The Second Article of the Apostles' Creed is the heart of Luther's Small Catechism. Luther begins his explanation of this article with these words: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. The first thing Luther wanted everyone to know about Jesus is that Jesus is both true God and also true man. The people who chose the Bible readings that we use every Christmas had the same idea. They chose one Christmas reading that brings out the human nature of Christ and another reading that brings out the Divine nature of Christ.
Last night our gospel was from Luke. Luke very much wants us to understand that the birth of Jesus Christ took place in a historical context. These are real people in real places and real times. In order to help us understand this, He gives the names of governors, kings, tetarchs, and emperors. He tells us how Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were a real family with hassles and struggles. They must withstand a real trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of a very historical census command from the emperor. They face the very real problem of finding shelter once they arrive. Mother Mary goes through a very real and human birth. Jesus is laid in a real and tangible manger. Mary wraps Him in real swaddling cloths. Even the angels leave there unseen spiritual existence so that the shepherds can see and hear them. Luke's account is all very, very historical, tangible, and earthly. His account makes it very clear that Jesus was born as a real, historical human being.
In today's Gospel, the Evangelist John begins with a different approach. The Holy Spirit inspired John to write about Jesus' divine nature. By quoting the opening words of Genesis, "In the beginning," John takes us clear back to the beginning. With a simple vocabulary, John begins to unlock the great mystery of the Son's divine nature: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. Here John introduces us to the Word. This Word is not like any word that you or I might say or write, for John tells us that this Word is God.
In these few words that seem so simple at first glance, John tells us about the nature of God. There is a separate nature, for the Word was with God, and yet there is a unified nature, for the Word was God. In these few simple words, John already prepares us for the deep mystery that God is a community of separate persons in one divine unity. Already John makes it clear that you can't have this Word without God and you can't have God without this Word.
John knows that even though he has used simple words, he is still describing something that is above and beyond this world. Because of this, he provides us with the example of creation: All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. Here, in this example of creation, John shows us how the separate person of the Word worked in unity as God to create everything there is. We even have the positive and negative aspect of creation to show us the Word's intimate involvement in this process. Everything was made with Him, and nothing was made without Him.
Several verses later, John brings the Divinity of the Word into the humanity that we saw in Luke last evening. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. This Word - this person of God who is in unity with God - this Word is now in history. John and his fellow apostles have seen Him with their own eyes. John goes even farther in the opening to His first epistle: [1 John 1:1ff] That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you … John not only wants us Christians to know that Jesus is the Word and the Word is God, but that Jesus is also human. John speaks as a true witness who has seen, heard, and even handled the Word of Life, Jesus Christ.
Why is it so important to John, to Luke, and to Martin Luther that Jesus be both one hundred per cent God and one hundred per cent human? Why did the Holy Spirit inspire the writers of Holy Scripture to make such a big deal out of this?
The answer lies in two very sad sentences in the middle of today's Gospel. John wrote, "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 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." How sad. His own people - the people that He created did not receive Him.
His own people did not receive Him because they were in rebellion against Him. They didn't want a Messiah who took them back to Moses. They didn't want a Messiah who fulfilled the prophets. No, they wanted a Messiah who would soon make them rich, great, and mighty lords holding dominion over all the nations of the world. They wanted a Messiah who fulfilled their expectations instead of a Messiah who fulfilled the prophecies of God.
We aren't all that different today. Jesus comes to give forgiveness of sins, life eternal, and salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil. These are the gifts we need, but they are not what we want. We want a Messiah who will make us popular, rich, and powerful. We want a therapist instead of a savior. We want someone who can help us feel better about ourselves. We reject His message and prefer our own message instead. Too often, He comes to us and we too do not receive Him.
Martin Luther describes our condition very well in the explanation of the Second Article of the creed. We are lost and condemned people and we need redeeming. That is why it is so important that Jesus be one hundred per cent God and one hundred per cent human.
Jesus came into this world to be our savior. Our savior had to live a life in submission to the Law. God is not subject to the Law, humans are. Our savior also had to endure the punishment that we earn with our sins every day. God doesn't suffer and die, humans do. On the other hand, our savior's life and sacrifice had to be sufficient for the sins of the entire world. Even if there were such a thing as a perfect human being, that perfect human could only offer himself in the place of one other human. Only God can ransom the entire race. Our savior also had to do battle with death and the devil. Humans are too weak, but God is Almighty. Our savior must be both God and man in one person. That is why it is so important to know that Jesus is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary.
The great comfort of Christmas flows from the great mystery of a helpless baby lying in a manger who is at the same time the Lord and Master of all things. For in that mystery lies God's plan to rescue us from the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. Those who place their trust in that God-man will lose their guilt and gain everlasting life. Amen
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