Christmas 2017 4. Incarnation: God Comes
John 1: 14 Here’s a question on Christmas Eve. How can we be certain that what happened on that holy night is not a hoax? How do we know that the news about the nativity is factual and not fake? Can we be sure this is “good news of great joy for all the people?” We’re hearing a lot recently about fake news. While bogus reporting has always been around, it now spreads like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter. These scam stories are often sensationalist and extreme, designed to inflame passions or prejudices. In other words, truth takes a backseat to emotion because feelings have effectively replaced facts. Relativism is more relevant than reality. That can certainly happen on Christmas Eve when sentimentality and the “spirit of the season” can cloud the truth of the incarnation. We’re going to focus on facts, not our feelings because it’s not a fable that Jesus was born in the stable. In this time of “fake news” you can trust what the Bible has to say because it’s true. Listen to these words written by a very bright physician under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - Luke 1: 1 - 5 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” So how do we know if the Bible is fake or factual? Is it a hoax or a Holy Book? Like a good reporter, the learned Luke did some fact checking with eyewitnesses and followed up with all leads, writing an orderly account so that we can have “certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” This account is anchored in history – took place when Caesar Augustus was emperor in Rome and Quirinius was governor in Syria. These were real rulers so this is clearly not a fable or fake news. We’re going to focus on 3 main points related to the coming of Christ at Christmas – John 1: 14 -
1. The Reality of Christ’s Coming The Gospels of Luke and Matthew give the details surrounding the birth of Jesus, John provides us with the back-story, or the theology behind the nativity. “Word became flesh…” This is the single, most unique quality of Christianity that makes it different from any other religion: God became flesh. The miracle of Christmas is the infinite becoming an infant. The whole superstructure of Christianity rests on this truth. Jesus is fully God and fully man. James Erwin - traveled to the moon - said about Christmas, “There’s something more important than man walking on the moon, and that is God, walking on the earth.” “…and dwelt among us…” - refers to “to pitching one’s tent” - “to settle, to stay, to inhabit.” One paraphrase -“Jesus came and moved into our neighbourhood.” Jesus wants to be on familiar terms with us. He wants to be close. He wants a lot of interaction. When we think of this, we might be tempted to think that Jesus just came to hang out with us. But John uses a specific word that would make his first century readers remember the tabernacle where God met with the Israelites in the OT. This was where God dwelt and met with his people. It was also the place where sacrifices were made and where God’s glory and holiness were displayed. After the tabernacle was completed, God’s glory filled it to overflowing: Exodus 40: 34, 35 “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” Glory literally means, “Heavy in weight, important, significant, having great reputation and splendour, brightness and majesty.” It has to do with the fame of God’s name. God’s glory also refers to God’s presence with His people. Later on, God instructed King Solomon to build a permanent worship centre called the Temple. The glory of God fills the Temple for about 350 years. But then, because of people’s persistent sin and rebellion, God raised up the Babylonians, who wiped out Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. God’s glory then departs slowly and reluctantly. Isaiah 64: 1 captures the plea of the people as they lament that the glory of God on earth is gone. This cry lasts for centuries: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” In this series we’ve been celebrating the link between the Old and New Testaments. The heavens are silent for 400 years - Luke 2: 9 “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” Then the angel announces not “fake news,” but factual news, as he gives the message about what happened in the manger: “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” And then a whole arsenal of adoring angels break through the heavens and proclaim that God’s glory has now returned in the birth of a baby: “GLORY TO GOD in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” Now with all that as background, hear John 1: 14 again: “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us…and we have seen His GLORY, GLORY as of the only Son from the Father…” In a similar way that God dwelt with His people in the Tabernacle and in the Temple He now dwells with people through His only Son Jesus Christ! In Him, the glory of God has descended and He has pitched His tent to dwell with us. God’s good news comes into our bad news. Centuries of waiting are now over. God’s glory was previously tied to a place but now it’s wrapped up in a person. When we put our faith in Him, His glory comes and resides in us. Now that’s a great news story! It’s not fake or fabricated or fictional. It’s been fact-checked, researched, and verified by multiple eyewitnesses. That’s the reality of Christmas – which answers the question, “what does it mean?” Let’s move now to the relevance of the coming of Christ – which answers another question, “what meaning does it have for me?”
2. The Relevance of Christ’s Coming “…full of grace and truth.” Grace and truth are 2 concepts that don’t often appear together. As humans we tend to err on one side or the other. If we stress grace, we can be too quick to cut someone slack. If we pull the truth trigger too quickly we can wipe someone out. Grace without truth can lead to sloppy sentimentality and truth without grace can lead to religious rigidity. With Jesus you can always count on both truth and grace. He tells the truth about your situation and your sins, and then His grace causes Him to stick with you all the way. “God loves you just the way you are [grace], but He loves you too much to let you stay the way you are [truth].” At Christmas we’re reminded that the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. The manger is filled with the awesomeness of God’s glory and grace but we’re also faced with a terrible truth: because of our sin, Jesus Christ came to die for us as our substitute. At Christmas, we see Jesus as 100% God and 100% man. Jesus became what He had never been before without losing what He had always been. Because He is God, He is sovereign. Because He is man, He can be our substitute by taking our place of punishment on the cross. God the Father is just and therefore demands payment for our sins and because He is a God of grace, He provides the Saviour, who shed His blood as full payment for our sins. He is just and the justifier of those who place their faith in Him. Tim Keller: “Christmas is the end of thinking you are better than someone else, because Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you.” We’ve looked at the reality of Christ’s coming and the relevance of His coming. Let’s wrap up by considering our response to His coming.
3. Our Response to Christ’s Coming 3 different responses to Jesus that are still very common today - A. You may not recognize Him. Unfortunately, even after all that Jesus did to dwell among us, Immanuel is often ignored: v. 10 “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” There has always been a great divide in the human race. The majority never recognized Jesus for who He really is and never came to Him to have their sins forgiven. B. You might reject Him. While some are apathetic and ignore the Christ of Christmas, others reject Him outright – v. 11: “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” Jesus came to the people who should have known Him best, but they wanted nothing to do with Him. C. You must receive Him. While it is true that the world did not recognize Him and His own people rejected Him, there have always been some who receive Him. v. 12 explains clearly how someone can personally become a Christian: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Believe, Receive, and Become. We must first believe that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God the Father. Then we must personally receive what He has done on the cross by appropriating the gift of salvation. Then, we become children of God. Apart from Christ, we would never fully know the depths to which we are loved or the lengths to which God can be trusted. At the heart of the incarnation is an invitation. The news that Christ has been born is not fictional but factual. It’s good news you can count on! But in order for the reality to become relevant in your life, it must be received.