Purpose: To kindle a deep, worshipful appreciation for the willingness of God’s Son to become one of us.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Joseph VandenAkker, Leota, Minnesota
Keywords: Advent, incarnation, awe, mystery, Trinity
This sermon is totally irrelevant to your life. It is mainly about Jesus. It has nothing new to say to most of you. After all, you are already Christians. Right? You have received him, you have believed in his name. You are children of God in line to inherit everlasting life. Congratulations! You are all set. So…. since you already know all about Christ, there is no need to listen. You might as well catch a 20-minute nap instead.
Unless, of course, you consider it relevant to your Christian life to worship God and to enlarge the space within your heart allotted for humble awe and holy amazement over the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The events recorded in John 1 will draw you into amazed worship …if you give your ear to them and ponder them the way Mary pondered these things in her heart.
Truth is, there is very little that a person can do in the weeks before Christmas that is more relevant to our lives as Christians than to worship Christ the Lord!
Sure, you could use this time to jot down on your order of worship a list of the gifts you still need to buy, and for whom. But if you are feeling stressed out by all the shopping and the decorating you have been doing and still need to do, I suggest that you would be better served instead by spending the next twenty minutes doing what John Byron urges Christians to do in his hymn, “Christians, Awake.”
“Christians, awake, salute the happy morn
on which the Savior of the World was born.
Rise to adore the mystery of love
which hosts of angels chanted from above.
With them the joyful tidings were begun
of God incarnate and the virgin’s Son.”
Certainly, it is worth doing whatever it takes for you to become fully awake, to become physically and mentally alert, so that you may “rise to adore the mystery of love” embodied in that baby born to Mary. O come, come all ye faithful, come let us adore him!
What is this “mystery of love” spoken about by angels from above? John Wade exclaims about this mystery in stanza two of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
“God of God, Light of Light eternal,
lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb.”
Wow! Just think about that: God spent nine months in a woman’s womb. …God went through the process of cell reduplication, diversification, and multiplication. The one who always was and is became human, as human as you and me.
“Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb.” The songwriter is amazed that God did not find it abhorrent to enter the world in such a … well, physical, creaturely manner. His surprise is nothing against women or the wondrous process of birth.
But think about it, will you? Consider who God is. He is the opposite of Madonna, the Material Girl. He is spiritual… both in terms of his construction and the morality of his actions. God is totally distinct from this created universe he made.
He existed before it existed. He engineered it. He spoke the word and things began happening. Things began to become organized. Whole realities – like jungle ecosystems and artic ice masses were formed. Even now, God upholds and governs all that occurs in the world of nature and in human history. He is above and beyond the created universe. Is this not reason to adore him?
What’s more, God is from everlasting to everlasting. That is not true of stuff in this world. There is very little that ever lasts. Things are constantly changing. They start out fresh and new, but soon show signs of wear and tear. They become outdated or out of style and we toss them away.
You may be glad that things like sofas, automobiles and clothing don’t last. They are not worthy to be everlasting. They are just things… things of limited value and temporary delight.
God is different. He has a degree of worth, the level of perfection, and the finished feel that is impossible to improve upon. No change or makeover is ever to be required or desired. He is who he is, and who he is, is supremely good.
Now try to wrap your head around this: The everlasting one, the spirit-being whom the psalmist says wraps himself in light as his garment, the original, unique, one of a kind being we know as “Almighty God” chose to carry out a wondrous and mysterious act of a caliber that surpasses all others.
The potter, so to speak, decided to remake himself out of clay. The designer and creator of the building blocks of this material world – of molecules, atoms, and all the rest – remarkably figured out a way and even more remarkably made the choice to become a true and genuine part of the very world he made. Such a decision is one to either be deplored as utterly crazy or to be adored as the most crazy love, crazier than anything you could ever imagine.
He would still be himself but he would also willingly subject himself to the limitations and requirements that go with being truly human: eating, sleeping, walking until your feet are aching, the whole nine yards.
Even more amazing, this is not just a side excursion the Son of God takes. This is nothing he does for the fun of experiencing an entirely different form of existence. He will not just be borrowing a body, or since he is God, making one uniquely his own. No. He will become a divine-human hybrid. Later, with his resurrected and glorified body, Jesus takes huge leaps beyond a number of human limitations and requirements. Even so, to the best we can tell from the Bible, the changeover into a divine-human hybrid appears permanent.
