Landmarks of new birth
John 1:1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him everything was made, and without him not one thing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5The light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6There was a man, sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as an eyewitness to testify about the light so that everyone would believe through him. 8He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. 9The real light that shines on everyone was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not recognize him. 11He came to what was his own, yet his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. 13They were born, not of blood, or of the desire of the flesh, or of a husband’s will, but born of God. 14The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. We have seen his glory, the glory he has as the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
America is filled with famous landmarks that celebrate important events or special places. The Statue of Liberty is an icon of freedom in the New York harbor. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, is an emblem of America’s expansion. The Golden Gate bridge and Hoover Dam are working monuments to mankind’s ingenuity. The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and Mammoth Cave National Park are all recognizable places of American beauty.
Today is Christmas Day. This is the day for celebrating the greatest birth in the history of the world. We set aside today and the next 12 days for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior. The birth of Christ marks the landmark moment in all human history. By a “landmark moment,” I mean a moment so significant that it marks a division between what went before and what comes after. Christ’s birth separates the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Christ’s birth divides the way history is recorded – B.C.: “Before Christ” and A.D.: “Anno Domini” or “In the Year of the Lord.”
But besides being a day to celebrate our Lord’s birth, today is also a day for celebrating another birth – your own. Actually, it isn’t your birth to your parents that we celebrate, but rather your rebirth – your second birth as a child of God. This is the landmark moment in your life – the moment when you were reborn as a child of God.
Last Sunday we heard of Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s perspective. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25). Last night we heard of Jesus’ birth from Mary’s perspective. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2:6-7).
This morning, we heard of Jesus’ birth from heaven’s perspective. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him everything was made, and without him not one thing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3).
John is expressing how Jesus was face-to-face with God and yet He was able to bear our own face. The Nicene Creed expresses it this way, “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”
Though the Son of God was present at creation, He is also mysteriously and miraculously present in the womb of Mary. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling with us” (John 1:14). This is the incarnation of Christ – God taking on human skin and bones to dwell among humanity. Again, the Nicene Creed sums it up, “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became fully human.” This is “A Great and Mighty Wonder” (CW: 36). No greater present was ever under someone’s Christmas tree.
Try to understand the magnitude of this statement: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling with us.” All the divine power and glory, all of God’s wisdom and mercy, has come in our midst in the person of this little baby, born on Christmas Day. God in the flesh, right here in our midst. Jesus is the Word through whom the universe was spoken into existence. Yet He knew no words coming out of Mary’s womb and cooed like any other infant. The Son of God knows all things, yet He had to learn everything like a little child. The second person of the Trinity sees all things, yet He had to see through the two eyes of a human. God’s Son is present everywhere, yet He had to walk on dusty streets wherever He went. On Christmas morning, eternity took on time and space, so you and I who live in time and space may take on eternity.
What makes all of this even harder to grasp is in Christ, the infinite God not only embraces the finite world of mankind, but that He does so in spite of mankind’s resistance and rejection. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). Our sinful flesh crucified the Word made flesh when He came to redeem us.
In this we see the love of God for His creation. Because God is love, He cannot remain distant, aloof, far removed from His beloved. He embraces finite humanity with all our sins and weaknesses and limitations. He does this even against our own evil will. In His gracious will, He will not let our sin or our will stand in the way of His purpose and desire.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling with us.” God does not deal with our sin and rejection in a remote and detached way. He became flesh. He became sin for us. He was rejected. Jesus was laid in a Bethlehem manger so that He might be nailed to a Roman cross. He did this so that men’s sins would not count against us, but counting our sins against the Word made flesh (2 Corinthians 5:19). For all of us little sinners, Jesus became like a little sinner – except He was missing one thing – sin!
That’s what we celebrate on this holiest of holy days. That’s why Christ’s birth is a landmark occasion. That’s what we have been steering towards the last four weeks of Advent and what we will be recalling for the next twelve days of Christmas. Jesus dwelled among us to make God known to us. If Jesus had not come, we would recognize that there is some kind of god out there. But we wouldn’t be sure if we should be worshiping the wind like the Native Americans or honoring our ancestors like the Japanese or deifying the Flying Spaghetti Monster like the atheists.
The Son of God came in the flesh so we now know the true God of heaven and earth, of grace and mercy. “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18).
What do we know about God? We know that God loved us enough to send the Light of His Son into this sin-darkened world. We know that the Father loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die so the rest of His fallen children might live. We know that the Innocent One paid the price for the guilty ones. We know that once the angels had to guard the entrance to Eden but now they are singing, “Glory to God in highest and peace to men on whom his favor rests.” We know that God sent His Son to move from the manger to the cross so that we might move from hell to heaven.
The birth of the Christ Child is definitely the landmark moment in the history of the world.
But there is another landmark moment in your history on this world. That moment is your baptism. That day marks the dividing line between our old life, which can only end in death, and our new life, which is found in Christ and which lasts forever. Your baptism is that defining day. “But to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. They were born, not of blood, or of the desire of the flesh, or of a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).
Born of God. That’s who we are as baptized believers in Christ. We did not come into this new life by way of our ancestry. We did not choose to be born, as though it were our will that did it. No. God is the one who chose to give us new birth. It’s His decision, not ours. When God the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts to believe in the name of Christ, to trust in Him, this is how we become the children of God. This is the new birth, our second birth, and it is sealed in Holy Baptism.
Every time you come to worship, you see the baptismal font and it reminds you of your rebirth. It is the place where your faith was born – literally. In the waters of baptism are Christ’s manger, the Jordan River, Calvary’s cross, and the borrowed tomb. It gets pretty crowded in that little bowl. Everything that Jesus accomplished from His birth to His resurrection is contained within those baptismal waters.
When you were baptized, it was no empty ritual or outward washing, but it was a participation in Christ Himself. We were reborn, not from the flesh of our mother’s womb, but reborn from the Father’s will. We were joined with Christ so that all He is becomes ours and so that all we were became His. He takes our sin and we receive His perfection. He takes our death and gives us His life. He takes our slavery to Satan and gives us His Sonship to the Father. When we were baptized, we were made sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.
Perhaps during a vacation, you will travel with your family to see some of the great American landmarks. Today, though, you have traveled to church to celebrate again two landmark moments – the birth of Christ at Christmas and our rebirth at the font. Landmark moments because they mark the dividing line between the old and the new, what was behind and what is ahead. Today on Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ, “born that we no more may die, born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth” (CW: 61).
Two births: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” and “the children born, not of blood … but born of God.” The Son of God became man so that the sons of men could become children of God. Jesus came to make His dwelling among us so that we might go to have our dwelling made with God. Amen.