In Nomine Iesu
Pastor Thomas L. Rank
December 25, 2006
Exordium Hymn - ELH 142 "Rejoice, Rejoice, This Happy Morn"
Text: St. John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.... 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our new-born King,
If you want to know God the Father, you must know the Son. It is the Son, Jesus Christ, through whom only we have access to true knowledge about God the Father. We cannot come to the Father except through the Son. This fact of Holy Scripture puts the whole Christmas story in its proper place. It puts it in the place of being one of the key events by which God wills us to know who He is and what He does on our behalf and on behalf of the whole world. To lose this aspect of Christmas is to lose it in its entirety. This is no story about snowmen or Santa Claus or reindeer. The Son takes on our humanity to accommodate our weakness. He becomes one of us so that we might truly know and believe the love of God for us.
Many are content with such false gods. Many find comfort in them because they are familiar gods, gods that do not make us squirm too much. Last week in Bible class we heard a quotation from Mark Twain, and it fits here as well: “In the beginning God made man in His own image, and man has been returning the favor ever since.” We like to have gods that are like us. The gods of the ancient world, despite various super powers, remained gods and goddesses with the same vanities and selfish desires that we have. Those are the deities we create for ourselves when act like Adam and Eve did: we seek to be like God.
But these words of John point us away from ourselves and our self-created gods; and they seek to shine into the darkness of our lives with the Light of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. We need this light. We need the work of God to break into our sin-darkened lives. And that is what Jesus came to do. He came as the Word made flesh, as the power of God for salvation. And He came as the One who would shine in our hearts with the forgiveness of sins through His death on the cross.
Our need for this work of God for us is total. We have nothing by which to come to God on our own. We need Him. Martin Luther makes this clear in very pointed language from a Christmas sermon he preached in 1534:
Here was the reason why [we need God’s help]: The devil had subjected all mankind under sin and caused terrible, incalculable grief beyond human comprehension. In the first place he precipitated us into original sin, including death with it, and not only death but also all manner of evil. Daily in this world we live with murder, lying, betrayal, stealing, robbing, and all manner of shameful evil, depravity, and vexation, so that literally no one's life or property are safe for a moment, but everything is in terrible turmoil! But beyond such evil there is even a greater one, as God's Word tells [us], in that the devil takes hold of people so totally that they become mad and foolish. As a result of this wickedness and sin, the human race has become little more than a stinking, shameful, disguised tool of the devil. So despicable has he made mankind through sin that we could not possibly become more base. Eternal death and God’s wrath take us by the throat; we are never at peace but constantly plagued in body and soul here on earth, making it an enormous, woeful, fear-ridden kingdom of the devil.
That is the darkness under which we operate in our human condition of sin.
It was against this very darkness that Jesus came to fight for us. He did so out of His great love for us. And so:
Still all the law fulfilled must be,
Else we were lost forever,
Then God His Son sent down that He
Might us from doom deliver;
He all the law for us fulfilled
And thus His Father’s anger stilled
Which over us impended.
[ELH 227, v. 5]
The righteous anger of God against our sin has been laid to rest through Jesus Christ taking it willingly upon Himself, so that it does not fall upon us, as much as it deserves to.
This is the reason for the Incarnation of the Son of God. He became flesh to take this on. He put on our weakness of human flesh, to be tempted like us, to be subject to hunger and thirst, to grow tired, to be tempted by the devil even, and finally to bring this body brought forth into this world on Christmas Eve to the death on Golgotha. All this is why the Word that is God, the Word through whom all things were created, becomes flesh, so that you and I can be saved.
At stake at Christmas time is more than most people realize. We get too caught up in the many “cute” aspects of a 21st century Christmas. But the stakes were high on that first Christmas. The enemies arrayed against that Christ-child were mighty, too strong for us humans, even if we would have combined all our strength against them. We cannot fight and win against sin, yet the Word made flesh would do so. We cannot fight and win against death, yet Jesus would do so. We cannot fight and win against the devil, yet the baby born in Bethlehem would do so, crushing the head of the serpent even as He was nailed to the cross. That is the wonder of Christmas; that is what was at stake.
The fight against sin, death, and devil remains with us still today. True, they are held at bay by the power of the Son of God. He has won the victory. But we continue to struggle with them as we are tempted to draw near them, as one devotional writer recently wrote:
Satan is ever angling to steal...a kiss from the bride of Christ, that he might divorce her from the heart of her gracious Lord. She fends off the advances of every false Christ and every angel of light beckoning to a better life than the one her Bridegroom has given at the cost of His own life.
Because of the tenacity of our seeming-pleasant enemy, we will always find ourselves in the midst of a hidden, but very real war. If there is to be a superficial peace the capitulation must come from our side. Our enemy will never give up. His rage and spite against the Christ and His Church will never diminish, only the tactics will evolve. Often people will blame the Church for the war that is waged against her. This is akin to blaming Poland for the outbreak of World War II. The Church would desire to live in external peace, but Satan will have none of it. So while she has a peace that surpasses human understanding, she will always live at war.
This is the true nature of the life of the Church in this world, and of the life of we who are called to be the children of God here and now.
