In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For most of human history, when a woman announced that she was with child, everyone had to wait until the child was born to be able to see the child. The unborn child was, in that sense, of all human beings most like God. To a great degree, that is still the case. We take the existence of a distinct individual human being in the womb as we take the existence of God, by faith. Yes, there is evidence available to our senses, both for the child and for God.
With the advent of the science of embryology, we humans have come to know and understand better the growth and development of the child in the womb, as well as the development of the young of other living things. With the development of sonograms, or ‘ultrasound,’ we now can see the unborn child. Face, mouth, and nose, hands and fingers, feet and toes, a thumb being sucked, even the child’s sex, can be seen in the ultrasound picture. And now there’s “3-D ultrasound,” which can show the unborn child with depth and shadow, in three dimensions. Speaking to some expectant grandparents recently, they remarked at how amazing it is, that if such technology had been around two thousand years ago, we could have seen the unborn Jesus, we could have beheld the shape of God, just as it helps us to realize more fully the reality of the unborn child today.
In the birth of Christ Jesus, which we celebrate this day, the reality of God is brought more fully to our realization. We hear the Evangelist St. Luke’s account of the Nativity of our Lord, with the angels and the shepherds, and at a time well-known in human history, during the reign of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, at a particular place, the humble “city of David,” Bethlehem, and we respond with joyous carols and grand and glorious hymns, repeating the refrain of the heavenly host, “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” To realize how great this “Good News of great joy” is which God has sent to us through His holy angels! A Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord! How great our God is to have His hand in all these things!
We hear the Evangelist St. Matthew’s account of the Nativity, with a distressed Joseph receiving divine instruction through a dream, and later of superstitious Magi following a star, and a jealous King Herod the Great, a slaughter of infant boys, and a family’s flight to Egypt, and we realize that this Savior was born into this fallen world, brought to this state by the hand, the willful action, of man. This world, where the reality for many is persecution, fear, need, poverty, and distress. We realize how great is our need, and how good and humble is our God, to send a Savior who was born to suffer and die for us. Thus we sing Christmas hymns which say, “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be borne for me, for you,” and yet, “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes,” even in His great suffering, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold: “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before her shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isa 53:7).
In the preceding chapter of Isaiah, the Prophet declares a Luke-like message of joy: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace” (Isa 52:7a). Yet just a little further on, Isaiah sounds like a ‘hybrid’ of Luke and Matthew at Christmas: “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem” (v. 9). Breaking forth into singing, that sounds like Luke’s Christmas. Waste places, and people in need of comfort and redemption, that sounds like Matthew’s Christmas. Who needs comfort? The sorrowing, the hurting, the grieving, those whose homes or lives have been laid waste. Who needs to be redeemed? Those who have been sold into slavery—the slavery of sin and death; fallen, dying sinner–slaves—a category which encompasses you and me and all mankind. The history of this world, of mankind, is one of sin. We sin, and God answers, with His Law to condemn, to lead us sinners to repentance, and His Gospel to comfort us men sorrowing over our sin, and to redeem us from sin.
Which brings us to the Evangelist St. John’s Nativity account, his Christmas Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Where’s the birth? Where are Mary and the manger? The shepherds and angels? We’ll even settle for the Magi and Herod—but where are they? Clearly, this is a different Christmas Gospel. John takes us beyond history, beyond this creation, beyond time, to eternity, to “when” God, and God alone, is: Father and Son and Holy Spirit, in perfect, eternal fellowship and harmony, in the Holy Communion of the “Family” of the Godhead, one God in three Persons. We realize that this is the very life of God, without beginning and without end. It is beyond our reason and sense; John gives us but a glimpse into this life. Indeed, Martin Luther observes about these words: “These introductory words to St. John’s sermon about the divinity of Christ, so wonderful and unprecedented, were also very strange and unusual to all wise and rational people. He affirmed clearly and distinctly that God is a Word and that this Word is with God, yes, is God Himself” (LW, v. 22, p. 7).
Moses begins with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. … And God spoke a word, and there was light” (Gen 1:1–3). “St. John got the idea from Moses; but he is far more explicit [and succinct and vivid] in his statement that in the very beginning—ante-dating the creation of the universe, of the heavens, of the earth, or of any other creature—the Word existed, that this Word was with God, that God was this Word, and that this Word had existed from all eternity” (LW, loc. cit.). Human reason and senses can clearly tell from ultrasound and other evidence that the one in the womb is a baby, a child, a distinct human person. And yet there are those who still deny the truth, against all reason and sense. Likewise, from Scripture and other evidence we know that there is a God, a Creator. And yet there are those who still deny the truth, claiming “science,” reason, and sense are on their side. We should not really be surprised. As Luther goes on to say about the doctrine of the divinity and eternity of Christ, “This, I repeat, is a peculiar doctrine; it is foreign and strange to reason, and particularly to the worldly-wise. No man can accept it unless his heart has been touched and opened by the Holy Spirit” (p. 8).
