Born This Day
There aren’t very many reasons why most of us would leave our celebrations on Christmas Day. There aren’t very many reasons why most of us would leave our warm houses on a day when the temperature is well below freezing. But we’ve come together in this place today for one of those reasons. We’ve come together to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But before we read the way one of the Gospels tells the story of Jesus’ birth, I want you to think about the way that you would tell a birth story.
If you’re a parent worshiping with us in person or online right now, I want you to think about the way you would tell the story of your son or daughter’s birth. If you’re not a parent then think about the births you have been a part of – maybe it was the day a niece or nephew was born, maybe it was the day you helped deliver a litter of kittens, maybe it was the day you went to the Humane Society to adopt a pet – and think how you would tell that story.
Now, all of us have completely unique stories to tell, but all of our unique stories are going to have a lot in common. Every one of our stories is going to tell us when the birth took place, every one of our stories is going to tell us who was involved, every one of our stories is going to tell us what exactly happened, and every one of our stories is going to tell us where it all took place. So regardless of who is telling the story we’re going to get the when, the who, the what, and the where…that’s just good storytelling.
So when we hear that someone is going to tell us the story of Jesus’ birth, we expect to hear the when, the who, the what, and the where. And that’s exactly what we get in the most well-known account of Jesus’ birth. In Luke’s gospel – or Luke’s account of the life of Jesus – he tells us this:
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
So when was Jesus born? Jesus was born when Quirinius was governor of Syria, and when Caesar Augustus issued a decree for an empire-wide census to take place. Luke continues:
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
In these two verses, Luke tells us who was involved – it was Joseph and Mary. And Luke tells us where it happened – in a place called Bethlehem. So we’ve got the when, the who, and the where; but we know Luke still needs to tell us what happened. And he does that when we pick back up in verse 6. In verse 6, Luke says:
6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 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 2:1-7 (Common English Bible)
So what happened? Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son, whom we know is Jesus. And this is a great account of Jesus’ birth. We get the when, the who, the where, and the what. And we leave this story knowing that Jesus has been born.
And that wouldn’t be a bad place to leave this Christmas sermon. I could stop right now and we could all go home celebrating this Christmas Day because Jesus is born. But – and I know you don’t want to hear this but with Christmas presents and family gatherings waiting for you today – but Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus isn’t the only one. There’s another account of Jesus’ birth that we need to hear today, on Christmas morning, because it helps us understand why this story matters so much.
And that account comes from the Gospel of John – or John’s biography of Jesus. But I want to go ahead and warn you, John’s version doesn’t sound anything like the way we’d tell a birth story. As a matter of fact, John’s story is so different that before we dig deeper into it, I just want you to sit back and listen to it. This is what John writes:
1 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being 4 through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light…
14 The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-5, 14 (Common English Bible)
John’s story of Jesus’ birth sounds absolutely nothing like Luke’s. There’s no census. There’s no trip to Bethlehem. There’s no Mary. There’s no Joseph. There isn’t even a baby in John’s account.
So why is John’s story of Jesus’ birth so different? Well, it’s because from the beginning of his gospel – from the beginning of his biography of Jesus – John wants you to know that he isn’t just talking about another person. John isn’t just telling the story of another baby’s birth. John wants you to know that he’s about to tell you something incredible…something that hasn’t happened in the history of the world.
And by taking a closer look at John’s account of Jesus’ birth, we can better understand just how incredible this story is. So now’s when I want to encourage you to grab your Bible and turn to the Gospel of John because I want you to see what I’m talking about with your own eyes. But I also want to warn you before we get into this passage that I might go into full-blown Bible geek mode, and you’re either going to be fascinated or you’re going to wonder why you’re spending part of your Christmas Day here. But just go with me.
Now John’s gospel is one of the first four books of the New Testament – you’ve got Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And we call these four books “gospels” because the word “gospel” means good news and these four books tell us the good news of Jesus. They’re four different biographies of Jesus.
And remember what I told you just a second ago, as John starts his biography he wants us to know that nothing has happened in the entire history of the world that is like the story he’s about to tell us. So he starts his account of Jesus’ life by writing:
In the beginning
In the beginning, it’s just a three-word phrase. But this three-word phrase automatically draws our minds back to the very beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 1:1 we’re told, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And John tells us this because he wants us to know that the story he is telling didn’t start nine months earlier when a child was conceived, John wants us to know that this story started before even the heavens and the earth existed.
In the beginning, was the word.
Now even if you’ve heard this passage dozens of times before, it probably still sounds a little strange to you, because in English the word “word” just means the name we call something. Like the word for what you’re sitting on is “chair” or the word for what I’m drinking from is “cup.” But that’s not what John’s talking about.
