Text: John 1:1-18
Christmas Day is the highpoint of the Church’s celebration of Christ’s birth. As such, it is fitting that we read St. John’s account of his birth on this day, for this account goes beyond just the telling of the story. This account puts the story into its greater context.
John’s awe-inspiring account, in a few short sentences, tells how the eternal Christ—who is one with God, and is the Word of God and the Son of God—took on human flesh and lived among us.
If the other Gospels give us a fuller picture of Jesus’ humanity, John gives us a fuller picture of his divinity.
If the other Gospels pull at our hearts with their mention of angels, shepherds and wondering parents, John challenges our brains as we are led to ponder the great mysteries of God.
This year as we read John’s account and ponder its message, we also do so in light of our chosen theme at St. Paul’s. That theme is joy.
The text of John’s account may not use the word “joy,” but it certainly gives messages which are joyful.
For instance, the text tells us that the One who dwelled among us brought light—such light that the darkness cannot overcome it.
It tells us that those who receive him have been given the right to become children of God.
It tells us that those who receive him have seen his glory.
It tells us that from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.
It tells us that not only have we received grace, but we have also received truth.
These are messages which bring us great joy – or at least should. For in Jesus Christ we are receiving abundant gifts!
John mentions Jesus’ fullness, from which, as he says, we have all received grace upon grace. This idea of fullness also shows up in a later teaching of Jesus.
In chapter 15 he says: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Out of his fullness, Jesus fills us. He fills us with his messages of grace, that we may be filled with joy.
There are a lot of things in life that can bring joy, but only the messages of Jesus bring full joy.
Jesus brings full joy because he brings us salvation. And, Jesus brings full joy because his joy fills the world.
Many years before Jesus was born, the Spirit led the people of Israel to express their joy in the Psalms. One of them, Psalm 98, says: “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”
This verse, and the entire Psalm, echo well the message of Christmas.
The connection between this Psalm and Christmas is wonderfully made for us in the great hymn “Joy to the World.”
“Joy to the World” was written by the great British hymn-writer Isaac Watts. Before Watts came along, most of the singing in British churches was limited to the Psalm texts themselves. Watts, like those Lutherans on the Continent, wanted to express his ideas more freely in the form of hymns.
This view was considered by many to be dangerous. When Watts started writing hymns, one of his primary opponents liked to call his creations “whims” not “hymns.”
But freedom was not Watts’ main concern. What he really wanted to do was to expound on the Messianic messages in the Psalms. He loved the Psalms and wanted to express how they should be understood now that Christ has been revealed.
“Joy to the World” is Watts’ Christian interpretation of Psalm 98. Its title and opening line come from the verse: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!”
In the hymn, Watts unpacks the reason for our joy. He echoes well the message of the Psalm—joy comes from knowing our salvation. He understands its key verse: “The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.”
In reading through the Psalm itself, one might be led to think that the salvation mentioned here is of a very general sort, so that the Psalm could be used to give praise for any kind of salvation we might experience.
But the Psalm concludes by talking about God’s future judgement. It says: “For he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”
Israel was joyful because it knew that God would save them from this future judgement.
What Israel didn’t know was how God was going to accomplish his salvation. They could describe it as coming from “his right hand and his holy arm,” but no more specifically than that.
And yet this description proved to be more apt than the people no doubt realized.
In the birth of Jesus, God was coming to earth himself, in a seemingly partial, and yet thoroughly powerful way.
The One who can be said to be seated at the right hand of the throne of God was coming to save his people.
This Psalm is just one among many Old Testament scriptures that give us a picture of the promised Messiah. While some speak to the Messiah’s suffering, and others speak to the Messiah’s teaching, this one refers to his bringing of salvation. As such, it erupts in expressions of joy.
The joy brought by the Messiah is too great to be kept to one’s self. It must be shared. It must be expressed in concert with others.
The Psalm urges instruments of praise to be used—such as lyre and trumpet and voice.
It tells us that the joy is so great, heaven and nature must sing!
Sin and sorrow will still be a part of life this side of heaven. But our salvation from them is secure.
Our task now is to watch that sin and sorrow do not grow. When we see a thorn, let us remove it so that it does not infest the ground.
When the thorn can’t be removed, and the ground’s curse seems too much for us, let us take special note of how God’s blessings flow.
Be reminded that God saves. He has sent Jesus to be our Savior. He saves us from sin. And he saves us from sorrow.
God has given us His Word. He has sent His Son. From the fullness of Christ, we have all received grace upon grace.
May this saving grace of our Lord Jesus fill you, with joy, both now and always. Amen.
(Preached, with translation, at our Bi-Lingual service)