Merry Christmas!

The Bible begins in Genesis by recording: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.  And God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:1-4).

This is from Genesis, chapter 1.  The beginning of God’s self-revelation to us, where He tells us who He is, what He has done and is doing, and our relationship to Him.  In Genesis, God speaks, and things are created and brought into being through the power of His Word.  His Spirit hovers over the face of His created waters, ordering His creation.  God then creates man and breathes His Spirit into the man in order to making him a living being.  So, what we see in the beginning of Genesis is our Triune God creating all things; God the Father speaking forth His Word and the Holy Spirit ordering and blessing this creation.

And who is this Word of God?  The apostle John, in the beginning of his Gospel, explains that “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).

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  It’s an echo of the first verses of Genesis.  The Word of God is God.  He is the second person of the Trinity.  In him is life and light which the darkness neither comprehends nor can overcome.  There is a separation between his light and the darkness of this fallen world.

However, in the beginning, in Genesis, God created everything good.  At the end of His six days of creation, God looked at all that He had created and called it “very good;” then, He rested.  Yet, Adam and Eve, His people whom He created, soon rebelled against Him.  They disobeyed Him, and this sin of desiring to be their own gods brought decay and death and evil into the world.  Yet, God did not abandon them.  He didn’t wipe them out and start over.  And He didn’t give them a list of things to do to make themselves right with Him again.

Instead, he clothed them with the skins of the sacrifice He made for their sin.  Then, He promised a Savior, one born of a woman, who would make the ultimate sacrifice for their sins and who would defeat sin, death, and the devil.  This promised Christ would bring light and life to a darkened world that is plagued by death.  He would also reconcile sinful humanity to our holy Lord God as well as reconcile us to each other and to creation itself (seen most fully in the promised resurrection of the body at the end of the age).

This promise of the coming Christ was reaffirmed by God throughout the Old Testament and borne in the hearts of the faithful people of the Old Testament Church.  They continually placed their hopes for salvation not in themselves, but in the promised Savior who was to come.

Whereas Cain and his people trusted in their own works, the Church of the line of Seth longed for the fulfillment of God’s promises of a savior.  They looked for the coming of the Christ, even as God continued to promise his coming and revealed more and more details about who this Savior is and what he was coming to do.  The Church continued through Noah, saved across the waters in the ark, and through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the faithful people of Israel.  A people who dwelled in darkness looked for the light of Christ, as God gave more and more glimpses of him.

As it says in the book of Hebrews: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

God spoke to us and the rest of His people by the prophets, promising the Savior, foretelling who he would be and what he would do.  Then, the Savior came, God’s own Son, the heir of all things, and the one through whom He also created the world.  The Son is the Word of God, the one spoken forth in Genesis 1 and the one John speaks about in John 1.  This Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  He was born in Bethlehem to the Virgin Mary, placed in a feeding trough for animals and wrapped in swaddling cloths, and grew up in a poor village in Galilee.  He truly is a man.  And yet, he is also God.  He is the Word of God made flesh; he is Immanuel – “God with us.”  We could not ascend to God through our own efforts, so God came to us through His Son.

And your God isn’t afraid to get dirty.  He’s not a God who stays far off, unwilling to get involved in the world, unwilling to come to dwell among us as the only light in the midst of darkness.  No, your God is a God who acts.  Your God came down to accomplish your salvation for you, because you are His creatures who He loves and who He can not stand to remain apart from Him, separated from one another, and doomed to eternal death.  So, the Son of God left the constant adoration of the angels who had to shield their very eyes from His glory in order to come to us to save us, born to a lowly virgin and surrounded by hay and dirt and appearing to be just a man, his glory veiled through flesh and blood.

And he came to restore you and the rest of his creation to the goodness and perfection in which he originally created it.  If the beginning of John’s Gospel seems to be an echo of the beginning of Genesis, there’s a reason for it.  Genesis recounts the beginning of all creation; John recounts the beginning of the restoration of all creation.  The Word through whom all things were created has come in the flesh, come personally, to begin the restoration of what he created.  This Jesus, this long-promised Christ, the Word made flesh – he has come to defeat and ultimately cast out sin, death, and the devil so that the darkness is removed and only the light remains.

And you are God’s creations whom this Word came to save, and he has the power to create and to bring into being.  As John says, “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).  Notice here who is making children of God.  It is not due to blood, such as physical descent.  It is not due to the will of the flesh or the will of man; we cannot make ourselves children of God.  Instead, it is God who rebirths us as His children through this Word who became flesh.  The Word acts and does and creates.  And he does this for you, to save you from the darkness of sin and death by giving you life.

Recall the scene later in the Gospels when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3).  At his baptism, we see Jesus in the water, with the Father speaking, and the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus.  It’s an echo of creation in Genesis again: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the midst of the waters.  We see that Jesus has come in the fulfillment of God’s promises to restore his creation through re-creation.

