READ : John 1:14-18
Think with me once again today about what Christmas means, about the time when heaven came down. I’ve lived through more Christmases than most of you, I would guess, but never did the season mean more to me than it does now. Maybe that’s because I’ve been pondering in a fresh way the Christmas story here in John’s gospel. It’s a little different from what we read in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, but it opens up as perhaps nothing else does the heart of what Christmas means. Listen to these words. I’m reading from the Gospel according to John, chapter 1, beginning at verse 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. (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, `He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'”) And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
Now that is a Christmas story! It doesn’t mention the shepherds or the angels, the inn that had no room, or the stable. But if we grasp what John is saying here, we’ll have a remarkable celebration this year. It will never be true of us (as it has been said of so many) that we have “lost the true meaning of Christmas.” No, we’ll have it. We’ll know it. And our lives will be different all year long.
Let me tell you what I find here that makes my heart sing: Christmas is about God coming, about glory shining, and about grace abounding.
Did you know that, friends, that Christmas is all about God coming? God visiting our planet, God taking up His abode here on earth? Christmas really is the time when heaven came down. John has been speaking in the beginning of his gospel about an exalted, mysterious person called “the Word.” “In the beginning,” he says, “was the Word.” Before all else was, before anything in creation came into being, the Word has always existed. And this Word, says John, was in the beginning with God, or toward God, in relationship, in fellowship, in communion with God. Imagine that – a loving bond from all eternity. Through this Word, John goes on, everything in the created universe came to be. You know how God in the beginning “spoke, and it came to be, he commanded, and it stood forth”? (Ps. 33:9). He did everything through His speaking, through the Word. That’s how all things were created and how all are held in being: by God’s mighty Word.
Those thoughts prepare us for the grandest witness of all. Not only was the Word in the beginning with God, through whom everything was made, but the Word was God, personally distinct from Him, yet perfectly one with Him. The Word was the Son of God, dwelling as John says, in the bosom of the Father, in the closest ties of mutual love.
Now the Christmas story is that this Word became flesh. That verb became is in the aorist tense in Greek, which describes what we call “point action.” At a given point in space and time, the everlasting Word took on humanness, the eternal entered into time. God became man. He made His appearance as a baby in Bethlehem, lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. His name was Jesus. That’s why the angels sang. That’s why the shepherds marveled. That’s why joy leaped up in a world full of evil and sadness. In that obscure birth, in a lowly stable, God came down.
John says He “dwelt” among us. The Word literally means, He “tabernacled with” us. It’s a clear reference to the worship of God’s people in the Old Testament. The tabernacle was the center of Israel’s worship because it was the place in which God had especially promised to dwell. Its inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, stood for the very presence of the holy Lord. What was true in the tabernacle was true also later in the temple. At Christmas, we see that all of that was preparing for something else. God was about to dwell here, not in a wilderness tabernacle, not in a splendid temple, but in a human life, in Jesus.
Second thought: Christmas is about glory shining. John says about the Word, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). Then he announces that that Word, that Life, that Light, was “coming into the world.” It was beginning to shine in full radiance down here.
The light shining means revelation, God’s self-disclosure, God’s making Himself known here on earth. He had begun to do that in the creation. Something of God appears everywhere in the created order. He had done it more in the revelation given on Sinai: “the law was given by Moses.” But “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” says John. This was the full unveiling, as it were, of God. The final awareness of what God is like comes not in commandments but in a matchless life, the life of the One who said, “I am the truth.” John goes on, “No one has ever seen God [that is, He dwells in light unapproachable]; No mortal could ever behold his splendor and survive. But the only Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”
Do you remember how it was said about the shepherds that the glory of the Lord shone around them? The brilliant light that transfigured the night sky was not a star or even a super nova. It was a glimpse of the glory. It was what Paul later called “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). In the Bible, glory stands for “brightness.” Glory stands for “heaviness,” weight and significance. Most of all, it stands for God Himself. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” sing the angels. “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3).
