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What does this mean? That must have been the most frequent thought around the time our Savior was born.
Can't you see Mary thinking that when the angel told her she was to be the mother of God's Son?
Can't you see Joseph thinking that when the angel told him to take Mary as his wife because the Child in her womb was not the product of unfaithfulness, but was the very Son of God?
Can't you see those rough shepherds internally asking this question as they hurried in from the fields to search for a manger holding a newborn infant? What does this mean?
They had been told what it meant. The angels had told them that this Child was the Savior of the world. That His birth was a great occasion for rejoicing. But these were ordinary people like you and me. And that question echoed in their minds for sure.
Scripture tells us that after the shepherds had left the stable, Mary "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart". No doubt Mary's pondering centered around that one question: What does this mean?
Countless people could describe the events Luke chapter 2, whether they believe it or not. We ourselves have heard that account over and over on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day. We've read it for ourselves, and might even be able to recite it from memory if we tried hard enough. But we must dig deeper to understand fully, what this means.
Our sermon reading for today helps us to answer that question, and to grasp the full significance of the birth of Christ.
John 1:1-13 (ESV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
John makes it clear that when Jesus was born into the world on the first Christmas, He had existed for a lot longer than nine months.
Calling the Son of God "the Word", John describes what He was like in eternity by saying, "In Him was life".
John doesn't mean mere biological life. There wasn't even any flesh and bone around to be alive, and yet John says the Word was full of life. So we ask the question, what does this mean that He was full of "life". And we find the answer in a later passage of John's Gospel. In John 17, verse 3 it says...
"3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3 ESV).
The "Life" that John is talking about is "knowing God". Not just knowing He exists, even the Devil knows that, but knowing God in a right relationship with Him. THIS is the relationship that the Son of God had with the Father from eternity.
Relationships are super important for human beings. When people are separated from other people long enough, they start to lose their minds. We need relationships.
And this shouldn't be surprising to us. We were created as a reflection of God, who is Himself an intensely relational being. The Bible says that there is One God, but that this God has three persons. Three persons who that have such a perfect connection to each other that they are One being.
The Son of God was full of life because He was in this relationship with the Father and the Spirit from eternity.
Now, John also says that the Son's life was the "light of men". So we ask again, what is he talking about? What does this mean? It's obvious that John isn't talking about "light" in the sense of rays of light. He's not saying that the Son of God was the source of visible energy. The closest phrase I can think of to convey what John means by "light" is "true wisdom".
The engineer who built the car is the best guy to go to if you want to learn about how it works. The God who created the universe is the best guy to go to if you want to learn about how it works. The Son of God is full of "enlightenment" because He is the one through whom the whole world was created.
A right relationship with God is life. And it is also the only way human beings can grasp the full truth about anything. When mankind abandons God and starts trying to figure everything out on his own, he comes up with all sorts of horrible and conflicting ideas.
Look at modern man. He teaches things like there is no such thing as truth. Modern man says each person can decide for themselves what is right and wrong, and each person's idea is equally valid. So, there is no such thing as being right, but we're all right. That makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
If you travel into religions like Buddhism you get to even more silly reasoning. Many people have fallen in love with Buddhism, or with parts of it at least. But when you get to the core of what Buddha taught, it's a nonsensical dead end. Buddha taught that there is even no such thing as "self". Buddha taught that "heaven" is reached when you finally learn that you don't really exist. What kind of wisdom is that? I mean, what are you going do with that?
But in Christ we find true wisdom. Listen to what 2 Timothy 3 says about where true wisdom is found.
"...from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:15-17 ESV).
The light of Christ reveals the way to salvation. And along with this wisdom comes more wisdom. Wisdom that doesn't teach us to create our own morality, but to learn God's. A wisdom that produces good words and actions instead of empty philosophy.
This is the way John describes the eternal Son of God, Having a right relationship with the Father, and being filled with real knowledge.
Now, why are we talking about all this on Christmas day? Aren't these ideas a little heavy for today? Aren't we supposed to be simply rejoicing over the birth of a little Child instead of pondering the deepness of His "life" and "light"?
But knowing what is in Christ helps us to understand why His birth is so important. Christmas is not just about a mother traveling 90 miles on dusty roads before giving birth in a city far from home. Christmas isn't just about the quaint scene of a Baby laid in a manger instead of a proper cradle.
John brings us to the significance of Christmas in verse 11-13. There he writes...
"11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:11-13 ESV).
The eternal Son of God was born into the human race, so human sinners might be reborn, back into the family of God.
When the first two human beings were created by God, they were like Jesus. They not only had biological life, they also had that other kind of life, that relationship with God, that "spiritual life". And they had "light". They had a perfect knowledge of God's will.
But when they sinned, they severed their connection to God, and became spiritually dead. Right away they lost the light of Godly wisdom. The most obvious proof of this is that they tried to hide from God after they sinned. That's just plain DUMB.
And so every child since that time has been born in the same condition. Disconnected from God. Spiritually still-born and lost in a world too big for us to understand.
That's why the Son of God became human, to restore our connection to God. He suffered for our sins on the cross, thus taking away the punishment for them. And like John writes, all who receive Him, who believe in His name are born over again, back into God's family. Back into a right relationship, like the Son always had with the Father. Back into a relationship where God teaches us true wisdom. John would say we're born back into real life and real light.
The Son of God is unique, and always will be. The Bible calls Him the "only Begotten Son". He was always in this relationship with the Father and always will be. We can never become that, but we can come close. Through faith in Christ, God has given us rebirth into a relationship with Him that will carry us through this life, and into His very presence in heaven.
In First John it says...
"3 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 1:1-3 ESV).
Through a simple trust in God's Son, and all that He endured for us, we are reborn Children of God. We are reconnected to the Almighty. And this has amazing consequences.
Think about it like this, if you're connected to the source of ALL life, both biological and spiritual life, what could possibly harm you? Pain may come in this life, physical death even, but so long as that connection to God remains physical death can only be a temporary thing. Just as Christ Jesus rose back to life, so shall all those connected to Him.
And while in life, if you're connected to the source of ALL true wisdom, you'll always have direction and wisdom beyond that of godless mankind. Severed from the branch, the vine can only wither and rot away. But connected to the branch, the vine will grow.
"What does this mean?" Joseph wondered about the Christ Child. "What does this mean?" Mary pondered. "What does this mean?" the shepherds thought on as they returned to their fields. And we have the answer to their question. Christ became human, so that we could become reunited with the divine. Reconnected to real life, real wisdom, as Children of the Father. Children who see Him in part now, but will see Him fully not so long from this very day.
What does the birth of the Savior mean for you and me? It means our rebirth, that's what it means.
Let that carry you through this next year. When the frustrations come. When the pains come. When the troubles come. Remember, in Christ you have been reborn, reconnected to the Almighty. And so even in those days, we can rejoice in God and in the Christ Child whom He sent to make us His eternal Children. He was born like us, so that we could be reborn like Him. That is His Christmas gift to us.