Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 24, 2009

Sermon for the Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord (2009)

A FAMILY CHRISTMAS

  1. By Jesus’ birth, God has become a part of our family
  2. By Jesus’ birth, we may become a part of God’s family

Text: John 1:1-2,10-14

Introduction

The way to celebrate Valentine’s Day is to take your sweetheart out on a date.  The way to celebrate Easter is to get dressed up for church in your Sunday best, and maybe enjoy an Easter breakfast or brunch before or after the service.  The way to celebrate Independence Day is to take your family to the local parade and then grill out in the backyard.

There is no hard and fast rule about the way to celebrate any given holiday, but most of us have certain expectations and traditions for different holidays.  And Christmas is no exception.  Attending worship and opening presents are common Christmas customs in our midst.  But I think it is also safe to say that, if at all possible, we like to celebrate Christmas with our family.  The massive airport crowds and overbooked airline flights only confirm that spending time with family is a virtual expectation at Christmas time.

I’m sure that we who are gathered here today agree that the most important part of Christmas is the birth of Christ.  Family gathering are wonderful, but family gatherings don’t make or break Christmas.  Jesus makes Christmas.  The birth of the Christchild is what this day is really all about.  Christmas is Christ Mass – the worship of Christ, our newborn King and Savior.  Christmas is still Christmas even if we can’t gather with family.  But in the Gospel reading for this Christmas service (John 1:1-14), Saint John tells us that, in a sense, Christmas is about family.  Christmas is about the way Jesus became a part of the human family, and the way that we become a part of God’s family.  As we celebrate the miracle of Jesus’ birth today, Saint John reminds us that every Christmas is a family Christmas.  Because of Jesus’ birth, God has become a part of our family.  Because of Jesus’ birth, we may become a part of God’s family.

I.

In last Sunday’s children’s Christmas service, you heard the school children tell the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel.  Many of us know Luke’s account fairly well because it is the straight-forward story that is frequently read this time of year (even in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special on television!).  John tells the same Christmas story as Luke does in his Gospel, but John tells the Christmas story with rather lofty words and profound statements.  Yet the main point shines through: By Jesus’ birth, God has become a part of our family. 

John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.”  John begins his Gospel calling Jesus, “the Word.”  Sometimes we use the word, “word,” to mean more than one simple word.  If someone asks you, “What’s the word on the street?” you know he is asking for news, not one simple word.  And so when John calls Jesus, “the Word,” there is so much packed into that expression that we can hardly begin to unpack it.  All of the promises in God’s Word about salvation, redemption, and forgiveness of sins are embodied in Jesus, the incarnate Word.

Already in the first century of Christian history, there were some who claimed that Jesus was not truly God.  Some claimed that he was a mere human being and nothing more.  As Jesus’ apostle, an eyewitness of his ministry, and his closest earthly friend, John knew better.  He says, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  John says that Jesus was face-to-face with God, and at the same time, Jesus himself was God.  That is John’s profound way to describe the relationship between the persons of the Triune God.  Jesus, the eternal Word, is together with God the Father, and, at the same time, he is God himself.  John writes very profound words that communicate equally profound truths for us this Christmas morning.

I said earlier that John tells us the same story about Jesus’ birth that we can find elsewhere in Scripture.  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah predicted a virgin giving birth to a child called “Immanuel,” a Hebrew word that means, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14).  Two chapters after he wrote those words, Isaiah also predicted the birth of a child who would be named, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  In Matthew’s Gospel, the angel tells Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, that the child his betrothed is carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-25).  That’s the same thing the angel tells Mary in Luke when she receives the news that she is to be the virgin mother of the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38).  So we should not have too much trouble figuring out what John means in the final verse of the Christmas Gospel: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John calls Jesus, “the Word,” and says that the Word became a flesh-and-blood human being like any one of us.  If God had not told us so in his Word, I doubt we would have ever concocted a story like the one Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and John tell us.  And yet it is true!  Jesus did not merely appear to be like us.  He became one of us.  The One who eternally existed before humanity, the One who in the beginning created humanity, now in time becomes a part of his own creation.  The stars that Jesus once set in the heavens at creation now look down on him in the manger at his birth!  And in this sense, the first Christmas was a family Christmas, for it was by Jesus’ birth that God became a part of the human family.

Earlier this year, someone from another part of the world responded to an old post on my blog from two summers ago about the Virgin Birth.  We had a couple of exchanges, but eventually I had to end the discussion—my work as a pastor is more pressing than digital debates on a blog!  But the writer’s premise was that Christianity at large has bought into a myth about the Virgin birth that Isaiah never intended to suggest.  A recent episode of a Lutheran radio talk show that I enjoy listening to spent an extended segment on the Virgin birth, because it is so tied to our Christmas celebration and yet is clouded by misunderstandings and unbelieving skepticism.

