A Meditation for Christmas Day
December 25, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: John 1:14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning packs a heavy theological punch. While St. Luke’s account of the birth of Christ gives us rich historical detail, St. John tells us of Christ’s divinity, shows us the real reason to celebrate this and every Christmas. For we learn much from Luke, but here we see that 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.
The last verse in St. John gospel account tells us that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written about the works of Christ if time and energy and resources allowed. That if we some how knew all he has done, even in his short earthly ministry, we would run around of room and paper trying to record it, and how much more has he done since St. John wrote!
The reality is, that just these first fourteen verses of his gospel have provided much to contemplate. While we should be meditating upon, marking, reading, learning, and inwardly digesting every passage of scripture, there are a few that are worthy of regularly – and with persistence reading and rereading for they tell us so much about the gospel of grace, the nature of God, and of humanity. Those passages include Genesis 1-3, Revelation 20-21, and of course John 1:1-18.
So powerful are the words of John 1 that someone could fill many books upon it, and I suspect we could fill entire libraries as we wonder at its glory, but this morning I want to spend a couple of moments talking about the last verse which we read. J.C. Ryle writes (this) “passage of Scripture now before us is very short, if we measure it by words. But it is very long, if we measure it by the nature of its contents.”
John 1:14 contains this profound truth: that 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.
This morning, I stumbled across a video in remembrance of The Christmas Truce of 1914, that unofficial, and momentary laying down of arms amidst World War One. This brief lapse of fighting has long fascinated me, andis beautiful captured in the film Jeux Noel, a French movie about three fictional army companies of men, on opposing sides of the war, who spent their Christmas day together, and then returned to their trenches.
As I thought about this – I thought about other popular Christian movies and stories – It’s A Wonderful Life, Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol and even How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It is interesting how many of these stories center around a humanistic theme – with eyes on the value and goodness of human life.
If we were to react without thinking, we might be frustrated that so many of them miss the incredible glory and amazement of the incarnation of our Lord and I suppose, that would be fine, but I think in a very real way, they capture something important, and intentionally or unintentional pay homage to the incarnation.
Last night we saw a baby laying in a manger – vulnerable, innocent, completely submitted to the will of his parents. Yet we knew this baby to be the sovereign Lord, the king of kings.
This morning we read of the Word becoming flesh. We read of the second person of the Trinity descending to become men.
While we want to take care not to raise man up above God, it is significant to note – that we celebrate God condensing to us, coming down to dwell among us, coming down to take on real flesh, a real body – that humanity reflects God’s love for us. So while these stories of human triumph may at time miss the point of the glory of God coming to dwell among us, it is worth noting that they do capture the beauty of the humanity that God came to redeem. They capture what is beautiful about life – and can draw us to the awe of God’s redemption.
It is this humanity the is created in the image of God, that God is restoring in us, it is this humanity that God came to be a part of. So while we reject the overarching claims of humanism, it is good to be reminded of the love and kindness which we are called to share with our neighbors this day and every day and it is good to be reminded that was is best about mankind – The Father manifested in his only begotten son, and God came to redeem.
In the midst of this St. Augustine draws our attention to this putting on of flesh and poignantly pens: It is not right to say that any part was lacking in that human nature (Christ) put on, except that it was a human nature altogether free from any bond of sin.
When St. John wrote that the Word became flesh – he inextricably linked John 1:1, with 1:14 – the Word who is God put on flesh. In the body of Christ there were two natures – the nature of God and the nature of man. We cannot and must not mingle the two, nor may we reduce one or the other – rather – while he was still God – Christ took on all of humanity in his body – except as Augustine notes – our sinful nature. But in this – in his fleshly-ness he was able to redeem us.
And we have seen his glory – many commentators agree that this has to do with the transfiguration. We tend to forget that moment where Jesus with three of his disciples, including St. John travel up the mountain and those three men beheld his glory. His glory testified to them and they testify to us of His true nature. St. Peter remembers this moment fondly and writes: “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”
In the transfiguration – the disciples saw Christ’s glory – but the fact that they walked with the incarnate Lord is a testimony to His glory as well, and we get hints that even on that first Christmas there was that first night an exploding forth of the glory of God’s heavenly hosts, an exploding forth of his armies with Joy – that God himself, in the second person of the Trinity had come down to dwell with man.
St. Chrysostom and many others that follow note: “The expression ‘as’ (in the phrase glory as of the only Son from the Father) in this place does not belong to similarity or comparison, but to confirmation and unquestionable definition, as though he said, we beheld glory such as it was becoming and likely that He should possess, who is the only begotten and true Son of God and King of all.”
Christ does not lose his glory, though it was veiled, nor is he simply like God – Christ is God – Christ, born in a manger, born of the humblest of estates is the one true and living God, born to set the captives free.
But we must take care here, we read of the Son from the Father – and this language becomes confused and again St. Augustine writes: “Show me and explain to me an eternal Father, and I will show you and explain to you an eternal Son.” The great mystery of Christmas is the incarnation – at some point our ability to grasp it fully breaks down, our human reasoning cannot reach the heights of God’s perfect love, nature and reasoning, and so we must step out in faith and trust that this is true, but we know because Scripture confesses that Christ is Lord, King, and God, that he is the second person of the Trinity, equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and that He is fully man and fully God. We do not and cannot know more, but how this confession causes our hearts to sore with joy!
J.C. Ryle nicely summarizes the final clause of our little sentence with this: “the words (full of grace and truth) describe especially the spiritual riches that Christ brought into the world, when He became incarnate, and set up His kingdom. He came full of the gospel of grace, in contradistinction to the burdensome requirements of the ceremonial law. He came full of truth, of real, true, solid comfort, in contradistinction to the types, and figures, and shadows of the law of Moses. In short the full grace of God, and the full truth about the way of acceptance, were never clearly seen until the Word became flesh, dwelt among us on earth, opened the treasure-house, and revealed grace and truth in His own person.”
In Christ we become spiritual rich, we are adopted – as Gregory the Great writes: “we say that the Word was made flesh not by losing what he was but by taking what he was not. For in the mystery of his incarnation the Only Begotten of the Father increased what was ours but diminished not what was his.” Because he lost nothing, but willingly humbled himself – we are not only freed from our sin, but adopted as sons and daughters.
In the incarnation – in God the Son Born a man we are united to God the Father, we are freed from our sins, we are made richer than we could imagine or hope for. In the incarnation – we become truly human, that we can truly love and truly live.
Let us be ever mindful of the incredible truth and grace found in the words of St. John that 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.”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.