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. And 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. (John 1:12-14)
There are two Christmas miracles of which St. John writes. The first you know well: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. What does this mean? Why is this a miracle? Who is this Word? The Word was in the beginning with God and the Word was God, St. John tells us. This is the greatest miracle. We confess it as our faith, yet no one can understand it. Jesus is true God and true man! He is God, begotten of the Father from eternity, yet He is true man, born of the Virgin Mary. He is younger than His mother, who in turn is infinitely and eternally younger than His Father. Yet, He is the same age as His Father. Had one of those teachers asked the boy Jesus in the temple how old He was, He could have responded, “On my mother’s side, I’m twelve years old, but on my Father’s side, I’m from everlasting to everlasting.”
But how can that be? How can the Son be the same age as His Father? If the Father begets the Son, mustn’t the Son necessarily be younger than the Father? Mustn’t he necessarily come after the Father? Only if you think merely in a human way. For us humans, a son must be younger than his father, because we live in time and space and are made of flesh and blood. Yet, God lives outside of time and space. He sees creation and time laterally, not linearly, transcending space and time. The Son, or the Word was with God from the beginning and He Is God from the beginning. He was begotten of the Father, yet He does not come after the Father.
In the beginning was the Word. The beginning was when time began. Before the beginning there is no time, there is no before. Before the beginning you cannot speak of before or after. In the beginning was the Word, not became the Word, was. He already exists before time begins. God declares in Isaiah 43, “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” So, the accusation of the Jehovah Witnesses that the Word was a god, who became after God is against Scripture. There was no god before God and there became no god after God. Yet, the Word is God and He was God at the beginning. The Son of God is eternal.
God continues in Isaiah 43, “I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.” Yet, we heard the angel speak last night, “Unto you is born this day, a Savior.” But there is no Savior besides the LORD God! This child born today is Christ, the LORD God.
This Word, this Son of God is uncreated, because He is the Creator of all creation. All things were made through Him and without Him was not one thing made that was made. The Word, the eternal Son of the Father is God. He is eternal. He is the uncreated Creator. He is the Savior.
And He became flesh, that is, He became a human being. The word for begotten in Greek is the same word for born. We use context to determine which English word to use. So, a boy is begotten of his father, but born of his mother, yet the same word is often used for both begotten and born. The Son of God was first born of the Father from all eternity. He was born again of flesh in time and place, in the year of the census of Caesar Augustus, in the town of Bethlehem, to the Virgin Mary. He was born of a virgin, which is a scientific impossibility. Yet, it is also a scientific impossibility for God to become man. Being born of a virgin means that Jesus was born without original sin. He had a clean slate and He kept His slate clean by living a perfectly obedient life for us.
It is as St. Paul writes in Galatians chapter 4, “But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (vss. 4-5) God became a man. He adopted a human body, a human soul, a human spirit, a human will. Everything that you are, that makes you human, Jesus assumed to be His own nature. God is man, man is God. That is what Christ is. And He is both God and man in order to rescue you. What He did not become, He did not redeem. Yet, He did redeem your body, soul, spirit, and will through His perfect obedience and innocent sufferings and death. God became man in order to save all men. The Son of God born eternally from heaven was born again here on earth, so that we might be born again from above.
And here we meet our second Christmas miracle. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” As wonderous as it is that God was born a man, so impossible it is to believe that men could be born of God. In our first birth, we are born in sin (Psalm 51:5). We are incapable of choosing God. Out of our hearts come only evil desires. The world, which was created by Christ did not know Christ when He came to them. His own people, the people of Israel, whom He chose out of all the nations of the world, and led by prophets and Scripture, and established as His own nation, did not receive Him. As they rejected the prophets sent before Him, so they rejected Christ Jesus, their Messiah.
Those who receive Jesus, who believe on His name did not do this of their own power. St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, “The natural person cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” The natural person, that is, the person born of the flesh cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God. Jesus said in John chapter 3, “That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.” So, in order for us to accept the things of the Spirit of God, in order for us to receive the Word made flesh and believe on His name, we must be born again, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God!
You are not born a child of God by natural birth. The union of man and woman does not produce a child of God, but a sinner, an enemy of God, dead in sin. And no will of flesh or of man can make a naturally born child of man a child of God. No cutting off of flesh or mutilating of the body, no man-made ritual or custom, no adoption, no free choice, no effort at all on man’s part can make you God’s child. This must be done by God alone through grace alone. And so, again, St. Paul writes to Titus in chapter three, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Here, St. Paul clearly alludes to Baptism, just as Jesus does when He says that in order for one to enter the kingdom of God, he must be born again of water and the Spirit (John 3:3-6). This demonstrates that Baptism is God’s work, not ours.
We butt our heads against this. We cannot understand it. But you are not asked to understand it, but to believe it. Just as you cannot understand how a virgin conceives and bears a child, who is God, so you cannot understand how the Holy Spirit can grant you a heavenly second birth by means of water and the Word. But He does. God says so.
Yet, Baptism is not a magic ritual that saves on its own apart from faith. Baptism is a work of God, which must not be separated from the proclamation of the Gospel. John was sent to bear witness of the light by preaching. The only begotten God has made God known to us, who cannot see Him with our eyes. How did he do this? By words. Jesus, who has already been conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, who has already suffered and died for our sins and rose again and ascended to the Father’s right hand comes to us today through words. The light of Christ continues to shine into the darkness by means of the preaching of the Gospel.
And so, you must know the miracle that is taking place still on this Christmas Day two thousand twenty odd years after that first Christmas. There is a Christmas miracle taking place in your heart! Your heart, which was born black with sin, stained worse than tar, infected worse than cancer, has been made into a dwelling place of God! You, who were born in utter sin, who could only and ever resist God now choose God. You call Him your Savior. You accept Jesus as your Redeemer! How can this be? How can you have been brought from death to life? How can that which is born of the flesh embrace the great things of the Spirit?
Make no mistake, God has done this for you. God has caused you to be born again, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of His own will. He who granted the eternal Word a second birth here on earth has granted you a second birth from heaven, so that you are indeed God’s own child. And through this faith given to you, you receive every benefit Christ gained for you by becoming a man and dying for your sins. Through faith you receive the forgiveness of sins, adoption as God’s child, and eternal life. This is a miracle accomplished by God even today.
Thou Christian heart, Who’e’er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee!
For God’s own Child, In mercy mild,
Joins Thee to Him; how greatly God must love thee!