The Nativity of Our Lord

“Recognizing Him”

John 1:1-18

 

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

God comes into His world as a Baby. I am shocked anew every time I allow myself to consider it. Jesus, who would save His people from their sins, through whom all things that exist were created, and without whom nothing that has been made was made-this God could not even feed Himself. What Child is this? This Child is your King, because of whom Herod made martyrs of all the baby boys under two who lived in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:16). “Good Christian, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading” (LSB 370, st. 2). Imagine that! The eternal Word of God, because of whose speaking there is everything rather than nothing, needed to learn how to talk! Fearful, indeed. The God of the universe enfolded in the fragile flesh of a newborn baby.

Good Christian, fear: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (John 1:10, ESV). His own creation, His own creatures made in His image, and they do not know Him from Adam. Here is mystery upon mystery: first, that the Word is made flesh; second, that those whose flesh He took do not recognize Him. They do not grasp Him; they do not comprehend Him; they do not understand Him. What they do is try to overcome Him. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does its best to snuff out the Light. Because the darkness knows that if the Light has its way, and He will, the darkness will be overcome. Darkness and light cannot occupy the same space at the same time. And so the citizens of the darkness pierce the Light and nail Him violently to a cross. Because it is an assault on the kingdom of the darkness, the Kingdom of Light comes violently; the violent take it by force and put its Messenger to death (Matthew 11:12).

And you and I should not be too quick to put ourselves on the side of the Kingdom of Light. Have you recognized and grasped Him? Have I comprehended and understood Him? Or do we treat Him like He is just one more person making demands on our limited time? Did you find it hard to pull yourself away from the egg nog, the tree, and the presents, and did you struggle to make your way to His House on this holy day? I did, before it was my “job.” And, in other ways, I still do. It is hard for me to worship my infant King in the midst of all the services and sermons for which I am responsible. Why is it so difficult for me to bow down in shepherd-like simplicity and to observe with awe that “He whom the sea and wind obey doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness” (LSB 372, st. 2), that the “highest, most holy, Light of Light eternal, born of a virgin, a mortal He comes, Son of the Father, now in flesh appearing” (LSB 379, st. 2)? Maybe you have relatives who think that Christmas is about family, but who have no special regard for the Holy Family. Maybe you find it hard to worship because you’ve got food in the oven, or because you’re ready to get on your way over hills and through woods in order to reach grandma’s house. Possibly the time-worn message of a new-born Savior cannot match the excitement of ripping shiny paper off of stuff you’re going to return tomorrow.

But the little Baby refuses to leave you alone to celebrate your holiday in peace. He’s everywhere. Christmas carols on every station talk of the herald angels singing His birth; or a silent and holy night on which He was born; or joy to the world because the Lord is come. Even “X-mas” bears the first letter of His Name in Greek. Even “holiday” hints that this day is a holy one. People who have no particular connection to the Body of Christ for 363 days of the year, still darken His doorway for celebrations of His birth and His resurrection. And yet, the world still does not know Him. And sometimes His Church imitates the world and acts as if she had not recognized Him, either. Have you recognized Him? Have I? We’ll begrudgingly give Him a few hours scattered throughout the year, as long as we don’t actually have to change. We are perfectly content to put up with traditions, and memories, and all manner of sentimentality, as long as it’s just a nice story we can tell our children. In that way, Jesus is sort of like Santa Claus. And we’ll just let our children make up their own minds about Him. If they believe in Him, then He’s real; if they don’t, then He’s not. Have we recognized Him? Because, if Jesus as a baby is only so much sweetness and light, then we might as well give Christmas up to the materialistic masses and buy out the bargain aisle. Have we recognized Him? Does it make any actual difference in this world, does it actually change the way I live my life, that God walked around on this earth with hair, and skin, and bodily functions? Have we recognized Him? Or will we try to see to it that He stays put on Christmas Day, and in children’s programs, and in the manger? Because the actual, living Jesus did not stay there. If He did, then we might as well not be here. Christians don’t live and die because of cute nativity scenes. But there is, even now, a hint, a tug at the back of your brain or the corner of your heart that reminds you that the Baby did not stay a baby. They never do! The Baby in the manger grew into a Man, and that’s why we can’t confine Christmas to another sugary Hallmark greeting, and keep Lent, with its sorrow, in its place sometime off in the spring. This Baby, whose birth we celebrate today, was born for a cross.

But, perhaps, the greater miracle is not that He came as an infant and not that He came to die, but that He continues to come to us, in spite of how often we have not recognized Him, how often we have snubbed Him for the sake of our own selfish pursuits. No matter how often you come to His House, He is always here for you. You know where to find Him. Even though we prefer to spend time with our families over His, He always welcomes to His Table those who come in true repentance and faith. Even though we would rather be finding out what’s under that shiny paper, He wrapped Himself in human skin-your skin-so that He could be whipped, beaten, mocked and crucified. All for you. He left His grave so that you don’t have to stay in yours. He will come again for His own. He knows those who are His, and He never loses track of His sons and daughters, no matter how often they might have lost track of Him. Repent and be forgiven. Recognize Him as your Lord and God, a God who came for you in that cold, dark stable a couple thousand years ago. He comes for you now, here, tirelessly, week after week. Behold, wonder of wonders, the Word was made flesh and made His dwelling among us. And He still makes His dwelling among His people, when they gather around His Word and His Fount, and His Altar.

Beloved, in spite of all the lights on houses and trees, this is a world that loves its darkness. “Now everyone’s a junkie, and since daylight’s such a pain, we’re all looking for some darkness to stick into our veins” (Bill Mallonee). Whatever your drug of choice is, the darkness will kill you unless you come into the light. But because you love the darkness too much to come to the light, the true Light, who enlightens all people, came into the world for you. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, but the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But to those who did receive Him, to those believing in His Name, He gave to them the right to become children of God. And from His fullness all of us have received grace upon grace (John 1:9-12, 16). The grace of the Word made flesh; the grace of the new creation beginning in the womb of blessed Mary; the grace of dying and rising with Him who was crucified and raised from the dead; the grace of forgiveness, new life, and salvation in the Body and the Blood; and the grace of recognizing God in infant flesh so that we will recognize Him as our Savior when He comes again to judge the living and the dead.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/22/07
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2 responses to “The Nativity of Our Lord

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