O come, come you who have the faith to believe God would actually do this. Come, let us adore him. Come and worship the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He became one of us and “moved into the neighborhood,” as Eugene Peterson paraphrases so well in The Message.
If that doesn’t fill your heart and mind with awe and absolute amazement, what will? If that doesn’t draw you to worship God with amazed love and deep, deep reverence, I fear nothing will.
For clarity sake, in faithfulness to God’s written and revealed Word, I need to draw your attention to a few of the finer points present in John 1. These are not like the fine print you find at the bottom of some documents – fine print that if you bother to read it basically reveals that the flashy, eye-catching promises boldly printed up top are not actually so amazingly grand or unbelievably generous after all. In this case, the fine points I need to draw to your attention are as amazing and awe-inspiring as what you have already heard.
It is totally true: God became flesh. God remained God and became human as well, making him a divine-human hybrid. What John chapter 1 brings out is a mind-boggling truth, a great mystery, namely, the mystery of the Trinity.
The Apostle John, like all of Christ’s original 12 disciples, was a Jew both by birth and religion. All practicing Jews, from the days of their childhood, memorized and recited a creed, a classic Jewish confession of faith. It was named the Shema based on the first word of the creed in Hebrew. It came straight from Deut. 6:4. Every single day, the members of a good Jewish household would recite this creed together: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
“The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” They meant “unique”. When it comes to gods, God had made known to Israel that he is the “One and Only” God who truly exists. Contrary to the beliefs of their neighbors, there are not a 100 gods, a dozen gods, or even two or three gods. He alone is the one true God.
Two thousand years ago, when it came time for the birth of the long-awaited Messiah, God revealed the mind-boggling reality that He who is unique, the only one of his kind, has a Son. Do you think it was very easy for Jesus’ Jewish disciples to believe this … to believe that Jesus was and is the Son of God? Do you think it came easy for a Jew like Thomas to fall on his knees before Jesus, and to worshipfully confess: “My Lord and my God”?
That the one God who truly exists, the One and Only, has a Son was and is very difficult to understand. Perhaps this is why God the Father waited to reveal it until a sizable group of very sincere Jews – like Thomas – could come face to face with evidence that denied any other explanation.
God began to reveal this mystery just prior to the Messiah’s birth. He began with Mary, who in turn shared this revelation with Joseph. Who would have believed it if an angelic messenger were not the one to make it known? Even so, God hitched this truth to an event that was equally hard to fathom … but one Mary, if no one else, would find impossible to deny.
An angel of the Lord appeared to Mary and said: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” Nothing unusual so far. But the angel continues: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”
Be aware that in common Jewish terminology for a person to be called “the Son of the Most High” could mean that Mary’s child would be a very godly, very spiritually minded man. However, the rest of the conversation between Mary and the angel rules out that interpretation.
Mary objects to the angel, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” The angel responds in such a way that we can tell this title is more than just a description of the godly man her baby will become. This child to be born to Mary while she is yet a virgin will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Listen to the angel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
Does this mean that God the Father did not have a Son until Jesus was conceived within Mary? Usually it is when a child is conceived and develops within a mother’s womb that the person first begins to exist. What about Jesus? Is this when the Son of God came into existence? No.
In the opening verses of his gospel, John attempts to help his readers understand the awesome new teaching that the one and only God has a Son… and what’s more, that this has forever been the case. He reveals to us what the Spirit revealed to him: the eternal pre-existence of Jesus.
You may recall that during his teaching ministry, Jesus himself referred to the fact that he had come from the Father and must return to the Father. What John writes is perfectly in harmony with this. John reports that the Son has always existed alongside the Father. Jews, naturally, were very familiar with the account of creation in Genesis 1. John takes his readers back to the beginning of the world.
John’s focus of course is on Jesus. But very briefly let me remind you of the statement in Genesis 1 that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Jews did not understand this as referring to the existence of the Spirit as distinct from God the Father. The revelation of the distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit didn’t come until later – until the New Testament era. Yet looking back, we can identify his presence there at creation.