The Christmas Gospel from St. John takes us beyond “in the beginning” of Creation to “the very beginning,” to eternity, to the Life of the Triune God, who ever was and ever is and ever shall be. Why did He do all this? Why did He create this Creation, this universe, the heavens and the earth? Why did He make space and matter and time? Why did He make the plants and animals? Why did He make man? And, most personally, each of us may ask, “Why did He make me?” I’ve explained before my belief that God made this Creation, and made man in particular, as a gift of love. But true love is outwardly directed, to another; love that moves inward, not directed to another, is not true love, but rather self-love and idolatry. Creation is God the Father’s gift of love to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; it is God the Son’s gift of love to the Father and to the Holy Spirit; it is God the Holy Spirit’s gift of love to the Father and to the Son. The late creation scientist Henry Morris, in his book, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science, explains that this universe is in truth a “Tri-Universe” of space and matter and time. The universe isn’t part space, part matter, and part time; rather, it is a co-equal trinity of space and matter and time throughout; and space and matter and time are each a trinity—for example, three equal and identical dimensions of space; and time is future and present and past. The tri-une nature of the Creation is a reflection of the Triune nature of its Creator.
It is the nature of man to be religious, to desire and seek the divine, the spiritual. Carl Linnaeus gave the species of Man the scientific name Homo sapiens, “man the wise.” Many have questioned Linnaeus’ judgment on this one. Some have suggested that instead a more accurate species name for Man would be Homo religiosus, “man the religious.” God gave us that nature, that desire; sin twisted it into a desire to seek every god but the true God and every spirit but the Holy Spirit. Even in the true Faith of Christ, we have a habit of so “spiritualizing” the Faith that it becomes divorced from reality. In truth, the problem is that we divorced ourselves from the True Reality, the Life of God. In His great love and mercy and grace for this Creation, for man, for you, the eternal God stepped into time. The non-material God took on matter, took on human flesh, took on our substance. The Incarnation of God the Son proves that, to God, matter matters. For our salvation, He committed His holy, eternal, spoken Word to physical, material, written pages. For our salvation, He bound His holy Triune Name to material, wet water in Holy Baptism. For our salvation, He put His Holy Absolution on the physical tongue and lips and breath of material men, His called and ordained servants. For our salvation, He entered the material womb of the Virgin Mary, and was made material man. For our salvation, the material God-Man was nailed to a material cross with material nails, a material crown of thorns upon His material, bloody brow. For our salvation, He shed His material blood and gave His material flesh into death. For our salvation, He gives us this very same flesh and blood in and under material bread and material wine. In response for His salvation, He gives us physical sound, in music, in song, prayer, thanksgiving, and praise.
James M. Kushiner is the executive director of The Fellowship of St. James, which publishes Touchstone magazine, “a journal of Mere Christianity,” of which Mr. Kushiner is executive editor. He recently wrote a meditation entitled “Relatively Speaking: The Incarnate Word of God Has Siblings.” What a fascinating and intriguing thought! “The Incarnate Word of God” is God, as John says, and this “God has siblings!”
Just as the heavens and the earth do not of their own just “happen” but rather are the offspring of the divine intention and Word, Jesus Christ does not simply happen as a singularity dropped down into the human race. He, like all men, is not just a clump of cells that happen to reside in a woman. No, he has a racial, tribal, and familial identity and destiny prepared ahead of time along with that of his mother. …
Jesus, Emmanuel, God in the Flesh, is a member of a family: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?” (Matt 13:55-56) …
[Jesus says,] “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). For in doing God’s will, we do the work of the Father of Genesis, who generated the heavens and the earth for the sake of the growing family of God, Jews, Greeks, and the rest of the gentiles. He created with all this in mind, including Christmas.
The eternal Son, the only-begotten God is at the Father’s side, in the Father’s bosom. How much does our God love us? For us, He gave His Son born, begotten, from His side, the Father’s bosom, from the Father’s heart, as Venantius Fortunatus put it, Corde natus ex parentis, “From the Father’s heart begotten.” The Father gives us His very Heart. The eternal God the Son submitted Himself to His Father’s good will to become incarnate by the Holy Spirit’s moving over the womb of the Virgin Mary, as at the Creation He moved over the face of the deep. By His willing submission, the Son, the eternal Word, made Himself subject not only to the Law, but also subject to the confines of this space, which He walked; to the limits of matter, which He became and now is eternally; and subject to the ravages of time. He would submit to suffering and death, to the piercing of His body, His bosom, His heart. As God “wounded” Adam’s side, from which Eve was “born,” so from God’s own wounded side His bride is “born.” Why? Why did He subject Himself so? He did all this to make man, to make us, you and me, into members of His family, in the perfect, eternal, Holy Communion of the Godhead. And as God “wounded” Adam’s side, so from the only-begotten God’s own wounded side His beloved bride is “born.” He declares from His heart and His lips through King Solomon in the Song of Songs, “You have captivated My heart, My sister, my bride … How beautiful is your love, My sister, My bride!” (Song 4:9a, 10a). He did it all to make us His beloved siblings, and to make us His Church, His beloved bride, born pure and anew from the wounded font of His pure heart.
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,
keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.