But despite such darkness, we are given the Light of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Never forget that the baby of Bethlehem is stronger than the devil. Never forget that that small child is true God, the God who would not let death keep Him in the grave, but rose triumphant Easter morning. Never forget that this Christ-child is the One who says to you: Your sins are forgiven. Those are the words that are the power of God for salvation. Trust them, and learn that the Light of the grace of God shines brighter than any powers of hell.
Christmas shows us that start of the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for us all. It shows us the seriousness of God’s promises to provide us with salvation and eternal life. He sends His best for us, and it never fails. Believe in the name of this Jesus Christ. Know that you are born by the will of God, and are His beloved children. For you He desires life and salvation, through the forgiveness of sins. For you this Jesus was born, so that you receive from the Word made flesh such great gifts, and in whom we have the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth. Amen.
In Nomine Iesu
Pastor Thomas L. Rank
But God would not let this darkness remain. Just as He brought forth light at the beginning, so He also brought Light once more, this time in the Person of His only-begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, born of the Virgin Mary. This Light no darkness can overcome. This Light shines with a brilliance so overwhelming that no shades of sin nor darkness of death can withstand Him.
This is the Light we celebrate this morning, this Christmas morning. Christmas is about the Light that has come to this world, to bring us into the light, to bring us forgiveness for sin and life for death. And it all began when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This Word is God. This Word is the Light. This Word and this Light is the Son of God and Son of Mary, the birth at which we rejoice this blessed morning.
Exordium Hymn - ELH 142 "Rejoice, Rejoice, This Happy Morn"
Text: St. John 1:1-14
THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.
We must start Christmas with this basic truth: the baby Jesus born in the manger of Bethlehem is both true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. Or, in the words of Gospel for today, the Word, God, became flesh. This truth determines just what we will see in Christmas. To fail at this point is to empty Christmas of all the gifts of God. A Christmas without Jesus Christ the true God and true Man is a Christmas without Life, without Light. This is true because only through this God-man Jesus do you and I and all people have the hope of Life instead of death and Light instead of the darkness of sin.
Why is it then, that so many are content with a Christmas celebration without any real Jesus? The reason is given in the words of our text today. The Evangelist John goes to great lengths here, and elsewhere in his Gospel, to demonstrate to us the abilities of mankind in regards to spiritual things. Without the power and truth of God we reject the Light. Our will, our desires, our lusts, our natural inclinations, these are not at all leaning toward God. We are in conflict with God. Unless God works we will not recognize Him, we will not know Him, we will not see Him.
Those who are content with a Jesus-less Christmas do so because they believe that in one way or another their own wills, their own determinations, their own intentions are what matter. They do not see how powerless they are in all matters spiritual. They have no ability to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. They are still under the law, the demands of God, and yet they fail to understand that they cannot keep that law. “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
We are good at making excuses for our behavior. When the law condemns us we squirm away from it, back into darkness. Husbands do not want to admit how they do not love their wives with the love Christ gives the Church. Wives do not want to admit how they do not love their husbands with the trust the Church has for Christ. Children do not want to admit how they fail to obey their parents by giving them the honor and love and respect which God says they must have for them. And with such chaos in the home it is no wonder that the rest of society sustains blow after blow of tragedy and heartache. All this is the darkness of sin which leads to death.
It is to just this darkness that Light has come. This Light is the love of God as shown in the Person of the God-man Jesus Christ who was born for us. He took on our frail flesh, yet without the sin we have inherited. Instead of His own sin, He took on ours, the sin of everyone in this room, the sin of all people of all time. That is what the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem is about.
Jesus was not born in order to show us an example of how to live a life with a purpose. He was not born in order to show us how to fulfill our potential by following seven steps or anything like that. All such talk of purpose and potential, all such “how-tos” are of the Law. And they lead only to darkness.
We have no will power to follow Christ. We need His power. And where is that power? It is the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. The baby Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem is the beginning of the road to the cross at Golgotha. This birth is accomplished in order for there to be a death, the death of the God-man in our place. That is how darkness was overcome. That is how death was overcome. For the dark grave of death could not keep in this Light of the world, the Son of God and Son of Mary. He rose victorious on Easter morning.
“As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Where is the power here? It is in the will of God, the same will which began this creation with the words, “let there be light.” Light is brought to us and made ours as the Holy Spirit works through Word and Sacrament, preaching, washing of water, bread and wine which are Body and Blood because of the power of the Word. This is how we believe. Our faith itself is not of our doing, but it is a gift of God: “the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened with His gifts.”
But as we began this morning, so we will end – all of this is based on the fundamental truth that the baby boy born in that manger 2,000 years ago was the Word made flesh, true God and true man. This is reality. This is the substance of our faith. For faith always must have an object, faith always believes in someone or something. If the someone or something is not right, then faith is not right. Christmas teaches us: here is the Someone to believe in, to trust. This is the One John says: receive Him, believe in Him, and by that you are children of God, children of light, those who have life, life eternal. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” God grant you all, this blessed Christmas day, such life and light through faith in Jesus Christ.
Sin, death, and hell, and Satan