THE WORD BECAME FLESH.
In the name + of Jesus.
Many Lutheran churches like to claim what St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) The crucifixion is a dominant theme in our sermons, in our liturgy, and even in our church furnishings—both with the large cross overhead, and with the crucifix which is prominently displayed and used today. It is no secret why we display and proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified. That is the payment for the sins of the world. It is at Jesus' crucifixion that the wrath of God was satisfied and that the body and blood of the Lord was given to pay for our sins for all time and for all people. So, the emphasis on Christ crucified is both understandable and necessary.
It may come as a surprise to you, then, to learn that the early Church was not in the habit of displaying crosses or crucifixes in their churches. One practical reason is that, in the early part of Christianity, crosses were still being employed for execution, and some Christians were the sad victims of this bitterly painful death. If crucifixion was not the central focus of the early Church, then what was? It was the incarnation of our Lord.
“Incarnation” is an impressive sounding, theological word. If you don't remember it, that's okay. It is probably easier to remember it when it is put to music: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” Or you may consider the words of St. John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...” (John 1:1,14) This is the incarnation. The Word became flesh. God has become man. The Savior, Jesus, is the Christ, the Lord. But now the Lord has become one of us.
The Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary at Jesus' conception. This virgin, then, gave birth nine months later to a boy in Bethlehem. The birth itself was rather unspectacular. A boy was born to peasant parents. No doubt Joseph and Mary were filled with joy and relief that mother and child were both healthy. But as far as the citizens of Bethlehem were concerned, nothing particularly noteworthy or amazing took place that night.
Perhaps Joseph and Mary were the only ones in the house who knew the significance of this birth. Joseph knew that this baby was not his. Mary was still virgin pure. The holy one which was born is the Son of God. They had each been given an angelic message which told them so. The Lord was pleased to reinforce those angelic messages with one more. To shepherds out in the fields, the angel came with the message: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The shepherds not only ran into Bethlehem to see this, but they also “made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” (Luke 2:17) In other words, they preached God's word to everyone they met. Joseph, Mary, and anyone else there heard the shepherds preach the truth about this child: He is the Lord. He is the Word made flesh. God dwells with mankind. Our Immanuel has come to save us.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14) The Lord became flesh to take up the cause of mankind. Mankind was God's special creation. Everything God had created was simply summoned into being by the command of God. God said it, and it was so—light, dry land, vegetation, sun, moon, and stars, bird, fish, and animals. However, mankind was notably different. God personally formed the man from the dust of the earth. God personally crafted the woman from the rib of the man. God even took counsel with himself at the creation of mankind before he made them. “God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.' … So God created man in his own image.” (Genesis 1:26,27) God assessed what he had created, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)
God loves what he has created. Therefore, when man sinned against God, became corrupt in his thinking and doing, and was marked for death, the Lord was not content to write off man as a lost cause. He has not dismissed you, either, even though you sin, are corrupt in heart and mind, and are marked for death. Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace, joy, and love, but it ends up highlighting that we are corrupt and sinful. For as much as we attempt to make Christmas magazine-cover perfect, we put more stress on ourselves than the season is worth. Rather than be joyous, we become snippy. Rather than joy over loved ones, we snap at them. You may pat yourself on the back for being more generous at Christmas time than usual, but it is easy to toss money at a cause you really have no contact with than to be patient, loving, and understanding to people who stay at your house for a few days or whom you live with all the time. Perhaps you have even had some family members write you off because of some spat you've had.
Our sins do not go away because of sentimental or peppy Christmas carols. If anything, our sins are accentuated. You may try to hide it or excuse it. “I'm only snippy because you are annoying.” But it is still sin, and it incurs not only the wrath of family members, but especially the wrath of God. God gave you family members to love, not to despise. If you despise what God has given you, you also dishonor the God who gave them.
Others may write you off because you have sinned against them. God is not willing that you should perish. Therefore, the Word, the second person of the Trinity, became flesh and made himself one with mankind. He became man to redeem man. He became man to live the holy life which is demanded under the Law. Adam did not keep the Law. You and I have not kept the Law. One man has—Jesus. And he has kept it for you.
God's Law also demands that he who is guilty must die. Therefore, the Word became flesh to suffer what sinful flesh must suffer. Jesus Christ has taken your guilt from you. He was pierced to the cross for every piercing word we have shot at our loved ones. He suffered in silence for every time we should have kept our mouths shut but could not help ourselves. Just as he was born in weakness and wrapped in cloths at his birth, so also he died in weakness and was wrapped in cloths when he was place in a grave for our sins. Jesus did all of this because he loves what he has created. And even though we still sin against him in our weakness, his love remains constant. You know how much patience you have for people who sin against you. Would you blame our Lord if he became so annoyed by our sinful weakness that he wrote us off as lost causes? But rather than be announed, the Lord remains merciful. He is not willing to see you perish. And so the Word who became flesh to suffer and die for fleshly man, assures you that his blood continues to purify you from all sin.
God became part of his creation to rescue his creation. God became one of us to redeem all of us. This is what the early Church marvelled at, and we do well to marvel at it as well. God has not created us to stand off at a distance where he will check in on us once in a while to make sure we have not nuked ourselves out of existence. Rather, God invested himself in his creation so that remain his cherished creation forevermore.
The Word became flesh and made himself one with us. Immanuel has come so that God will be with us and we with him forever. This is the glory of God. That glory was veiled in flesh, but it is glorious nonetheless. And this day, the Lord comes to us again. He is veiled in bread and wine, but he comes all the same to deliver his gifts of forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation. He comes to dwell within us, and summons us to consume his body and blood for our eternal good. Behold! The Lamb which was wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger is now wrapped in bread and wine and placed in your mouths so that you will receive the salvation which God is pleased to give to sinners.
Rejoice! Immanuel has come. The Word of God became incarnate so that he could be crucified for mankind. The flesh and blood Savior overcame the grave so that man will live forever with the Lord. God, who is now one of us, remains forever God with us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.