In a similar way, John identifies Jesus’ presence there at the very beginning. In the beginning, there was God. Before anything else was, God was. John places Jesus as being there with the Father (and we might add “with the Spirit”) at the very beginning.
John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
From the very first verse of his gospel and all throughout the first chapter, John introduces us to this one whom he mysteriously both equates with God and yet distinguishes from God. He distinguishes the Word from the Father when he says: “The Word was with God.” And yet he equates the two when he adds: “and the Word was God.”
This is the awesome God we worship. This is the one we adore. The eternal Word came into the world. The one through whom God created all things became flesh. He became one of us, one of our own kind, humankind. Yet it was impossible for him to keep from those he lived among that he was more than just one of our kind. Nor did he try to do so.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus revealed his glory. Glory is a word that refers to the visible presence of God. As Jesus turned water from the jars used for ceremonial cleansing into the new wine that symbolized his kingdom he revealed his glory. As he drove out evil spirits, cleansed lepers, gave sight to the blind, and made the lame to walk, he revealed his glory. As he miraculously multiplied bread and fed a multitude, he revealed his glory.
When he forgave sins, people objected: Only God can forgive sins. Jesus didn’t argue, he only helped strengthen this very connection by doing something else only God could do: He spoke the word and crippled legs were healed. He spoke the word and Lazarus was restored to life. He spoke the word and the centurion’s daughter became well.
He then did something only a perfectly sinless human whose life was of infinite value could do: he made purification for the sins of the world on the cross. After this, the Father did for him what he could not do for himself since he was genuinely dead: the Father raised his Son bodily from the dead – still both God and human.
After witnessing all of these acts, John, speaking for his fellow disciples as well, writes: We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father full of grace and truth. In other words, they saw in Jesus the same glorious traits and abilities as God. Like Father, like Son. The two were obviously made of the same “stuff.”
Among their shared traits was this: The Son who came from the Father was “full of grace and truth.” John writes in verse 16: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.”
That is a statement to which all people of faith in Christ can declare a worshipful “Amen.” “Amen!” Father and Son are united in essence and purpose. Come, all you men, women and children of faith. Come, let us adore him!
By the grace of God, grace made possible thanks to God’s only Son, we also are God’s children. John writes: “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Rise to adore the mystery… the mystery of God’s love. For God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son. His love was so great he could not keep from sending a part of himself, his only Son, a much-loved Son, to become one of us … so that his Son might die as a sacrifice of atonement for our sins.
Such love is a mystery … an amazing, awesome, wondrous mystery. It draws us and compels us to honor that gift of love year after year after year. It fills us with humble, grateful, worshipful adoration. The Christ Child lying in the manger draws us like a magnet closer and closer to God.
What could be more relevant to your life at Christmas than this: to worship him, Christ the Lord! Amen.
Prayer of Response
ather, Your love amazes us. Your greatness astounds us. Your goodness overwhelms us. From the fullness of your grace, we most certainly have received one blessing after another. Our hearts are filled with wonder to think that you care about us so very much. With deep gratitude we lift our voices in praise and our lives to your service. Amen.
Order of Worship
REJOICE! GOD IS WITH US!
Advent Scripture Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7
*Advent Hymn Of Hope: PsH #337:1,3,4 “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come”
*God Greets Us and We Greet One Another
TRUST IN GOD YOUR SAVIOR
Call to Sincere Penitence: Isaiah 58:1-10
Prayer of Confession
We Seek a Savior: PsH #329: 1-4 “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”
Good News: Isaiah 57:15,16
We Celebrate Our Savior: PsH #345:1-3 “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”
Living as Children of the Light: Exodus 20
HEAR AND EMBRACE THE WORD OF GOD
*A Hymn of Preparation: PsH #332:1,3,4,5 “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding”
Scripture: John 1:1-14
Message: “Worship the Mystery: God’s One and Only Son”
Prayer of Application
*Hymn of Response: PsH #344:1,3,4 “Silent Night! Holy Night!”
TAKE DELIGHT IN SERVING THE LORD
We Worship God with Our Offerings
*Doxology: PsH #336:1,7 “Savior of the Nations, Come”