Misconceptions about This Conception
People have so many emotions on Christmas Eve that it's hard to focus on the true wonder of these holy things. Today we're more settled. Today we can clear up the misconceptions we might have about the conception of Jesus the Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
The first misconception is that today is Jesus' birthday. Now before you get your feelings hurt because you explain Christmas to children by saying, "It's Jesus' birthday,( let me finish. I've said that before to kids. But we need to be careful because you can get the wrong idea from it. Already in the 3rd century a church father warned about commemorating December 25th as if we were celebrating the birthday of a Pharaoh.
It's a misconception to think of today as Jesus' birthday if we think Jesus was not in the world before today. John the Baptist says, "He who comes after me ... was before me." Jesus testifies, "Before Abraham was I am," saying not only did He exist before Abraham but that He is the great "I am" who spoke to Moses at the burning bush. St. John goes to creation's beginning when He says, "In the beginning was the Word." And Jesus calls Himself the Alpha and the Omega in Revelation, the beginning and the end. He always was and always will be.
Christmas is the celebration of the eternal Second Person of the Trinity descending into the womb of the Virgin Mary and wrapping Himself in flesh and blood. The One who flooded the earth with water in Noah's day floated in a woman's bag of waters. The One who shook Mount Sinai with thunder shook every time His mother did. The One who made man by hand was carried in human hands. Christmas celebrates the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us; the Eternal God stepping into our time and space; the invisible God becoming visible; the untouchable God being touched by sinners; the unknowable God being known by feeble human minds; the unapproachable God makes Himself approachable. God who is blinding light can be looked on at last. God who dwells in a consuming fire can be handled by burnable humans on Christmas day.
Christmas frees us from wondering what God is like. Christmas frees us from speculating on what God will or won't do. Christmas frees us from being enslaved to a faceless deity in the heavens. Do you wonder what God looks like? Do you want to know more about God? Do you have questions about the Trinity? The only place to go is to the One in the manger. But that seems too easy, too simple, almost childish? I mean kids sing "Jesus Loves Me," and "I am Jesus' Little Lamb"; adults sing about God. Kids deal with Jesus; adults deal with God. You're close to a serious misconception. You'll find it by asking people, "Is Jesus God?" Some will respond, "He's the Son of God," emphasizing the word son. If you push them, you'll find that they make a distinction between God and the Son of God. God the Father is the big one. Jesus, the Son, is below Him. Jesus is God in a lesser sense.
You won't find this in Lutheran theology. Listen to Luther, "Apart from Christ there is no God" (AE 37:56). "Apart from Christ there is simply no God or Godhead at all" (AE 37: 61) "Apart from this Man there is no God" (AE 37:218). And, "'I have no God, whether in heaven or earth, and I know of none, outside the flesh that lies in the bosom of the Virgin Mary. For elsewhere God is utterly incomprehensible, but comprehensible in the flesh of Christ alone" (Anderson, Incarnation, 56-57)
The Lutheran view is the view of the ancient church. The Nicene Creed, accepted by all Christianity, confesses this. It says Jesus is "God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God... Being of one substance with the Father." The Athanasian Creed also accepted by all Christianity confesses the same saying, "And in this Trinity none is before or after the other; none is greater or less than another."
The Bible clearly confesses the truth that all of God can only be known in Jesus. It says in Colossians that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Christ. That means you don't have to go anywhere else to find God. And John 1:18 tells you that you can't go anywhere else, "No man has seen God at any time but the only begotten Son of God has done exegesis on Him." Exegesis is what I do. Most of you can't read Greek. I could give you a Greek Bible and you would have no idea what it says. You need me to put those Greek words into English. Likewise Jesus puts into human terms, into flesh and blood all the fullness of the Godhead. We would've no idea who God is, what He does, or why He does it if not for Jesus. That's why Jesus says, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father."
It's a serious misconception to place the Son of God below God the Father. To avoid this, it's helpful to speak not of the Son of God but of God the Son. This reminds us that when we speak of Jesus as the Son of God we're not referring to His birth on Christmas. Jesus is God the Son from all eternity. There never has been a time when God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost did not exist. And always this Godhead has made itself known only through the Son.
