In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14And 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.
Christ’s Threefold Birth is our Joy
I. From Eternity (1-5)
II. In Time (6-9,14)
III. In our Hearts (10-13)
Dear friends rejoicing in the Savior’s birth,
This hasn’t been a very joyful year has it? Personally, I would unquestionably call 2020 the absolute worst year of my life. Some of you may also feel that way about 2020. I know a number of you would at least call it one of the worst. All of us would call 2020 far less than a joyful year. Our earthly hurts are real and terrible. However, they can’t change the joy of Christmas, because Christian isn’t about earthly joy. It’s about Jesus the source of our joy. It is a joy to celebrate Jesus’ birth. His coming was for our salvation. Yes, Christmas is a joyous time for Christians. We focus on the Christ child’s birth. We recall how Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to register for the census. We recall how Jesus was born in a manger. We recall how angels told shepherds about Jesus’ birth. We recall how wise men came some time later to worship Him and present Him with gifts. Yes, Christmas is a time for joyfully examining Christ’s birth. But did you know that the Bible talks about more than just one “birth” of Christ? Scripture tells us of three “births” of Christ: from eternity, in time, and in our hearts.
The first 18 verses of John’s Gospel serve as a type of “prologue.” Theses verses summarize the entire book. In so doing, they set the stage. John begins with that well known verse, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The following verses make it clear that John is describing the Son. The “Word” is another name for the Son. The Son is the Son from all eternity. Just as the Father and the Holy Spirit have existed even before time as we understand it began, so also has the Son.
“The Word” is an interesting title for Christ. It points us to the fact that Christ Jesus is God’s complete revelation. In other words, all of God’s promises and plans find fulfillment and realization in Christ. Another way to look at it is that the Word of God is personified in Christ. Without Christ, Who is the Word, we cannot know God. It is Christ who reveals God to us. One Lutheran author explained it this way, “If you want to see God, look to Jesus. If you want to come close to God, come close to Jesus. If you want to live according to God’s will, live with Jesus. Jesus Christ is the Word.”[i] The difference between the Word who took on human flesh and the written Word of God is that the Son is God in substance while the written Word is the proclaimed message of God, the power of God.
Christ, the Word, was “with God.” He from eternity was in the presence of God in inseparable communion with God. Not only was He with God, but He also “was God.” The Word is one of the three persons of the Godhead in one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. There was never a time that the Son did not exist.
Thus, the first “birth” of Christ refers to the fact that He is begotten of the Father from eternity. Psalm 2 declares, and we confess in the creed, that Christ is “begotten” of the Father. As we see clearly in our text, this does not mean that the Son was brought into existence; He has always existed. Indeed verse 3 tells us that anything created came about through the Son. By using the Word “begotten,” Scripture describes the relationship of the Father and the Son. It shows that there are distinct persons. The Son is eternally “born” of the Father. This is how it has always been.
Why does this first “birth,” this fact that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, bring us joy? Because it shows us that the Son is true God; verses 4 and 5 point us to this answer. The Son is the “light of men” and the light that “shines in the darkness.” Christ enlightens us; He shows us the way to eternal salvation and thus brings us to life. He gives us spiritual life – faith. Only God can do that. This is one of the reasons we have special candles at Christmas: to symbolize Christ Who is the light of the world, Christ who is God.
The first “birth” of the Son then refers to His being begotten of the Father. The second birth refers to His physical birth at Bethlehem. St. John wrote that John the Baptist came to “to bear witness about the light.” During Advent we learned how John the Baptist called people to repentance in preparation for the Christ’s coming ministry. The true light was “coming into the world.”
In our text John uses the images of light and darkness. “Darkness” is often used in the Bible to represent sin and the state of mankind as an unbeliever. We cannot know the way to salvation on our own. Left to ourselves we simply stumble in the darkness not knowing how to be saved and hurrying down the path to hell.
Satan, the World, and our flesh seek to pull us back into that darkness. They seek to pull us away from Christ. Any sin makes us worthy of God’s punishment. The darkness of your own heart is evident by the sinful thoughts you experience, the unkind words you speak, and the actions you commit that do not line up with God’s commands. Repent! Confess your sinfulness to the Lord.
All this is the reason for Jesus’ birth. This is what “The Word Incarnate” means: the Son assumed a human nature. This human nature is inseparably joined to the divine nature. The Son now forever exists as one person with a divine and human nature.
As John wrote in verse 14, “And 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.” Why does this birth bring us joy? Because Christ took all that darkness of our sin, death, and hell. The Word was born in the flesh and lived among sinful mankind. The Word did not stop being true God; He simply also became a true human being. He came like us with human emotions and needs. BUT, He differed from us because He had no darkness of sin.
He was never “in the dark” concerning the truth of God. Nor was there anything in His life that served as evidence of a darkened heart, because He was not darkened by sin. But Christ did take all your darkness. Christ took from you sin, death, and hell; He suffered all those on the cross as He was crucified. The Child born in the manger came to shed His blood that you might have the light of life. Heed the message of John the Baptist: Look to Jesus for salvation from everlasting death.
He gives to you in place of all that darkness forgiveness, life, and salvation. He gives you the light of faith and eternal life. Christ’s second birth brings joy to us. We have seen that Christ is true God. Our Savior had to be God in order that He could live that life of perfection for us. He had to be God in order that He could make the holy payment which covers all your sin. We have also seen in this text that Christ is true Man. Our Savior had to be Man in order that He could die as the sacrifice for our sin. And the Son who was born physically on Christmas also rose again physically, in the flesh, on Easter morning.
Christ is eternally born of the Father, and Christ was born at Bethlehem. The final “birth” of Christ is His birth in our hearts. John wrote that the “the world did not know him.” The world around us does not see that Jesus is the true gift of Christmas. Even many of the Jews of Jesus’ day, His own people, did not believe Him.
But John also wrote, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Christ is the light of the world. Christ has accomplished forgiveness for all.
Receiving this amazing gift is not a decision we make. It is not like decisions of human will. And we do not have it by nature. God must bring it to us. Christ’s birth in our hearts brings us great joy because it brings us eternal life. When we are brought to faith, Christ also makes His home in our hearts.
This takes place through the powerful Word and Baptism. Many of you were baptized as infants. Just as Christ was born from the womb of the virgin Mary, so also in the watery womb of the Church you were reborn as children of God. God enlightened you. He brought forgiveness to you and granted you the faith to receive such forgiveness. Thus you were rescued from spiritual darkness and made alive. If you were brought to faith as an adult, then you experienced the same thing through the Word. Faith is necessary. Without faith salvation is not received. And it is God who works such faith in us.
John wrote at the end of our text that Christ was full of “grace and truth.” What a comfort! Because God is gracious we have hope. Even in the midst of this sinful world which is full of anxiety and despair and painful burdens, Christmas offers hope. The Child in the manger is the all-powerful God. He became as we are, so that we might become as He is, that is, that we might share in divine life. Since God loved us so much to do all this, we can be certain that He will be with us and strengthen us in our trials. Because Christ took on human flesh, He understands our weaknesses and pain. He also gives us the victory. He brings the strength we need in the Word and Sacrament. He gives life and light!
Dear friends, what joy Christ brings us. He is true God; He is powerful to bring about our salvation. He is true Man; He was born to take our place under the Law and die for us. He lives in our hearts through faith. The Light of the World illuminates our hearts. This is our joy. Merry Christmas! Amen.
[i] Gary Baumler, The People’s Bible Commentary: John (Northwestern Publishing House: Milwaukee, WI, 2005), 8.