Jesus, you see, not only in His teaching, not only in His words of grace and works of power, but in His whole life, revealed who God is, what God is like. God had spoken before at many times and in various ways to the fathers through the prophets. But in these last days, He has spoken to us by a Son, who is the radiance of His glory and the perfect likeness of His person. We can celebrate this, friends. We can have confidence that God is and always will be as we see Him in the life and love, the service and suffering, the dying and rising of Jesus Christ. Christmas is the outshining of heaven’s glory.
And then, too, Christmas means grace abounding. “For the law was given through Moses,” writes John, but “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Grace is God’s favor, God’s love. Grace is that love in marvelous action. Grace is love to people like us who don’t begin to deserve it. Grace is God’s amazing overwhelming kindness meeting us in Jesus. From His fullness, says John, we all have received “grace upon grace.”
Do you wonder where the idea of giving gifts at Christmas came from? Why it seems to release such generosity in the hearts of people? This is why: Christmas meant grace upon grace, gift upon gift. It pointed to the love of God for lost people, a love that keeps on and never stops.
Here’s the greatest thing about Christmas, friends, not only the miracle that God came down to us in His Son, not only that He has made Himself fully known to us, but that the birth and the brightness were all because He loves us unspeakably. That’s what sets the world singing: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God is love, and it’s the nature of love to give, to share. In Jesus, all of God’s best gifts came cascading down to earth. That’s what happened at Christmas. God came down with gifts in His hands, grace upon grace.
For all who welcomed Him, there was the grace of forgiveness: every sin blotted out, every evil cast into the sea of God’s forgetfulness. It was the grace of deliverance too, setting people free from the things that bound them and blighted their lives, release from bondage. It was the grace of belonging, being accepted by God as one of His dear children and drawn into a family of faith. There was a peace the world couldn’t take away, a living hope to sustain us in our darkest hours, a joy that keeps leaping up even in the midst of pain. God gave us something to live for, something to die for and His presence with us all the way. It’s at Christmas that we learn to give because out of His fullness we have all received grace upon grace.
Now it may be, friends, that Christmas hasn’t meant all of this to you yet. You aren’t as excited about it as some people seem to be. Well, that excitement and joy comes from believing what the prophets and apostles say about Christmas. It means believing that in the birth of Jesus God really did come to us, that His glory truly did shine forth and His grace was abundant toward us. And John says that believing these things involves receiving the One they are spoken about. All this that happened is not only long ago and far away. This same Jesus who lived among us in Galilee and Jerusalem, who died for our sins in a place called Golgotha, who rose again on the third day, this Jesus is alive, is Lord over all. And He waits to make all the wonderful joys of Christmas yours as you invite Him in faith to come into your life. Will you do that now at this Christmas time? Say something like this: “Lord, I believe that at Christmas you came to us. You came to reveal the Father’s heart. You came in love to die for us so that we could have life. Jesus, I open the door of my life to You. I put my trust in You. I offer up my whole being to You. By faith I now receive You. Thank You for Your grace to me.”
I don’t know what Christmas will be like for you this year. Maybe you’ll be able to celebrate it with loved ones and friends or maybe you’ll be alone. Maybe there will be many presents around the hearth or the tree, maybe little or nothing. But at the deepest level, it won’t make any difference whom you’re with or what you’ll receive. If you know what God did for you and me at Christmas, and if you receive with a trusting heart the Son He gave, then for you, in a fresh way, heaven will come down.
Isn’t it marvelous that He came so quietly, without pomp and fanfare, to be born to a peasant girl in such lowly surroundings? And isn’t it wonderful that you don’t have to do some great thing or be some outstanding person to receive the blessing of it all? We sing about it in one of the best of all the Christmas songs:
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
May that be your joy, and mine, this Christmas!
Prayer: Lord, we rejoice today that at Christmas heaven came down. Lord, come to us today. Let every heart sharing this program open to receive You and welcome You as Lord and King. In Jesus’ name. Amen.