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God's Christmas Gift
December 24, 1988

JOHN 1:9-14

The topic of the sermon this evening is unusual. I've decided to preach about Jesus. Imagine talking about Jesus at Christmas! My text is John 1:14  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.” We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. We're talking about glory this Christmas. We're seeking glory this Christmas, and the glory of God is best seen in Jesus who we Christians believe to be the Messiah. His birth was filled with glory. When angels appeared to the shepherds, they sang, “Glory to God in the highest.” Charles Wesley, the most prolific and famous songwriter in Methodist history, was one of the founders of the Methodist movement some 200 years ago in England. Charles Wesley, also one of Methodism’s greatest theologians, wrote his theology, expressed his theology in hymns through the poetry of his hymns. One of the best theological statements written about Jesus in all of our history is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” which we have just sung. Wesley and this hymn calls us to praise the newborn king. He calls all nations to rise and join the triumph of the skies. He says, “Hark!” which means Listen, listen, the herald angels sing glory to the newborn King.

Christians have debated Jesus for centuries. Theologians spend their careers theologizing about Jesus. Debates about Jesus have split the church on more than one occasion. We recited the Nicene Creed this evening, not used much in modern worship. But the Nicene Creed was literally hammered out by a group of Christians gathered together in a council in the city of Nicea, called by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. It is that ancient. The Nicene Creed defines the essential nature of Jesus Christ. We have gathered this evening to celebrate the coming of the Messiah to this earth, and two questions about Jesus have divided Christians and divided the church for centuries. Two questions. Who is Jesus? And why did Jesus come?

The first question, Who is Jesus? Was Jesus God? Are there two gods? Was Jesus a human being or was Jesus God? Charles Wesley wrote in the hymn, “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity.” In the flesh, we see the Godhead, wrote Wesley. God became flesh and dwelt among us, our text John 1:14, God came to the earth in the flesh of a human being, deity incarnate in Jesus. This is an incredible belief we Christians have. Think about it. It's incredible to believe that the energy, the spirit, the basic life essence from which all of life has come, from which all the galaxies have been created or evolved, (God may well have used the process of evolution to bring about life as we know it and that spirit,) that life creative force came to dwell among us. Imagine! The word Emanuel, which Wesley uses in this hymn, means literally “God with us”. Jesus called Emanuel is God with us. The Almighty, the omnipotent, all powerful creative force we call God came to this earth, born as a human being in a humble setting, in a cave which was used to house animals.

There are not two gods. Jesus was not a separate God. Jesus was the creator God incarnate in the flesh. Jesus was also a human being. The historic church affirmed in the creed we've just recited that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Jesus was a human, tried and tested as we are, who suffered and died as humans do. Jesus was a human being as we are. But Jesus was also wholly God. E. Stanley Jones said it this way, “Jesus was the best picture God ever took.”The doctrine which states the relationship between the creator and the son is the Trinity. We believe in the Trinity, God in three, three in one. There is one God who is known and experienced in three primary ways as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are known in different ways, depending on what role you are playing. I am known to my mother as a son, a husband to my wife, a father to my children, a preacher to you, and so forth. I'm different in each role, and you will never know me as husband, hopefully. You will never know me as husband or father. You know me as minister, but yet I am only one person. I am the same person. So we know God in three primary ways. We know God as the Creator, the Spirit which has brought all life into being and is constantly creating. We know something of God in the magnificence of Yosemite, in the splendor of the sky, the study of atoms and molecules, and the intricacy of the human body. We know God as creator.

And we know God as the Son Jesus who walked on this earth as a human being. In Jesus of whom we read in the biblical stories, we see how humans were created to live. We see what God intended for us to be like. We can see in Jesus a vision of what life might be on this planet. God came as an example.

And we know God, thirdly, as the Holy Spirit, as God with us right now. We can't see God today. Jesus no longer walks on this earth, but we see God in other people. And we see and experience God working in our lives as the Holy Spirit. When you are filled with love, when an irrepressible joy wells up within you, when you experience forgiveness, when guilt is washed away and you are a new free person, when you find strength and courage to live your life, then you are experiencing the Holy Spirit, the presence of God with you.

So who is Jesus? Charles Wesley wrote in this hymn, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity, pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”

The second question: Why did Jesus come? What did Jesus come to do? What was Jesus’ work? What was his mission? Wesley wrote in the hymn, “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Mild he lays his glory by, born that we know more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”Powerful words! Jesus’ mission on this earth is to reconcile sinners with God. Things are not right on this earth. Drastic changes need to be made on this earth; things are not right. We are not living in peace with one another. Some of God's people live in splendor and glory but many, so very many of God's people live in poverty. People live on streets. Many are hungry tonight. Some 165,000 farmers in the United States are facing foreclosure this Christmas. One out of three children in the United States will be on welfare at some time in their lives. Things are not right. Life on this planet is not as God intended. We are estranged from God our Creator. We are estranged from what we are created to be. Humanity sinned, and humanity is still sinning.

But God has done something about the human condition we call sin, God has done something out of love for us. God came to this earth in the person of Jesus. Out of love for us, Jesus taught us how to love one another. Out of love for us, Jesus suffered and died a horrible death on the cross. And as a sign of hope God raised Jesus from the dead. And God is now present with us as the Holy Spirit. Out of love for us, God came to overcome this estrangement, to make things right, to bridge the gap between ourselves and God, to bridge that gap, to make things right in our relationship with God, to make things right in our relationships with one another, to make things right in our relationships with all of humanity, with all of God's children, and to make things right in our relationship with planet Earth. Out of love for us, God has bridged the gap and has overcome the estrangement. Jesus came that we no more may die, that we will have eternal life. Jesus came to give us the second birth, we sang in the hymn. Being born again means to come into a loving relationship of love with Jesus Christ. We are born again in the spirit when we repent, when we turn from trying to live our lives in our own way, and we turn to God. We are reconciled and we are reunited with the God who made us and the God who loved us. John 1:12, “To all who received Christ to all who receive Him, who believe in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

That's what Christmas is all about. That's the story of Jesus. That's who Jesus is, and why Jesus came. This holy night we've talked about Jesus, this Christmas Eve, Will you receive Jesus Christ into your life? Will you receive the second birth? Will you bow in these moments, in this peaceful place, this beautiful place with the soft lights? Will you bow and confess your need of God? Open yourself to be reconciled with God and to receive Jesus Christ into your life. What a Christmas gift! What a blessed Christmas for you this holy night.

© 1988 Douglas I. Norris