“Watershed Moments: Jesus’ Birth and Our Own”
(John 1:1-18; Titus 3:4-7)
Today is Christmas Day. This is the day for celebrating the greatest birth in the history of the world, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The birth of Christ marks the watershed moment in all of human history. By a “watershed moment,” I mean a moment so significant that it marks a division between what went before and what comes after. And so it is with the birth of Christ. We even divide up time according to it: “B.C.,” “Before Christ,” and “A.D.,” “Anno Domini,” “In the Year of the Lord” such-and-such, that is, it’s been so many years since our Lord’s birth.
But besides being a day to celebrate our Lord’s birth, today is also a day for celebrating another birth–your own. And by that I mean your rebirth, your second birth, as a child of God. That is the watershed moment in your life, in your own personal history, the day when you were born again, born from above, in the waters of Holy Baptism. And our readings today speak of both of these momentous occasions: “Watershed Moments: Jesus’ Birth and Our Own.”
First and foremost, today we hear of the birth of Christ. This is expressed in the most awesome way in the Holy Gospel from John chapter 1. This is John’s prologue, the opening of his entire gospel, and he opens it in a way that recalls the Creation account from Genesis 1. John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
This one called “the Word,” or in Greek, “the Logos”–this is one who is divine in his very nature, and yet at the same time is in a face-to-face relationship with God. This one called the Word–he is there in the beginning when the world was created, he is active and involved in the work of creation. This one called the Word–he is the source of life itself, he gives life and light to men. What John is expressing here is a description of the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity–in the words of the Nicene Creed, “begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” For the Son of God is the one “by whom all things were made.”
And then–mystery of mysteries!–this same Son of God, the Word, the Logos, took on human flesh and was born as a little child at Christmas. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is the incarnation of Christ, the enfleshment of the Son of God. Again, the Creed puts it in unmistakable terms: “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” No greater wonder has ever happened. No greater gift has ever come our way.
We must pause and consider the magnitude of this statement: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” All the divine power and glory, all of God’s wisdom and mercy, has come in our midst in the person of this little baby, born on Christmas Day. God in the flesh, right here in our midst.
It says he “dwelt among us.” The word here for “dwelt” is the same word as used for the Old Testament tabernacle, the tent that was pitched in the middle of the children of Israel as they made their way to the Promised Land. The tabernacle was the place where the Lord dwelt in the midst of his people, in order to guide and guard them, in order to forgive their sins and defeat their enemies. It is the place where the Lord would speak his word to his people. And so when our text says that Jesus dwelt among us–literally, “tabernacled” among us–it’s saying that this is what the birth of Jesus is like for us. The Word made flesh comes into our midst to guard us, to guide us, to forgive our sins, to defeat our foes, and to give our lives direction and purpose, as we make our way to the Promised Land of heaven.
So the birth of Jesus has all this significance. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus makes God known to us. We would not know God aright otherwise. All we could say is that there must be a god up there somewhere–you’d have to be a fool not to realize that much. But even so, you would still be groping around in the dark, not knowing who this god is. You would not know how this god or gods, some distant higher power, is disposed toward you or how you can get right with him, or them. That would be your state, if Christ had not come in the flesh. But Christ has come in the flesh, and so we now do know God. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
What do we know about God? We know that he loved us enough to send his own Son into this sin-darkened world to save us. That we know. And we know how he did it. By coming in the flesh, as our brother, in order that he could fulfill the law on our behalf, thus attaining the righteousness that God requires, and in order that he could die in our place, taking the punishment that we deserve, thus satisfying God’s justice and lifting the burden from us. Marvelous! Brilliant! And this redemptive, saving plan of God moved into action when Christ came in the flesh to be our Savior. What a great and mighty wonder is the birth of Christ! A real watershed moment in history, no doubt.
But then comes the watershed moment in our own personal life, and that would be the day of our baptism. That day marks the dividing line between our old life, which can only end in death, and our new life, which is found in Christ and which lasts forever. Your baptism was, is, that defining day. Our text in John speaks of that birth, that new birth, as well: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Born of God. That’s who we are as baptized believers in Christ. We did not come into this new life by way of our ancestry. We did not choose to be born, as though it were our will, our decision, that did it. No. God is the one who chose to give us new birth. It’s his decision, not ours. When God the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts to believe in the name of Christ, to trust in him, this is how we become the children of God. This is the new birth, our second birth, and it is sealed in Holy Baptism.
Jesus speaks of the new birth a couple of chapters later in John’s gospel. In John chapter 3: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And then Jesus defines what he means by being born again: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Born of water and the Spirit–that’s what happens in Baptism. You are born again, born from above, by the power of God. Your first birth won’t get you anywhere but the grave. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” You need a second birth, a spiritual rebirth, to enter God’s kingdom.
The Epistle today from Titus likewise speaks of this spiritual rebirth that God gives us: “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” The washing of regeneration, that is to say, the washing of rebirth–this is the same baptismal bath and birth that Jesus speaks of when he says “born of water and the Spirit.” And it is the same spiritual rebirth spoken of in John 1, where it says, “born of God.”
So two births we are celebrating today! First of all, the birth of Christ our Savior, the Word made flesh, who dwells in our midst to save us and to lead us to heaven. And because of his birth–and life, and sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection–because of Jesus’ birth, we come into a new birth of our own, entering into our life as the children of God.
These are two watershed moments, the birth of Christ at Christmas and our own new birth in Holy Baptism. Watershed moments: They mark the passing of the old, fading behind us in the rear-view mirror, and the presence of the new, the future opening up before us, bright and full of hope. Today on Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ, “born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them”–to give us–“second birth.” So two births: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and “the children of God, born of God.” Truly it has been said: The Son of God became man, so that the sons of men could become the children of God. It is through Christmas, the birth of God’s Son in the flesh, that we come into our own new birth as the baptized children of God.