And here’s where my inner Bible geek kicks in. The word that John uses for “the word” right here is the Greek word logos. And I know that was a confusing sentence, so I’ll say it again. The word that John uses for “the word” in this passage is the Greek word logos. And the word logos doesn’t mean the name we call something.
The Jewish philosopher Philo said, “logos is a way of speaking about the creative plan of God that governs the world.” So the word logos is the Greek equivalent of the word that God spoke in Genesis 1 to create the heavens and the earth. The word logos is the Greek equivalent of the word that God spoke to give the law to Moses. The word logos is the Greek equivalent of the word that God spoke to the prophets to give to the people of Israel. So logos is the very essence of who God is and what God wants to accomplish.
Logos is the very essence of who God is and what God wants to accomplish
So let’s go back and read this passage again, with a better understanding of the word “word.” John tells us:
1 In the beginning was the Word – the logos, the essence of who God is and what God wants to accomplish – and this Word was with God and this Word was God. 2 This Word was with God in the beginning. 3 Everything came into being through it, and without it – without the essence of who God is and what God wants to accomplish – nothing came into being. What came into being 4 through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light…
And in verse 14, John tells us:
14 The Word became flesh and made his home among us…
The very essence of who God is and what God wants to accomplish became flesh when Jesus was born. Before Jesus was born, the Word – the logos, the essence of God – was part of the eternal and divine realm, but when Jesus was born, God became part of the temporal and human world.
And by telling his story this way – by talking about the Word being God, and by talking about creation, and by telling us that the Word became flesh – John is trying to help us understand just how special, just how important this really is. Because John knows how quickly we can rush past this good news. The truth is that we have heard the story so many times, and we’ve been told that Jesus is born so many times, that we take it for granted.
But John wants us to fully appreciate what it means when we say that Jesus is born. John wants us to know that it means that very God of very God – the same God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in it – left the realm of the divine and became one of us. The God who created you had flesh like yours, bones like yours, blood like yours, pain like yours, and feelings like yours.
Let that sink in for just a minute. The story of Christmas tells us that God became flesh. The story of Christmas tells us that God became human. The story of Christmas tells us that God became one of us.
The story of Christmas tells us that God became one of us.
If you lived in Galilee in the first century, you could have bumped into God when you were out shopping in the market. You could have sat beside God at church. You could have gone fishing with God, or sat down to breakfast with God. Because God was one of us.
And John wants the magnitude of that reality to sink in. God became flesh. God became human. God became one of us. But John doesn’t tell us all of this so that we can marvel at the fact that God became one of us. John tells us all of this because it’s important to us.
It’s important to us because when we know that God became one of us, it tells us a lot about who God is, and how God feels about us.
Just think about it for a minute. Before Jesus was born, before God became flesh, the world only knew God in one way. Father Neville Figgis, who was an Anglican priest, put it this way:
“‘God is great,’ is a truth which needed no supernatural being to teach men.”
Before Jesus came, we only knew of God as great. We knew of a God who created the heavens and the earth, a God who could order armies and empires like they were pawns on a chessboard, a God who could wipe out entire cities on a whim, a God who could speak through a burning bush, a God who could lay hot coals on a prophet's tongue, and a God who left people half-crippled or even dead when they encountered him.
And that God inspired fear. This was a God that needed to be pacified. So people brought this God sacrifices and bowed down so low to worship him that their foreheads touched the ground. They were so fearful that they walled themselves off from God, literally building a place in their temples (called the Holy of Holies) where God would reside. They were so scared of offending God that they wouldn’t even write God’s name or speak it out loud.
And then this God who inspired fear became a newborn baby with his arms and legs swaddled up in strips of cloth. This great God who created the heavens and the earth became dependent on a teenager. This powerful and infinite God became fragile.
And God did it because God knew that we would never know how much God loves us until God lived with us.
We would never know how much God loved us until God lived with us.
God loves us so much that he left the highest heavens and the realm of the divine to walk this earth. But God didn’t come as a great king born in a palace, he came as the son of an ordinary girl and was born in a stable. And God came this way even though God knew people would doubt him, God came this way even though he knew people would call him names, God came this way even though he knew people would turn on him and demand his life.
And God did it all so that you would know God loves you enough to give up everything for you. God gave up eternity to walk this earth. God gave up glory to walk the dirt road of ancient Israel. God gave up dignity and allowed a girl to feed him and change his diapers. God gave up respect as people doubted him and called him names. And God gave up his life, dying on that cross for you.
God gave up more than you can imagine to show you that God loves you more than you’ll ever know.
God gave up more than you can imagine to show you that God loves you more than you’ll ever know.
So this Christmas, let’s not just celebrate the birth of a baby 2,000 years ago. Let’s worship a God that loved us enough to become one of us.