The Sign of the Word Made Flesh
The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
December 25, 2022
“The Sign of the Word Made Flesh”
“The astronauts of Apollo 8 [Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr. and William Anders] were the first humans to orbit the moon. After spending three orbit cycles photographing the lunar surface, they finally shifted their orientation toward the horizon and were surprised by the striking image of the earth ‘rising’ over the surface of the moon. A photo of the event, taken by the astronaut Bill Anders and later called ‘Earthrise’… left a lasting impact as humanity began to comprehend the reality that its home planet was a small, isolated object floating in the enormity of space. That photo was taken on Christmas Day 1968” (Sundays and Seasons: Year A 2023. Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 2022; p. 58). From this vantage point, the words from today’s Gospel lesson take on new meaning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). From the enormity of endless time and space within the vastness of the cosmos, we give thanks this day that the eternal Son of God entered into our small, isolated world overrun by sadness and sickness, death and destruction – the effects of sin – in order to save us. On this Christmas Day, more than fifty years after that Apollo 8 photo was taken, we continue to rejoice in Christ, the Word made flesh. The sermon for this day, based on the Gospel lesson (John 1:1-14) is entitled, “The Sign of the Word Made Flesh.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Throughout the Advent season, our preaching series has focused on signs that pointed ahead to the coming of the Savior. All of these were found in the appointed Old Testament lessons for each Sunday in Advent: the sign of the mountain of the Lord (Isaiah 2:1-5); the sign of the righteous branch (Isaiah 11:1-10); the sign of the new creation (Isiah 35:1-10); the sign of Immanuel (Isaiah 7:10-17). All of these signs, given by God to his people hundreds and hundreds of years before the coming of the Christ, grounded them in hope and expectation for his coming. And now, that coming has been made real; it is blessed reality as the Word made flesh, the long-awaited Messiah, takes on human form and is born of a human mother in very humble circumstances. So what does all of this mean? C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), the British write and Anglican lay theologian, wrote about this in his book, Mere Christianity, and said: “The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.” That helps us to understand, in some small way, the enormity and magnitude of what we are celebrating on this Christmas Day with Jesus’ incarnation. The sign of the Word made flesh means that God in Christ has taken a huge step down to enter into our broken world.
Whenever we think about all that Jesus, the Word made flesh, has done for us, this can be divided into two groupings: Jesus’ humiliation and Jesus’ exaltation. This whole season of Advent and Christmas that celebrates Jesus’ first coming, his birth in Bethlehem, his incarnation, are the first steps downward in a slow descent that began with his conception, his birth, his suffering and death upon the cross, and his burial. From the crib to the cross, Jesus’ entire life was one of selfless sacrifice through his active obedience to the will of the Father, as well as his passive obedience, taking upon himself the punishment that should have been ours because of our sin and disobedience. It is only because of the downward, deathward steps of Jesus’ humiliation that there are upward, lifeward steps of Jesus’ exaltation: his descent into hell as the conquering victor, his glorious resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father and from which he will come again to judge the living and the dead. This is the saving work, the sign, of Jesus, the Word made flesh – all for us and for our salvation. Here at church, we have lots of little ones who are children in our Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC). When you’re little, reaching the sink to wash your hands can be hard to do, and so in our restrooms there is a little stepping stool that the children stand on, and it has these words imprinted on it: “Sit down to be small – Step up to be tall.” This is the good news of Christmas. This is the very thing that Jesus has done for us: He became small, a helpless infant, leaving behind his heavenly glory and power, so that we might become tall, inheritors by his grace of eternal life and the heavenly kingdom which he has won for us.
The sign of the Word made flesh comes to us today in his holy Supper. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, gives us his very flesh and blood to eat and to drink, under earthly forms of bread and wine. And through this union of things heavenly and things earthly, we are joined together with Christ and with one another, and the words of today’s Gospel lesson begin to be realized in us: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Having received the Body and Blood of Christ in his holy Supper, this sign of the Word made flesh, we are now called to go forth and serve as signs of the Word made flesh in each of our lives. We are called to show forth the light and love of him who came to dwell among us, full of grace and truth. On our own, we would never be able to do this, but that Word made flesh, working through the power of the Holy Spirit, will help, strengthen, and equip us day by day, shaping and molding us to be instruments of grace and vessels of mercy.
So what does this look like? Many years ago, a member of the congregation sent me a Christmas card that I have kept because I really liked the message on it, which is this:
Every time a hand reaches out to help another… that is Christmas.
Every time someone puts anger aside and strives for understanding… that is Christmas.
Every time people forget their differences and realize their love for each other… that is Christmas.
That is what becoming signs of the Word made flesh looks like as, more and more, people see Jesus in us and through us. May God make it so in each of our lives on this Christmas Day and every day. Amen.
other sermons in this series