And Jesus’ baptism is connected with his death and resurrection through which this re-creation comes.  He atoned for our sins at his death and defeated sin, death, and the devil with his resurrection.  So, these enemies of God’s good creation have been defeated, they’re losers.  Thus, when the Lord baptizes us, we too are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and receive the benefits of his cross and empty tomb through faith.  The Lord rebirths us as His children who have been brought out of darkness into the light of Christ, redeemed from captivity to sin, death, and the devil and made the Lord’s people instead.

John writes that we have seen the glory of the Word become flesh, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (cf. John 1:1-14).  How did John and the other apostles see Christ’s glory?  To those without faith he appears as just a man, but to those with faith – the children of God – he is seen as the Word made flesh.  The eyes of faith behold the glory of the Lord, even though it is at this time veiled to our fallen eyes.  And John and the others saw manifestations of Jesus’ glory throughout his earthly ministry, like when he turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana or walked on the waters of the sea.  These manifestations of the glory of the Son of God reveal him as Lord over creation.  They also saw his glory at the Mount of Transfiguration, when he shone with his glory as the Lord and the prophets who had foretold him finally got to see him face to face.

Likewise, every act of healing and every forgiveness of sins reveals Jesus Christ’s glory as the Lord in the flesh who has come to restore his creation, precisely by forgiving and healing.  All your sins, all your brokenness, all your faults, all your weaknesses are forgiven, healed, and made perfect in Jesus Christ.  His glory is revealed as he restores his creation.

And ultimately, Christ’s glory will be fully revealed and manifested when he returns.  His restoration of all creation began with his incarnation, his death, his resurrection.  The New Testament Church lives in the light of this restoration as we are reconciled to God and each other through Christ.  We shine this light of Christ outward to the nations, to those outside the Church, so that they too may be brought out of the darkness of sin and death and into the light of Christ.

Yet, this world is not yet completely restored.  Everything is not yet healed and made perfect.  We have the firstfruits of Christ’s restoration as the Church, but yet still struggle with sin, still decay, still face death, still are assaulted by evil.  And things are much worse outside the Church.  Even on Christmas morning, sin and death and evil still stalks the land, just as Jesus himself eventually had to be taken to Egypt for protection from king Herod.

And yet, sin and death and evil are already defeated.  Jesus won the victory on his cross and empty tomb, so these enemies of God’s good creation truly are losers.  They’re fighting a losing battle, saddled with a loss they cannot overcome, because Jesus has already overcome them.  And so they will be cast out and removed from God’s good creation when Jesus returns on the Last Day.

On that day, that final Advent of Christ for which we and all those before us have longed, the light of Christ will shine among the whole earth as the whole world is completely restored for the Lord.  The light that began to shine forth with Christ, and which you as His people continue to shine forth for him, will then encompass all of creation.  Because you, his people, will inherit this restored creation, no longer battered by sin and decay and death, no longer haunted by darkness, because all evil will be removed and the light of the Lord God Almighty will shine directly upon you and all things.

The re-creation and restoration that Christ started in his incarnation and gave you personally in your baptism will then be completed at his return.  The baptismal promises that God gave you when He re-birthed you in the Spirit to make you a living being will be completely fulfilled.  The incarnate Lord who dwells with you in the Lord’s Supper veiled now in the swaddling clothes of bread and wine will then stand before you unveiled in all his glory.  And He will call up from your graves to dwell with Him and each other in eternity in His restored creation, all through the power of His Word.

So, all creation begin and ends with this Word, Jesus Christ.  God gets the opening Word and the closing Word.  Christ is the Word through whom all things were created.  He is the one through whom all things are being recreated and restored.  He is the one who is returning to complete all things.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  And he is also the centerpoint of all history, and the focal point of our faith.  He came in the flesh to redeem us and make us children of God.  So, the entire arc of the Scriptures, the entire circle of our faith, revolves around Jesus Christ.

“… 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” (cf. John 1:1-14).  That glory was hard to see on the morning of Christ’s birth, as he lay in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, born to a lowly virgin – as the man who called himself king lay in a great palace nearby.  And yet, this baby is truly king over all creation, because he is your maker.  And he didn’t call you to try to save ourselves, or rebirth yourselves; instead, he came in the flesh to do it all for you, since He is the only one who can do this.  And he has done this, for you.

God himself has called you to Him to receive Christ’s grace and truth, freely and without cost.  It is a present that you don’t have to return on the day after Christmas, because it is the one thing you truly need: salvation from sin, redemption from death, and deliverance from all evil.  And it all comes from, through, and on account of Jesus the Christ, born to the Virgin Mary and delivered up to the cross for us, and risen from the dead for us, and returning for us at the end of the age to bring his full, complete, restoration with him.

Merry Christmas!  Amen.

 

(Image: Adoration of the Shepherds, by Gerard van Honthorst – Google Art Project, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45542035 )