These things aren't mere scholarly minutiae. They're the essence of the true faith. Realizing that Christmas is not the "birth" of the Son of God but the revelation of God in flesh and blood, frees you from doing your religious thinking from above. That's what most of you do. You try to climb into heaven with your reason and thoughts. You try to know what God in heaven knows. Questions occur in your life and you climb up to heaven with them seeking answers from God. Christmas frees your from this useless, dangerous exercise.
Let me illustrate: Scientists are interested in Jupiter. They point telescopes, send probes, and will one day risk men's lives to find out about it. What if one day a piece of Jupiter fell into NASA headquarters? But you still don't get the wonder of God the Son becoming man, until you picture all of the planet Jupiter plopping down in the midst of NASA. You say, "But that's impossible. Jupiter is too big to land on earth." Now do you see what a miracle Christmas is?
Once Jupiter landed on earth scientists could crawl all over it, handle it, touch it, taste it even. At last they would really know Jupiter. So God can only be known in Jesus. St. John says in his first epistle that in Jesus they heard God speak with their ears; they saw God with their own eyes; and their own hands handled Him. And of course they tasted Him too. The disciples were the first to eat and drink the body and blood of God in the Lord's Supper.
Christmas frees you from trying to climb into heaven by reason, by feelings, or even by some sort of leap of faith. God plops Himself into your lap today. But that can bother you if you're laboring under the serious misconception that Christmas is Law. In reality, it's Gospel. There's not one drop of law in God the Son stepping into our flesh and blood. But people put law here. They picture Jesus as a new lawgiver. He came to tell us to repent, to change our ways, to believe in Him. His coming means we have to do something. The ball is in our court. He's waiting on us now. These are misconceptions about this conception.
The "law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." says. John. If you're looking for laws, if you're looking for what you have to do, go someplace other than the manger. But that disappoints some of you. You want your life to change; you want to be different; you want to be a better Christian. Jesus, as Moses does, could tell you how to change saying, "Do this; do that." But there would always be an "if" like there is with Moses. If you do this and that, you will change, you will be different, you will be a better Christian.
If that's the message of God in the manger, than God might as well as have stayed in heaven! We already know that if we did this or that, things would be better, different, changed. But we can't do it. So God came down on Christmas and said, "It's done." That's why the angel could come to the shepherds and say, "I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people."
Think about it. These shepherds were sinners. Some of them drank or ate too much at times. Some of them had lustful thoughts. 1 or 2 of them were probably divorced or shacking up. 1 of them could've been a homosexual. Even if you disagree with my view of the shepherds, you must agree that among "all people" the angel says the joy is for there were some terrible sinners. Yet the "good tidings" which is King James for the word "Gospel" is a great joy to all people bar none.
Jesus did not come to burden you with more laws; you can't do the laws Moses gave to you, so what good would it do to give you more? No Jesus came to declare to all people (it is finished.( That means we can say to anyone what the angels did to the shepherds: "I bring you good tidings of great joy; Jesus Christ has come to keep all those laws you've broken and pay for your breaking them too!"
"But, but, don't people have to stop lusting, divorcing, and shacking up first?" Is that what the angel said? No, he proclaims the glad tiding, the Gospel. Changes in life follow the Gospel; they don't precede it. Don't confuse the results of the Gospel with the Gospel itself. Don't focus on the changes Christmas creates; focus on Christmas, and the changes will be created?
There's not one Word of Law in Christmas. God is on the scene in flesh and blood today to carry your sins. I don't want to hear any "I gotta do that" or "I have to do this" today. I don't want to see you rooting through what a terrible person you are, how much you doubt, how weak you are. Who cares? Did the angel come to the shepherds and say, "I bring you the Gospel of great joy if you're not that bad, if you don't have too many doubts, if you have strong faith?"
Do you get it? It is a most serious misconception to think of today as the day God comes on the scene saying, "Repent of this, do that, or believe this." No, today's the day God steps out of the womb revealing Himself in our flesh and blood and says, "Here, let Me do that for you." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Feast of the Nativity (20051225); John 1: 1-18