Christmas Day – Pr Smith
Msg at Christmas John 1:1-17
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh 2023
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last night was all about the manger scene and the angels and the shepherds. This morning’s gospel reading doesn’t have to carry the weight of all the nostalgia of the season. It can stand on its own and make its claim in the clear light of day. Jesus, the eternal Logos of God, dwelled among us and we have seen Him and received grace and truth from Him.
John begins His account of Jesus’ life and ministry, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.” And regular listeners probably know what to expect. The Greek here has a lot more going on. Jesus is not merely the Word, as much as He is this concept of the Greek “logos,” the rationality of reality. Greeks have another word for word, rhema, rhema are words like in a sentence. Jesus is not like a Word in a sentence. He is more. He is the Logos, the eternal reality as understandable by mortals. That’s kind of my own stab at it. Word doesn’t cut the mustard. In the Andy Smith authorized translation, I’m going to leave it untranslated. Not because it’s not supposed to be understood but because when you make something just a little harder, it slows people down a little and hopefully makes them think. So there’s a whole background to “logos” not just as a word, but as a concept.
Reason, from a Proto-Indo-European root, *leǵ-, which can have the meanings “I put in order, arrange, gather, choose, count, reckon, discern, say, speak.”
Thus when the Greeks get ahold of this word they use it to hold the idea of “a communication whereby the mind finds expression.” Aka for us, a word. And again, not merely a word as a vocable but as a container of meaning and understanding. But then the Evangelist John comes along and needs a word to describe God’s mind expressing Himself? And the word he has to use is the Logos. John says that before creation, before the foundations of the earth were laid, before the angels were created, for they were created they are not eternal. In the beginning, the Logos was with God. John wants us to understand: the Logos was God. There was never a time, before time even, when the Logos was not. The Logos was God. So, the Logos is always with the definite article, and in our usage with a capital letter. This is the independent, personified expression of God. The divine Logos of God is of the same divine substance of the Father; and He was with God in the beginning.
And everything you see has its source in the mind of God. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” It’s also kinds cool that in the record of God creating everything, He creates by speaking it into being. He says, “Let there be…” And there is. God speaks the Word, “Let there be light. And there was light.” Before there was no light. God speaks and there is light. I’ll also point out the mystery that God creates light before He creates stars. He speaks light into being on the first day and doesn’t get round to creating stars until the third. But all if it, He speaks and it is.
Which is kind of amazing. The land and the seas, and the hills and the lakes, our sun and the billions upon billions of stars in the universe, every atom of matter, every subatomic particle, was expressed into being from the mind of God. If you want to know why the tides work, and the planets hold their orbits, and the solar systems of planets rotate round enormous black holes at the centers of spiral galaxies, if you want to know the miracles of self-replicating, self-repairing DNA and RNA, and the inscrutabilities of molecular and cellular biochemistry that combine not only to bring life but also that life has consciousness. It’s so wonderful and so awesome, in the truest sense of that word, that people think they can ponder these things, like looking at a sunset on the lake, and say they are closer to God, more in communion with the mind of God than anything that could happen in a church service. But they couldn’t be more wrong.
Now, it may seem to you like we are a long way from the manger in Bethlehem but we aren’t. We are closer to the meaning of that first Christmas. And we need to cling to it.
Because the planets don’t always stay in orbit. Stars like our sun burn up and collapse all the time in various corners of the universe. Matter experiences entropy. And black holes, we now know, can even consume light. Of course, these things are all impersonal and theoretical. It gets painful and personal when we experience the programming of DNA going awry, a tumor or a birth defect; and it shows us just how fragile the whole enterprise is and how susceptible to entropy we are. It’s so prevalent, the pure materialist says, there is no God, or if there is, He isn’t worth worshiping. If He was all good and all powerful, the world, the universe wouldn’t fall apart. It is and so He either isn’t all good or He isn’t all powerful, so no thanks.
This is why we need John’s message today.
Kids today have no sense of history. They think this most recent outbreak of conflict with Israel and Palestine is shocking and something out of the ordinary. They don’t remember the second or first intifadas back in the early 2000s and the late 80s early 90s any more than they know of 1973, or 1967, or 1948.
And it’s not just the kids. Our co-workers and family members, our neighbors and classmates are like fish swimming in the Hobbesian sea and never question the isolation or the poverty or the nastiness, brutishness, or shortness of life. They treat them all as problems to be overcome by technology or worse, government. And instead, have clung to a false hope that it’s not all that bad—that people are on balance good and the long arc of history bends toward justice. It is this idea of progress that leads many to think of human beings not only as homo sapiens but homo deus, god-people.
Well, for a bunch of gods, we sure seem are a sorry lot. We put the jealousy and caprice of the world’s pantheons to shame. Lying, cheating, and stealing and killing. For all those who think the 21st century is so much better than the 20th, I say, just give humanity a chance. I’m sure we’ll be back to our old selves before long.
I said that we need to cling the meaning of that first Christmas.
Because the claim today is that the eternal mind of God took human flesh and was born into this world, to rescue it from itself. He was born to suffer a life that was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” so that you have the right to become children of God, and never-ending life with God.
The Savior of all humanity was born almost 2,000 years ago. He was born at a time of major globalization, such as the world had not experienced since before the fall of Babel. He was born while his parents were forced to travel to register themselves in a census of the foreign, occupying government. He was a comparative redneck, being from Galilee. He lived a life of the working-class poor. Even in His preaching, He was not received by the religious elite. In fact, they conspired to have him arrested and executed for His claims of being king (or Caesar) of everything. In fact, He died outside the capital city of His kingdom, alone, even forsaken by His heavenly Father. The life he lived was not as homo deus, but Hobbesian, “isolated, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
And yet, Jesus, the eternal logos of God in human flesh, is the true homo Deus.
When the planets of your universe fall out of orbit, would you rather a God who dwells on Mount Olympus in Platonic purity, or a God who was born amidst the muck of this world, who had it just as bad if not worse than you? Who says to you amidst your cries of “How long, O Lord,” “tell me all about it. Why do you think I came and did what I did?”
The real meaning of Christmas is even more than we could ever imagine. The Washington Post ran a story in recent days with the headline, “Jesus in the Rubble.” The story was about the big difference this year in the celebrations for Christmas in Bethlehem as a result of the war in Gaza. To be clear, Bethlehem is in the West Bank, not Gaza but there are still no tourists and no pilgrims and while there are services at the church of the Nativity, they are attended only by those who are the special custodians of the places. And at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church the pastor set the baby Jesus amid flickering candles atop a pile of busted cement and dirty stone. At first, he said, the idea of placing the birth of Jesus in a war zone “was shocking — it was hard for even our own people. But it left a strong impression because the image is very real, it confronts you with the reality — then and now — in a very powerful way.” He goes on to say, “If Jesus were born today,” he said, “he would be born in Gaza amid the rubble.” I’m not sure what that pastor meant, or even what the writer of the article meant. What I mean is that Jesus was born into such a chaotic, broken world for the sake of the world. And He comes still today.
Because the Light of light, the very God of very God, came down from heaven and was made man and His kingdom will have no end. To those with eyes to see the light in the midst of the darkness, it is pure glory. Jesus is not just worth believing in because He had it as bad or worse than we do. He is worthy of following because of the grace He gives today and always.
Take and eat. Take and drink. Behold the glory of the Lord. Behold the true man God who gives Himself for you. The one who has been with God from the beginning God Himself, is with you.