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LSB Christmas Day Sermon – John 1:1-18

December 25, 2014

December 25, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” That is how John describes the Incarnation of our Lord. The presence of the Son of God on earth is a matter of the deity assuming humanity, God becoming Man and living on earth.

For the past two worship services, you have heard how this took place. The Gospel Reading for the 4th Sunday in Advent (B) recounted the Annunciation to Mary: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High… The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Last night at Christmas Eve Vespers, you heard the record of that birth: “And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Christmas is the annual celebration of this birth of Jesus. The Church uses formal language to speak of this day: “The Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord”. The Collect for Christ’s Nativity confesses what both Luke’s and John’s gospels make known: “Almighty God, You have given Your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon Him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin.” That birth was lauded in the ancient hymn assigned for Christmas Day sung by us this morning: “Oh, that birth forever blessed, / When the virgin, full of grace, / By the Holy Ghost conceiving, / Bore the Savior of our race, / And the babe, the world’s Redeemer, / First revealed His sacred face / Evermore and evermore.”

But the Gospel Reading for Christmas Day includes a very important statement about birth. When speaking about the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, John says: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” The Gospel Writer talks about a birth other than Jesus’ nativity. He declares that there has been the birth of children of God besides Jesus.

Now John is not saying that God the Father has other only-begotten Sons. No, only One person holds that title. That is the Jesus who was born in Bethlehem. But John is saying that God the Father does have other children who have been generated of Him. That is what makes the Nativity of Our Lord which is celebrated on this day of great importance, why it is a joyous occasion.

The birth of the Son of God should rightly be praised. It would be our bounden duty to do this. This would be a worship of the LORD’s majesty and power. The Epistle Reading alluded to this: “And again, when He brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship Him.’” As the LORD would command, so all His creatures must do. When the LORD says, “Worship My Son who is born,” then all creation, including humanity, must obey. Such worship and obedience will take place. That is the heart of Paul’s statement to the Philippians which speaks of the Incarnation of Christ: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

That universal acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity will be performed at the Last Day. All will recognize the Eternal Sonship of Jesus. That will be so, even for those whom John stated did not receive Him: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” But such acknowledgement given by them will not be a worship of faith; it will be a forced obeisance. The LORD’s promise in the Psalter foretells this: “You are My Son; today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage, and the ends of the earth Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Such descriptions do not make the Nativity of Our Lord a joyous occasion. Instead, they make it an occasion of fear and trembling.

But fear and trembling are not the character of this day. No, there is a sense of joy and merriment. The hymns call us to rejoice and be glad: “O come, all ye faithful, / Joyful and triumphant! …. Let our gladness have no end, / For to earth did Christ descend …. From east to west, from shore to shore / Let every heart awake and sing /  The holy child whom Mary bore, / The Christ, the everlasting king.”  The Old Testament Reading included a similar exhortation: “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem.” What causes this type of rejoicing? Not the bounden duty to worship the Son, but the privilege that has been extended to you.

That privilege is what John noted in the Gospel Reading for Christmas Day. It is wrapped up in the birth that he spoke of: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” This is what makes the Nativity of Our Lord a joyous occasion. It isn’t just the birth of the Son of God on earth that does so. The purpose for which it was done makes it joyous. Jesus’ Nativity takes place so that people may be born of God.

This is what the Gospel Writer wants to make known. The Incarnation happens: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” But it achieves something great for you: “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” The birth of Jesus is a mysterious exercise of divine power. And at its heart, it is an extension of divine favor to the creation.

The reason for this Incarnation, this birth of Jesus, is mentioned in the Epistle Reading. When testifying about the nature of Jesus, the author also speaks about His work: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” The majesty and power of the LORD is rightly stated, but so is the purpose for this being done. Salvation is wrought by this divine act. Purification for sins is made. This allows humanity to become children of God.

That divine act has been performed for you. You have received this Jesus who is the Eternal Son of the Father. You recognize Him now as the Incarnate Word. You confess that this Jesus is the source of all life, the One by whom all things are made and through whom all things are redeemed. The fullness of His divinity that is offered in atonement for your sin and guilt is how you have been granted divine grace.

That changes the nature of the worship that you offer on this day. It is no longer a forced matter. It is no longer simple obedience. No, the praise and honor that you give to the Son of God on this day flows out of your belief in Him. Not only do you give thanks for what has been done; your being born of God allows you to ask Him things as your Father: “Grant that we, who have been born again and made Your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by Your Holy Spirit.” This is the right and proper reaction to having become children of God, born of God.

The truth which John’s Gospel reveals gives this Nativity of Our Lord all the joy that we express on this day, even in the Christmas greetings offered around the world: “Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël! Fröhliche Weihnachten!” That joy is rooted in what has been done for us through the birth of Jesus: “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Nothing is more gracious that we have received than this: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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