If only we would put our rationalistic prejudices aside, be silent, and listen to the unambiguous Word of God about the Word who became flesh.  If only we would listen to the divinely inspired accounts of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life like Matthew and John, and the divinely inspired record of Luke, who carefully investigated the story of Jesus’ life.  If only we would take the miracle of God becoming a part of our family as seriously as the early church did: After this sermon, the confession of faith we will speak is the second part of the Athanasian Creed, a fifth-century statement of faith which states very precisely how Jesus is both God and man in one person.  This is not mythical, but miraculous!  God becomes one of us!  Who would have imagined it?  This is miraculous enough for us to stand with our mouths wide open in total awe and to celebrate that God became a part of the human family by Jesus’ birth!

II.

But the story and celebration of Christmas cannot end there.  There is a more important question still waiting to be answered.  Why?  Why did God become a part of our family?  Why did the Word become flesh and live among us?  John answers that elsewhere in our reading.  “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.  Yet 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.”

If the angels had not announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, would anyone have noticed that this simple baby boy of poor parents was God incarnate?  Even as he grew up and carried out his ministry, it appears that his powerful preaching and divine deeds and even his resurrection were not enough to convince the many who rejected him that he was the promised Savior.  But some came to believe in him.  Some “received him” by the miracle of the Spirit’s work inside human hearts.  And John tells us that they, who believe that God became a part of the human family in Jesus, now have become a part of God’s family.  “Yet 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.”  No one is naturally a part of God’s family.  John tells us that when a person is brought into the family of God, it is God’s action to adopt that person, and not some natural or earned status on our part.

My wife and I know quite a few people—family, friends, other pastors and teachers—who have adopted children.  There are few things as loving and generous as adoption.  Adoptive parents often work through some major hurdles to bring children into their family.  They have to go through all sort of legal hurdles and headaches to make the adoption official.  Sometimes they fly overseas to bring a new adopted son or daughter into their family.  They give those children a good home that they might not otherwise have had.  The adoptive parents I know would acknowledge that it wasn’t easy, but it was well worth it.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, you and I have become a part of God’s family.  But that was not our natural condition.  In fact, you and I were born into this world as complete and total enemies of God.  Your parents and relatives may have thought a cute little baby was born when you came into this world, but God knew better.  He saw the stain of sin on your heart that you inherited from your parents.  He saw the rebellion and distain that infected our minds from day one.  If there was anyone so unattractive and unlikely to be brought into God’s family, it was us!

But that ought to show us the tremendous love and grace of our adoptive heavenly Father!  For us, the least likely of candidates to be brought into God’s family, Jesus was born into our family.  The only child ever born without the stain of original sin was the Son of God.  And Jesus took his holiness from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross, where his innocence was laid down for us, where he took all our sin and guilt on himself, and where every last stain of sin was washed away by his holy and precious blood.  God went to these great lengths for you, and he went even further, using his Word and his sacrament of adoption to send his Holy Spirit into your heart and bring you into his family.  Every time you hear absolution proclaimed in this chancel, every time you hear the Scriptures read at this lectern, every time you receive the body and blood of Jesus at this altar, God is at work to confirm your status as his adopted and dearly loved son or daughter.

There was no hurdle too great, too difficult, or too inconvenient as far as God was concerned.  From cradle to cross, from a humble birth to a horrific death, from life to death to resurrection to ascension to his eventual return, Jesus made sure that every “i” was dotted and every “t” crossed so that you could be brought into his family for all eternity.  But it starts today.  By Jesus’ birth, we may become a part of God’s family, simply through faith that the baby in Bethlehem’s manger is God’s Son and our Savior.

Conclusion

A good number of churches have decided to put an end to Christmas Day services and just hold worship on Christmas Eve.  The predominate thought I have heard is that Christmas Day is a family day, and churches want their members to be with family on December 25.  To be fair, there is no sin committed if we celebrate the birth of Jesus only on Christmas Eve and not also on Christmas Day.  But to be honest, isn’t gathering for worship on Christmas Day a family affair by definition, especially in light of what Saint John has told us this morning?  You may have an absolutely wonderful and memorable Christmas celebration with your family later today, but the family Christmas celebration that matters the most is the one you have come for right here and right now.  By his birth, Jesus is a part of our family.  By faith in him, we have become a part of his family.  And on this holy day, we have gathered to celebrate these beautiful truths.  I cannot think of a better family Christmas celebration than that!  Amen.

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