What can be said about this text? It’s so profound that words fall short. I am going to enjoy preaching on this for years to come. I read once about a Danish pastor who preached on the Prologue to John’s Gospel every Christmas for 60 years — 60 sermons on one text. Amazing. (It’s an amazing text.)
If you hunger for more preaching on this text, or you’re looking for some rich devotional writing, click here for Martin Luther’s sermon on this text. It’s magnificient.
I also had the honor and privilege of welcoming our baby girl, Evangeline Grace, into the family of God through water and the Word on this day. She was born again on the day that Our Lord was born for us. How humbling to lend God one’s hand and voice so He can bring a child from darkness to light — and what a blessing when it’s your own child. Not every father is an ordained pastor called to administer baptism; and not every pastor is a father with children to baptize. To be both shows me again how blessed I truly am — and how blessed my little Evangeline is because she’s baptized into Christ.
On to the sermon. May God bless us and grant us His peace. Amen.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent,nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
— John 1:1-14 (niv84)
The words of our Gospel this Christmas Day can safely be called the most beautiful words ever written. Nothing ever written in all of human language compares with these words that St. John set down at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I dare you to find something more profound or wonderful in all the history of people making sounds with their mouths or scratches on paper or rock. You won’t.
People have recognized this for a long time, which is why the Prologue to John’s Gospel is so well known. For a long time these verses were read out to the congregation at the end of every Christian worship service. They were called the Last Gospel for that reason. People even ascribed superstitious effects to these verses. Soldiers thought they would be protected in battle if they’d heard the Last Gospel that day, for instance. Even though that’s a superstitious use of God’s Word – using it like a good luck charm – their behavior in its own way is a recognition of how profound and high and holy these words are. The soul quiets and stills in awe when you hear these words. I’ve been looking at them and pondering them for two weeks straight, and I’ve studied them over and over in years past, and I still feel like I’ll never get to the bottom of them.
Yet it’s not wise to revere the words themselves and not pay attention to what they’re telling us. So on this Christmas Day, we turn our hearts to the opening of John’s Gospel and we will see the glory of the One and Only Son of the Father. Let’s look to the true Light that was coming into the world, and at last be saved.
John begins where Moses does, and all of Scripture, in fact: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” If this sounds like the opening of the book of Genesis to you, there’s a reason for that. John deliberately recalls Moses’ words there because Jesus was present with God the Father before time began. He always existed. There never was a time where Jesus, the Word, the Son of God, was not.
Doesn’t it seem odd to you that on a day where we celebrate Christ’s nativity, His birth, we don’t actually hear about His being born in these verses? We hear that He came into the world, that the Word became flesh, but it never speaks of His being born. This is to emphasize that He is the eternal Son of God. If you look closely, you’ll see that the ones who are born are…us. We are born, or born again, when we trust in Jesus as our Savior from sin and our only deliverance to eternal life.
All things were made through Him. Genesis tells us that God spoke, and there was light. That Word that God the Father spoke was Jesus. Jesus was present at creation, and not only present but also active in helping to make the world. Hebrews chapter 1 and Colossians chapter 1, among many other Scriptures, also teach this. He was there at the Father’s side like a skilled craftsman, united with the Father and the Spirit as God brought the world into being. So when you look into the manger, you see a little baby – but you also see the Creator of all things, the Author of life. He who created the whole world chose to enter it in this way, the humblest and lowliest of ways. He did not think it beneath Himself to be made like one of us – to become our Brother, to take our human nature upon Himself, and thus to sanctify it and make it holy, and save us.
John says, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” And a little later John says, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” We shouldn’t understand these verses to mean that everybody in the world worships the same God, they just call Him by different names. Nor should we think that these verses are talking about the physical life that all people have. God gives life to the animals and the plants in the world, too, but they do not know or believe in the true Light that was coming into the world.
What John means here is that if anybody has any light at all, it’s because of Christ – or, to put it another way, if you don’t trust in Christ as the Savior of the world and God’s Son, you don’t have any light in you, period. You’re still stumbling around in the darkness and you don’t really know God. That may strike us as harsh to hear, but it’s nonetheless the truth. Christ is the true Light because He’s the only Light. All other things that masquerade as light or that call themselves light are false and misleading. Before we see what this true Light has done, first we need to see what the darkness really is.
Admiral Richard Byrd knew what darkness was like. He tells the story in his 1938 memoir Alone. In 1934 he spent six months by himself in the middle of Antarctica manning a weather research station. He did not see or speak to another living soul for six straight months. Nor did he see any sunlight in that time. In Antarctica the sun sets and doesn’t appear again for six months, and that’s the time he was there. At first he did okay, but after a while his hold on reality began to slip. He couldn’t remember things he’d done a few minutes before. He wasn’t sure if what he was seeing or hearing was real or not. That much solitude and darkness wore him down, grinding away at his mind and his spirit until he wasn’t sure he was going to make it. It didn’t help that his stove was leaking carbon monoxide into his shelter and slowly poisoning him. The experience nearly killed him. When the other explorers came to get him, it was all he could do to light some flares to guide them in. He could barely drag himself across his cabin. The darkness and the isolation had nearly claimed him.
We were lost in a darkness colder and deeper than the one Richard Byrd experienced in Antarctica. We were more isolated than he, sitting in a frozen hut on the bottom of the world. Sin does that to people. That’s what’s wrong with the world today. It’s not lack of education or lack of respect or economic inequality, it’s sin. Sin cuts us off from those around us. It isolates us and distances us from the rest of humanity, the people we love and the people we don’t. Even worse than that, sin cuts us off from our God. He hid His face from us because we were wretched and filthy in His sight. God had every right to let us sit in the darkness, apart from Him, and rot.
But He didn’t. He sent His one and only Son into the world, so that all people might see Him, and believe, and be saved. God stooped down and took the form of a servant so that His people, bound in the chains of sin and lost in the darkness, might be free. The eternal God who made the heavens took on human flesh, your flesh and mine, and made His dwelling among us. He pitched His tent among us for a time, John literally says, just like God descended on the tabernacle in the desert and His glory filled it so that His face could not be seen. We see God’s face now. Look into the manger and see. Here He is, not the invincible conqueror of nations or the almighty King of angels, but a little Child, both God and man. The Son of God, who had spent eternity before time began in perfect harmony with the Father and the Spirit, sharing His full glory, now becomes a little Child so that we might become the children of God – so that we might be given a new birth.
When you’re born again, just like when you’re born, it’s a new beginning. Everything old disappears. All the old ways of living, all the old hopes, dreams, desires, fears – they’re gone. So it is with us. We no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who lived for us and died and rose again. We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, and we believe that all God’s promises are yes in Christ, that one day there will be new heavens and a new earth, that this little Baby was born to bear my sin and your sin and the sins of all the world. The Son of God loved His creation enough to be born as a baby and one day to redeem it with His holy, precious blood and His bitter, innocent sufferings and death.
The true Light that gives light to every man has entered the world, and we are made new in Him. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory.” We don’t see that right now. We have to trust that by faith it’s true, and we know that it is. We know it because the Word became flesh, and made His dwelling among us, so that one day we might live with Him forever in heaven. The eternal Son of God became frail man and died, so that we one day might live with Him forever in heaven. We have been given new birth as children of God. “On those living in the land of the shadow of death a Light has dawned.” Believe in that Light, and you too will see the Father, because you have already seen His glory in His Son, born in Bethlehem. Merry Christmas. Amen.