Bishop Peter F. Hansen
The Word was Made Flesh
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Sermon for Christmas Eve
December 24, 2021
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
“We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN at the birth of a baby? In the delivery room, in full view of that tiny person emerging, by inches, then delivered fully into careful hands, animated with life, shocked at the sudden light a new world. What miracle! What joy this is! At the birth of our son, I seemed to see somehow my own birth: it was me, not he, springing into that room and transforming pain to pleasure instantly by his presence. I was undone.
At any natural conception and normal birth, we celebrate, we throw parties, we give baby showers, send flowers to new mothers, and all of our joyful to-do is fully appropriate and rightly appreciated. The birth of a child is the beginning of an entirely new universe, the world as seen by a new lifeform, who will have his or her effect on us that we could never foretell. It may be a long life, or a tragically short one, but the world will not be the same for it, nonetheless. A life has entered, and immediately commenced far more than the butterfly effect on all that’s created.
Tonight, we hallow and celebrate much more than a natural birth, as we light candles, sing the carols that touched our hearts as children, and touch them still. The Nativity means everything a natural childbirth means, and far more. St. Paul wrote that, although this Person was standing in God-form, He didn’t cling to His divinity but instead took human form, humbling himself even to the point of dying on a cross. Phil 2:5-11 “Though he were a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered;” Heb 5:8 suffered by coming and being born here on our planet.
He came in obedience and He came for love, His Father’s love for us, the love of the Son for His Father, and Christ’s love for us, to redeem us by becoming one of us. The plot grows in complexity and toward an unexpected end as an archangel converses privately with a young lady of Nazareth, then God’s Spirit moves earthly powers to transplant her and her new husband, just in time, south to Bethlehem, where prophecy appoints the birth of the Saviour. Just as they arrive, she needs to give birth.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ is a central pillar of our faith. He is fully God, Son of the Father, second Person of the Holy Trinity, and He is fully human, the son of a woman, conceived by the Holy Spirit not a human father, the Word spoken by the Father into her womb. “Let there be…” we don’t hear the rest of it. Let there be light. Let there be life. Let there be God with us. Let there be Jesus, His name given by the angel, meaning God saves us all. It’s perfect, it’s all there, yet it could never be scripted by human authorship except in fragments, glimpses, precious few words from ages past. Handel’s Messiah brings them all together in glorious song piecing together 1,500 years of Jewish scripture: A virgin will conceive… A branch shall arise from the stump of the David line… There is one among you… A new star shall shine in the heavens…
The foretelling went on to declare the coming of wise men from afar, a terrible slaughter of babies in Bethlehem, a narrow escape into Egypt, and a resettling of the family in Nazareth. Who knew all this? God alone. And our great enemy couldn’t get ahead of the plot to thwart it or turn God’s purposes aside. He tried, God knows, he tried. And failed. And at the crucifixion of this glorious Person, the devil, thinking he had won, suddenly realized that all was lost. Through the tiny baby born that night, and His death as a man, everything is changed, and all people everywhere may know Him as lord and have Him as savior.
St. John wrote a marvelous summary of what he witnessed, the One he touched and heard, sat and ate with, who invited him to catch no longer fish but men, and who named him Apostle, one of the twelve. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same Word was in the beginning with God.” Jn 1:1 John understood that everything the Father purposed to exist, He made through the Word, a Person both Divine and infinitely intelligent, yet different from the Father. There is nothing in physical existence that the Word didn’t bring into being. In Him is life, which lights all people. That light has shone in the darkness, but nothing can extinguish it, hide it, or even understand it. He is the light of every person ever born in this world. This Word entered the world bodily, yet the world didn’t know it; came among His chosen people, the Jews, yet the Jews denied He was their Messiah. But some of them, some caught the essence of His purpose, saw His miracles, heard His words of authority much truer than their leaders, knew Him to be more than just a man. These witnesses were given power.
It was a power over death, over sin, over punishment, a power to rise again from death and to live forever, to rise even during this life and live in the light. That power was given to them as they beheld Him, blazing on a mountaintop, standing firmly in a boat sinking from a storm, commanding corpses to live, and declaring Himself before the high priest: I AM, and as the Son of man will come in the clouds of heaven, someday. For these eyewitnesses, He was everything He claimed to be and more. John could write to us that the Word was Made Flesh, and He dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Jn 1:14
God has declared Himself among many people and over eons of time. Glimpses of His majesty and commands to do His will show up unexpected in distant cultures and faiths, and when they coincide with ours, they are clearly true. But grace and truth came most fully, as it had to, when the Word of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, God’s unique and only Son, was made flesh and lived 33 years with us.
This is how we celebrate that event. This worship. These songs. Candles burning in the night. That shack up there with those familiar figures. And this little meal of bread and wine at midnight.
It’s Christmas. We put up bright trees, pile colorfully wrapped gifts beneath them, feel the warmth of giving to those we love, hope to bring them joy, to express our deepest feelings. We give birthday presents in honor of the One born tonight. We give presents to everyone except Him: the One whose birth we rejoice in. How do you give a birthday present to Jesus? Is it possible? What would He want from me? How could it be delivered? (Not even Amazon can get that far!)
What do you get for the God and man who has everything, has made everything, and rules everywhere and everyone? You give Him the only thing you truly own. You give Him yourself. No shiny paper, no bows or ribbons needed, no gift tag, no Santa bag, with tinsel, streamers, glitter or fake snow. Not necessary. The only thing He wants from you this Christmas is a beating heart for Him to embrace and heal and breath His Spirit on, and take His place inside you. Space and size have no meaning for God, who may set His throne upon a galaxy or two, yet He can take His seat in your heart and live in your mind, and be fully at home. He only needs your invitation.
As you receive from His Hand this night these blessed elements of bread and wine, take Him all the way in. That will be His birthday present, and moreover, it’s your best Christmas present ever.