Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas)

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him; and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin: Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Epistle Hebrews 1:1-12
Gospel S. John 1:1-14

The Collect puts before us the fact that Jesus Christ took on himself our nature so that we might receive his. He being without sin kept ours perfectly; we being yet sinners are entirely dependant upon grace to continue as we have begun.

The Epistle is one of the great biblical defences of the Sonship of our Lord Jesus Christ. This doctrine is central to the fulfilment of the covenant, and lies at the heart of God’s purposes for the salvation of his people, and the restoration of his creation. It is a doctrine understood by the Gospel writers and the Apostles, and one seen by them as explaining exactly who Jesus is.

The origin of this doctrine is found in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, and particularly in v 14, where God says to David, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son”. This is part of the promise made to King David concerning his dynasty. David had intended to build a house for God, and Nathan the prophet had encouraged him in this. However, God spoke to Nathan in a dream, and told him this was not to be. David would not build a house (temple) for God, but God would build a house (dynasty) for David. This is recorded in 2 Samuel 7:1-11. Then comes the promise of a successor, one of his own children, who will rule on his throne over his people “for ever” (v 16). In the first instance this is, of course, King Solomon. However, both Solomon and every succeeding Davidic king fell far short of the promise. The litany in Kings and Chronicles which says of the Davidic kings—those who ruled over Judah, the southern kingdom—that they did not walk in the ways of their father David, shows that none of them was the promised, eternal king. This is made abundantly plain by the fact that each king’s history ends with the record of his death. (This echoes the early chapters of Genesis, where the lives of the patriarchs all end in death, because the curse is in operation.)

In the fulness of time “God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5). The Son of God had appeared, David’s throne would be occupied again, and the people would have a ruler who would rule them justly and righteously. That this is Jesus Christ is the whole point of the opening chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The writer (the Apostle Paul) shows that Jesus Christ came into his glory after completing his work of saving his people. So, v 4, after doing all this, including “purging our sins”, he “by inheritance” obtained that most excellent name. He himself is described as inheriting, and this language implies very strongly that it was not until he became the son of God that he was in a position to inherit, for none do unless they are adopted as heirs. Thus what Paul has in view is what our Lord Jesus inherited because of his obedience, as he says in Philippians 2:5-11.

What Paul adds here is that our Lord Jesus is more than a mere king; he is the creator of the world, and so is by right King and Lord of all. This is doubly true for all who are, by grace, part of his new creation. In purging our sins he has overcome the curse. By rising again he has overcome death, and shown himself to be the one in whom and by whom death is overcome. That is why in Romans 1:1-4, Paul writes of “the gospel of God…concerning his son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead”.

The quotations in the latter part of the Epistle portion show something of the glory and majesty that belongs properly to the King, the son of David who sits on his throne for ever. It is intended to raise him in our estimation, to cause us to fall before him and worship him who sits on the throne for ever and ever. Here we see the wonder of God’s covenant faithfulness, and his great love for his people, in sending forth the Lord Jesus Christ, and declaring him to be his son, that all the promises to the fathers, and to David, and to the people, might be seen to be fulfilled. And in their fulfilment lies our salvation, our hope, our life. Praise God for the glory of his gospel!

The Gospel passage is a deeply theological exposition of the origin and purpose of the one sent from God to bring light and life. It has a very proper connection to the Epistle, in that this speaks of his eternal origin, and the other of his eternal continuing (one would say ‘end’, but that cannot apply to eternity!).

John’s aims are twofold. In the first place he wants to establish the eternal nature of the divine ‘Word’ or logos. The Jews recognised the existence of God’s ‘wisdom’ as a Person (based, at least in part, on Proverbs 8). John shows here that this wisdom, or Word, was not created as the Jews supposed, but is eternal, and indeed is very God. Since this Word was made flesh (v 14), God has indeed dwelt among men. Those, then who wish to know him, must know his first, that he is very God.

The second thing John wishes to show is that the incarnate Word has come for a purpose. That purpose is seen in the fact that he is the source of all life, the creator of all things. Life comes from him, and so he has come to bring life. Yet he comes to those who appear to have it; how can life come to the living? We are brought back to Genesis 2:7, where God made the first man from the dust of the ground, but that man did not live until God blew into him the breath of life. It was only then that he became a ‘living soul’ (in every other place translated ‘living creature’). So the incarnate Word came to bring life to those who were in darkness, and the shadow of death. He came as light, and the darkness could not overcome the light. He came, in short, to revive and restore his people.

God sent a witness, John the Baptist, who called sinners to repentance, and baptised them that they might wash away their sins. John did this as the witness to the light, preparing men and women to come to the light, the incarnate Word, the creating and life-giving Power of God. In other words, there is no forgiveness, no salvation, that does not come to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God.

Yet, though God sent forth the Word, and though God sent a witness to call men to the light of that Word, men rejected the light. God had come among them, to ‘tabernacle’ (the word translated ‘dwelt’ in v 14 means ‘lived in a tent’) among them. This is God identifying with his people who are in the wilderness, who have yet to come to the promised land. The exodus is not over, the exile not yet ended, and into our longing state comes Jesus Christ to both lead us to the promised Kingdom, and to open the way by his death. And all who come to the light a granted a sight of his grace and glory, “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”.

Conclusion. These two passages bring to us something of the majesty and glory of our Saviour Jesus Christ. They do so in the context of God’s promises to his people to be their Saviour. In other words, God, having bound himself by the covenant, has fulfilled its terms with regard to the sending forth of a King who rules in righteousness, a Light that “lighteth every man that cometh into the world”. Salvation is set before us, the enemy is conquered. All who believe are left with one thing, to march joyfully and faithfully into the Kingdom of God, in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May true Christmas blessings be yours, though Jesus Christ our Saviour, to whom be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever more. Amen.