John 1:1-14: The Word became Flesh

Jesus in the Manger (610x351)We heard many words in our Christmas Gospel, telling us of Jesus. He is the Word. He is God and Creator, even Life and the Light of all people, shining in the darkness. He is the one-and-only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. Such beautiful and truth-filled words for our Savior, which are wondrously written and fill us with wonder.

But the Apostle John speaks another word to describe Jesus, which I have yet to mention. And this mystery word for the mystery of the Word-Made-Flesh, is the most glorious of them all. It may not even be one that first comes to mind. This word is not Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, or Redeemer. It’s not Alpha and Omega, Mighty God, or even Lamb of God, or Savior.

On this day, when Jesus put on the robe of human flesh from His blessed mother, in this day, of all days, we rejoice in this word from John. “The Word became flesh and lived among us. We gazed on his glory, the glory of the one-and-only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The greatest word for Jesus is also the humblest one. It’s a word we could easily miss if we don’t listen carefully to what the Apostle John has written. This word was the scandal to those for whom John wrote his Gospel. The little word is “flesh”: “And the Word became flesh.” God, the Word, became flesh and lived among us.

For it’s in the flesh of Jesus that we see His glory, the glory of the one-and-only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. That’s the joy of Christmas. The joy that we celebrate on this day is that God, the all-powerful, infinite One, became flesh, became human. The joy of today is that God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, is now man. The joy of today is that God, the eternal Word, who created heaven and earth, has forever bound Himself to His creation by taking human flesh into Himself.

We find no such God in the imagination of men and myth. The gods that we sinful humans have imagined are too holy to sully themselves with the messiness of this fallen world. Or, if not that, those gods display the worst characteristics that humanity has to offer.

Who would dream up a God like Jesus? Jesus doesn’t make sense. He doesn’t do what we think a god should be doing.

If we were to make up a god, he’d be grand and glorious. He wouldn’t have to learn to go to the bathroom. He’d never be so weak and feeble that he would have to suckle at his mother’s breast. He would never have to learn to walk, especially after stubbing his toe and experiencing the bumps of bruises that this world can send your way.

It’s true that Jesus never committed a sin. But the all-knowing and all-powerful God did humble Himself. What does that mean? It means that the One who knew everything had to learn. It means that the One who is immortal and could never die could become injured and die in death.

And so, as this humbled God-in-the-Flesh grew and learned, He suffered all the injuries, the humiliations, the cuts and scars, that growing up in a fallen world like ours entails. And He did this without sinning! A time even existed in the life of our Lord when, in His humility and learning, He learned that He was to become the Savior of the world. Oh, the mystery of our Lord and Savior deepens.

But do not let this lead you astray, for God does not become less of a God by taking on human flesh. That the Creator has become our brother does not cast doubt on Him as being God. In anything, it proves His divinity all the more. For only God could go through life in this fallen world, experience all this world can throw your way, and NOT sin! Indeed, the mystery deepens!

The joy and wonder of Christmas reveal the nature of divinity in a way that is dazzlingly clear. Christmas unveils what God had proclaimed to Eve in the Garden. God said that her Seed, her Descendant, would crush the head of the serpent. He had said that one of Eve’s descendants would free the world from its bondage to sin and death.

But no ordinary person could free us from our suffocating slavery of sin and death. Even Eve knew that. She said as much when she gave birth to Cain. On that happy day, Eve thought that Christmas had come. She cried out in praise, “I have gotten a man: The Lord” (Genesis 4:1). Eve thought that Cain was the promised Seed, who would crush the serpent’s head. She thought that Cain was the Lord, Yahweh, God.

But that day, long ago, wasn’t Christmas. God didn’t take human flesh into Himself on that day. He didn’t forever become part of His creation when Eve gave birth to Cain. That day would come at the proper time, in a way that God would bring to happen.

So, Eve was the mother of all the living. But God would now choose a second Eve, through whom would be born a second Adam, who would give life in the place of death. He was born in Bethlehem while shepherds were watching over their flocks at night. A star would even appear, announcing His birth, so foreign sages could later ask King Herod, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2).

When our Lord was born in Bethlehem, all creation sang with joy. The angels appeared, proclaiming the news to a band of shepherds. The angel told them to find the newborn baby, who was wrapped in long strips of cloth, sleeping where the animals ate their food.

Those shepherds were to worship the Christ, who was born in the deepest of poverty. They were to worship the One whose birth was the humblest of any birth; this wasn’t because people were never born in worse circumstances. No, it was because the God of heaven and earth was born in Bethlehem that day. He was not above the fray. He would come headfirst into the muck and the mire of our fallen world.

God did this because that’s the nature of true divinity. God already knew what would have to happen on the day that Adam and Eve fell into sin. He knew, then, that He would need to send His Son to take on human flesh, to suffer and die in the place of Adam, Eve, and all their children. God knew what human sin was going to cost Him.

And this God, born as a humble human, would have to learn that. After He was born, Jesus would have to learn that He was to become THE sacrifice for sin. If God were a different God, He could have done it differently. God could’ve destroyed creation after our fall into sin and started over. He could let Adam and Eve live in eternal death because no Savior would be born to undo what they had done.

But that is not our God. He was not willing to let Adam and Eve experience eternal Hell because no Savior would be born to save them. The Creator of heaven and earth wasn’t ready to lose them. He loved them and wanted them to have a life that could never be taken away from them. God “wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

God is loving and merciful while also being, at the same time, fully just. So, there was only one way He could get what He wanted. God would send His Son to take on human flesh and die. He would ask His one-and-only Son to suffer what we sinful beings deserved. He would send His Son to take on human flesh, so He could suffer and die for the sins of the world.

So, as the eternal Son of God “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52), He learned that the road to human redemption would have unspeakable suffering and anguish, even blood and death. He learned that He—not someone else—would suffer more than anything in His creation would ever suffer. He knew that the pain of Good Friday would be beyond imagining.

And this pain wasn’t just His crucifixion; that only gives us a glimpse of what Jesus suffered. Jesus’ deepest pain was Him as the holy and righteous God becoming “sin for us, so, in him, we could become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

That’s why such joy abounds for us in Christmas. Jesus came into this world, knowing ahead of time what He was going to face—even before He opened His infant eyes and had to learn it. He knew that He was going to suffer and die for you. He knew that He was going to experience all that should be in store for you.

He did it freely. He did it because He has eternally loved you and all people. He did it because God, true divinity, does not shy away from the messiness of the world. He did it because no price was too high for Him to pay to save you.

Christ’s incarnation made all that possible. His incarnation is just as necessary and significant as His cross and resurrection. For without the Incarnation, we would have no life-giving cross of death. That’s why the mystery of Christ’s birth fills us with more than joy; it also fills us with the deepest reverence.

And, yet, even so, the sadness that made Christ’s incarnation needed does not overshadow our Christmas joy. For the joy of Christmas is the joy of knowing the God we have. It’s our tongues crying out, “God was born in Bethlehem!” It’s the joy of saying, “God has become our sin, all so we could become His righteousness!”

Our Christmas joy does not dwindle, even when we sing: “Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you; hail, hail, the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!” (LSB 370, stanza 2). Amen.