Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Word became man

I here offer my sermon. I preached during the Christmas service of my church on the 24th of December. There was a good crowd with quite a few who haven't made a profession of faith. The audience even included a hindu couple from India!

The meaning of the birth of Christ
Sermon on the 24th of December 2006

What is the meaning of Christmas? What message does it bring? Is it still relevant? What is the meaning of the words that we use to express the story of Christmas?

Recently I walked in a department store. I saw a poster of a beautifully dressed woman with an equally well-dressed child. The headline in Dutch went like 'Radiate this Christmas'. The woman and child must have meant to evoke Mary and Jesus, I suppose. A few days later Apple came out with their Christmas campaign. With the Apple products there would be 'More joy to their world' and 'No more silent nights'.

Advertising has emptied the Christmas message. I know what I am talking about. I am involved in advertising. Does advertising make use of the Christian vocabulary because there is more religious awareness these days? Not really. Advertising takes the meaning away from the words and fills it with a commercial content. Advertising doesn't care about content, it is concerned with presentation. It is not interested in the truth but in effectiveness, persuasion, money.

Much in our Western culture is so much like that too. We choose form over content, words over meaning, superficiality over depth, lust over truth. We love warmth but without real fire; a Christmas market, without the Christ.

Today I want to look at the content of the Christmas message. What is at the center of it? The Gospel of John starts like this: 'In the beginning was the Word, 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 nothing was made that was made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend (conquer) it. (...) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John.1:1-5,14)

This is John's rather philosophical and poetical rendition of the nativity, the story of how Jesus was born in a stable about 2000 years ago. John points out not just that and how Jesus was born but who Jesus truly is. The Word, God and Creator, becomes man. Not the appearance of a ghost or a vision, but a baby in a manger. The Holy One, the Righteous, the Pure, the One who is the Other partakes of the impure, unrighteous, unholy here and now. The Almighty dresses Himself in weakness, the Eternal becomes man. What is the meaning of Christ's coming? What is the content of the story? A few points.

1. Before God became man, the Word was the light of the world.
It is important to realize that before the baby in Bethlehem was given the name Jesus Christ it existed as the Word. John says 'The Word was God'. Not just the God of the Christians alone or the imaginative product of a world view. Rather, the Word, through Whom everything was made, in Whom everything has its existence. Have you heard of that Word? Did you know that you owe your existence to that very Word. Everything has been made by the Word, you, me, all people in the past, present, future, all animals, all plants, all stars, all atoms, all energy: everything came into existence by the Word.

We read: 'In the Word was life and the life was the light of the world'. What does that mean? Light is life. When a baby sees, as we call it in the Dutch language, the 'lifelight' it means essentially receiving the light of life from the Word. Nobody has life in him or herself; we all receive it! The Baby in Bethlehem is Himself the lifeforce of the universe. That Child did not become somebody to just found a new religion, but to give life. The Creator of all becomes man in order to re-create mankind.

Light is also truth. We all long for light and are at the same time afraid of it. Afraid because the light will expose us as we truly are and show all our deeds. Have you ever allowed the light of truth to shine on all your thoughts, beliefs and ideas about the world, its origin and purpose? The Word was the Light of the world. Do you have the courage to let it shine in your heart?

Many who haven't heard about Jesus or who lived before Jesus came, experienced a restless searching, a feeling of moral guilt, a knowing that there must be something - Somebody - higher. The Light of the world has shown in the darkness, but the darkness - we all in the darkness of our hearts - have rejected it. This is the sad reality.

2. God becoming man is not a religious concept it is something that happened.

Nobody knew about it, nobody conjured up the concept. From a human point of view it seems to be an impossibility. But it happened. An angel appeared to Mary and the fetus developed inside her womb without her having 'known' a man. The eternal God laid down his glory and came to us with a human nature.

It is an event that took place in history. It is not a concept that you need to understand in order to 'get the hang' of a certain religion. God entered our human existence, the history of the human race. John is not even using religious terms to describe the Word becoming man.

This baby, Jesus, did not have a special name tag saying 'This is God'. In fact, the circumstances of his birth were so humiliating that it doesn't seem a fitting place at all for God to enter this world. But the truth of his identity became apparent when later He cast out demons, healed the sick, proclaimed the Kingdom of God and finally died at a cross only to rise from the dead three days later.

That's why it only just starts at Christmas. Read the gospels in the New Testament to know more about Jesus. See for yourself who He was and what He said about Himself.

3. The Word became man to seek man.

We've been looking at some facts. The fact that Jesus, who is the Word come as man, was with God in eternity and is the Creator Himself. That the Word became man and thus entered our world. But why? Why did He do that? Christmas itself will only partly be able to tell us why God became man. You will have to read on. But let me give you two reasons why the Word became man.

A. Man can look for God, but never really find Him. He may long for God, but never abide in his presence. Why is that? Because of man's moral imperfection. How is that?, you may ask. Let me give you an absurdistic example. One day a man killed 5 people. He was unhappy, because he really wanted to be a better person. The 2nd day he killed 4 people. He wasn't yet good enough. On the 3rd day he killed 3 people and on the 4th 2, while on the 5th day he killd 1 person. He was almost there. On the 6th day he finally managed to refrain from killing at all. Then he said to himself: finally I'm a good man.
This is of course ridiculous. The man has to be punished. But how is it with us? Have we all not done enough to know that things will never be allright between us and God. What we have done wrong is there and remains there. We are morally imperfect.

It is as if God thought by himself: 'Man cannot come up to me anymore. Let me go down to them and take them by the hand and lead them to myself. There is a gap between Creator and creation that is not a knowledge gap but a morality gap. For this gap to be closed it is necessary that the initiative comes from God. Mankind has rejected its own Creator. Nobody can blot out his own moral guilt. Indeed, so many who set out on a search for God later realized they were themselves found.

B. The second reason for the Word becoming man is this: Jesus takes on the image of man in order to make us true image bearers of God again. Everybody is so busy trying to be himself, to express his own individuality, his own identity. It's useless. You need the Word to become truly man.

The purpose of God with man was to have him bear the image of God. God made man in his own image. Even though man still reflects a lot of God's image (think of things like: beauty, motherly love, moral inclination, reason, etc.) so much of that image has been tainted by the rejection of the Light by man.

Only when you reconnect with your Creator you will start to understand the purpose of your own existence. Only then will you be able to be truly man again. That's why the Word became like us so that through Him we would come to know God as Father and realize the purpose of our human existence. This Word, Jesus, said: 'I am the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except by Me'.

Concluding we may state that when we talk about the Word becoming man, we are not discussing a theological concept, or a philosophical idea. Rather we deal with something with a divine origin that happened in human history. We deal with the reality of the relationship between you and your Creator. That the Word became man in order to save. We deal ultimately with your response to the knowledge and the amount of light that you possess. Your response to the offer of God in Christ, the Word that became man.

Stop running away from God. One day you will stand before Him and be held accountable.

During Christmas time we use a lot of beautiful words. Words that stand to loose their meaning while they themselves refer to the Word, the Creating Word, the life giving Word, the saving Word.

The Word that became man in order for us to become children of God.



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