The Word Received
Text: John 1:1-18
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” And we have seen it. We’ve celebrated it. We’ve once again sung the angels’ song, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men.” We’ve rung our bells and given gifts. We’ve feasted and toasted. Our mouths have opened in hymn and chant and high thanksgiving. The days will get longer now that our Dayspring from on high has arrived. Yes, we have seen the light. We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
And we would expect that Light to obliterate all that stands against it. The shadows and those who gather in them, worshiping them, doing their deeds in the dark, will be revealed. We would expect the enemies of God will be trampled and the godly will march forth in constant victory, defeating all who dare to stand against us. As Isaiah has proclaimed, “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations.” So we would expect a landslide victory, readily visible to our eyes.
Yet in the Gospel this morning, the much beloved reading for Christmas Day, we’re met by a curious, even unexpected phrase. In the midst of all our Christmas cheer and songs of victory, we hear a note that surprises us. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” The Light that we would expect to be irresistible in power, overwhelming in glory—this God who made the world, now living and breathing and walking in His own creation—is not recognized by His creation. His own people do not know Him. They do not receive Him. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not comprehended it.
This may be surprising to us, especially after the heady glory of Christmas Eve. But here, in the still of Christmas morning, when the wrapping paper is crumpled on the floor, when the luminarias are burned out and the twinkling Christmas tree lights are a little less enchanting in the daylight, we’re given a moment of sober reflection on what it means that the only Son from the Father has entered His creation—and what it means that He has not entered it in overwhelming might with irresistible shock and awe. Why is it that the Light does not simply break the darkness? Why is it that the Lord has come to His people in such a resistible, even unimpressive way, born as an infant? How is it that the Lord’s mighty arm is bared, but He doesn’t simply knock down those who won’t receive Him?
It’s because the Light, the Son, the Word made flesh, desires to be received by faith. This is how He has always wanted to be known. This is why He is the Word, from the beginning, before the beginning. A word must be believed. The Son must be believed. So through the Word, through the Son of God, everything was made—not by brute force as the pagans believe their strong creator gods made the world. Nor was it through dumb luck, as the atheists confess in their own religion. It was through the Word, the Word that spoke all things into existence; the Word that visited the seers in old time and told them what to chant with one accord; the Word, the Son, the Christ—the Word that must be believed, the Word that can only be received by faith, not by sight.
Faith, and faith alone, receives the Light, the Word of God. It does not happen because He bowls you over with His power or because He dazzles you with His glory. It doesn’t happen because He presents an irrefutable argument that you can’t contradict. It doesn’t happen because you become successful, as the world counts success. It doesn’t happen because you always get your way or because everything is according to your preference. It happens because the Word gives you a promise. In the Light is the life of men. In that Light, that Word, is grace and truth. He can show you who He is with force and might, but it would do you no good. Faith is the only way to receive Him for your good. His people—those to whom He came but who did not receive Him—they saw Him in the display of power at Sinai, when He gave the Law through Moses. But that created only fear. That’s all it can create. And the ones who tried to bend that forceful Law to their own ends and approach the Light on their own terms—the Pharisees and their kind—they did not receive Him either. Those who would look to the Light through stern command, through fear, through resentment that they must obey, or that others aren’t obeying, through power, through the bloodlines or the will of the flesh or the will of man—they will not receive the Word, the Light, the Son of God, for their good.
So the Light comes to us in meekness. The Word comes to us in promise: the promise of grace, the promise of mercy, the promise of forgiveness. And to those who receive Him in that way, who believe in His name—that is to say, those who receive Him in faith—to them He gives the right to become children of God. And so we are.
Children of God, the Word—the creating, forgiving Word of the Father—has become flesh and dwells among you. He lives with you, still in that promise, still in that forgiveness. He lives in your everyday lives in the places where His promise shows up in ways you can touch and see and taste, those ways that can be resisted by the unfaith of the world, the unfaith of fallen man’s nature. He still comes to you in your Baptism, in the Holy Supper, in the forgiving hand laid on your head in blessing and absolution. It’s in those places, where the Word made flesh comes to you again in concrete ways, that you see His glory—the hidden glory, not of power or what man would will to see—but the hidden glory of mercy, the glory of forgiveness and peace with God. That is the glory of Christmas—the secret glory, tucked away in swaddling cloths, unimpressive to the eyes, but a wonder to the ears, a miracle to the believing heart—the glory of the only Son from the Father.
Christmas is about Jesus coming, not only long ago, but now—coming to you, hidden, lowly, meek. He’s coming to you now, even in these words of His Scripture; now, in the same body and blood born in Bethlehem, here given and shed for you; in the soft, or loud, Amen in the service. He’s coming to you to be received in faith. Receive Him now, child of God. In the name of Jesus, the Light that has come into the world, Amen.