesus is with you always. If your Christmas celebration has been distracted by presents, decorations, family, or travel, remember the greatest gift you’ve received this Christmas; our brother, who gives us the right to be called Children of God. As we meet God in a manger, we meet our Savior.
Finally, as we meet God in a manger, God reveals his work for us. John the Baptist served as a “witness to the light.” God calls us to do the same in a world of darkness. May we be like the shepherds, who sprinted away from their flocks to find the Christ-child. May we too leave behind everything else in our lives so we can worship our God! Like the shepherds, may we too “spread the word concerning what has been told us about this child.” Today and every day, we bring ourselves, and others, to stare down in wonder into the manger at the Word made flesh. Our God. Our Savior. Merry Christmas. Amen.