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The Word of God Incarnate (St. John 1.1-18)


“The Word of God Incarnate”
Pastor Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus

25 December 2022

John 1.1-18


John’s Gospel has no nativity story like Luke or even Matthew. Neither does Mark give us a nativity account. While Mark bypasses the birth and childhood of Jesus and goes right to the beginning of his earthly ministry, John goes back to the beginning by referencing the Creation.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Moses then repeats this phrase every time something is created:

And God said, “Let there be . . .

John starts out,

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.

John tell us that the eternal Christ is the agent of Creation. Jesus existed already at Creation. Through him everything in heaven and on earth has come into existence. He is eternal God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This begins to sound a lot like the Athanasian Creed in trying to describe who God is and what God has done for us.

In the creation account heaven and earth are united in perfect harmony.

“In the beginning, God . . . . In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God.”

And then John speaks about light shining in the darkness. Something disrupted that perfect harmony, and that was sin which caused the death of Adam and Eve and every human being born since. The Fall corrupted the whole created order. Darkness made it impossible for human beings to return to God. Light was needed.

John confesses that he was not that Light, but a witness to it. His prophetic task was to point to that Light so that all might be drawn to it. Salvation would be brought to the world but there is only one way that it could be done. Human flesh and blood were totally corrupted by the Fall that rescue must come from outside. And so John arrives at the shining point of his introduction,

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . .”

Luke said it in a way with which we are more familiar. Luther summarizes it in his great hymn, From Heaven Above to Earth I Come:

“These are the signs that you shall mark:

The swaddling clothes and manger dark.

There you will find the infant laid

By whom the heav’ns and earth were made.” [LSB 358.5]

Paul Gerhardt put it this way:

He whom the sea

And wind obey

Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.

Thou, God’s own Son,

With us art one,

Dost join us and our children in our weakness. [LSB 372.2]

A fifth century hymn expresses this mystery this way:

Behold, the world’s creator wears

The form and fashion of a slave;

Our very flesh our maker shares,

His fallen creatures all to save. [LSB 385.2]

Flesh and blood in the Scriptures get all negative connotations. The flesh is a synonym for sinful human existence. The Apostle Paul writes rather clearly about this:

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. [Rom. 7.18]

Then, in his First Letter to Corinth he concludes:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. [1 Cor. 15.50]

And so the Word became flesh. Indeed, these words might be the most profound words in the Bible. They reveal the greatest mystery of all—God became man! The Word took on our sinful flesh that he might redeem it. Although he was born of Mary he had no sin because he was incarnate by the word the Holy Spirit placed into Mary’s ear. He took on all human depravity, putting into his own innocent flesh and blood. He was born a true man with flesh and blood and all the human emotions that we have, yet without sin. God in diapers!

In some ways we really don’t see it all. Luke’s account has all the warm things that we have associated with Christ’s nativity, namely, the cold, the manger, the animals, the humble shepherds often despised by society. And yet, Luke gets it right! The created order is represented by the animals in our creches.

John leaves all that for Luke and Matthew on Christmas Eve. John’s high Christology is saved for Christmas Day.

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. . . . 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

And the Athanasian Creed echoes:

But it is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.

He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age:

perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh;

equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to His humanity.

Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ:

one, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh but by the assumption of the humanity into God;

What John has told us and what the AthanasianCreed reinforces is the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ assumed our sinful human existence.He took on all our sinfulness and our specific sins. John the Baptizer was that witness who pointed to Jesus as

“The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” [John 1.29]

By becoming flesh our Lord Jesus took on all our sorrows, our miseries, our burden of death, and carried into himself so that we would always be with him.

When the Greek gods encountered man they merely visited; they did not stay. Jesus came as true Man while being true God and he came to stay with us. Immanuel—God with us—remains true forever! It is the supreme comfort that The Word did not abandon us but that he is truly human flesh. What is more, he remains the God/Man for all eternity. He will never set that aside. He rightfully claims all of us as belonging to him because we were bound in Satan’s chains. He broke those chains forever in his innocent life, suffering, and death. And when he rose victoriously on the third day he showed us what we will become on the Last Day.

“And the Word became flesh” are the heart of what we call this celebration—ChristMass. Here in this Divine Service, this Mass as it is called in Latin, is the true body and blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the same flesh he assumed when he became incarnate, born of the Virgin Mary. He continues to “dwell among us” as our Savior, as our elder brother. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. We are his and he is ours. All of the glory of which the angels sang one day will be ours to hear in our ears at the consummation of all things. It will be more glorious than any earthly vision. It will be eternal fellowship and joy with the Holy Trinity! And Jesus will stay beside us forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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