The Mystery of Christmas

St. John 1:1-14

by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse

Christmas 2007

The job of the preacher isn’t to explain everything in the Bible so that you understand it all, but instead to explain to you what the Bible says. Much of what the Bible says doesn’t make sense to us because we aren’t able to understand it. Our minds are small, limited, bound by the limits of creation. The Bible is the revelation of God, One who is immense, unlimited, the unbounded creator.

The preacher isn’t the representative of the people whose responsibility it is to make everything clear to the people. He is the representative of God whose responsibility it is to tell you about God. It doesn’t really matter whether you understand or not. It only matters that you believe what God says.

In the Bible mysteries are not things no one knows; things no one has any experience of. Mysteries are rather those things we would have no knowledge of unless God is pleased to tell us about, but even when he tells us they are far beyond our ability to comprehend.

It is my responsibility as the preacher to tell you that the Bible teaches that on the night we call Christmas the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity—another doctrine we cannot comprehend—took on human flesh, and was both fully God and fully man. Words can never explain how this can be, and our minds can never completely understand what this means. My responsibility is not to explain it to you, in the sense of explaining away the mystery, but to tell you that this is something God has revealed to us as true, that we have the privilege of believing for our salvation, but that to us as creatures will forever remain incomprehensible.

God in human flesh. The boundless God, limited by the bonds of human flesh to be in more than one place or one time at once. But that is what God says, and that is our salvation to believe.

I am here to tell you about something that is beyond all of us to understand, and we are misguided if our primary attempt is to understand rather than simply to believe and to worship.

My experience as a child is the same as my experience now. My earliest recollection as a child was sitting in the kitchen with my mother as she taught me to memorize John 1:1—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 nothing was made that was made. In him was the life of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. The meaning was a mystery then, and I am not sure I understand it any better now. But I do believe and rejoice in the truth of it.

This is the greatest of all mysteries. All others—walking on water, raising the dead, feeding five thousand, cleansing lepers—all pale into nothing before this one. If it is true that God is so great as to overcome all the God-created barriers of time and space so that the infinite God could take on all the limitations of human flesh, and still be fully God without making the human person less than human, then nothing is beyond the power and ability of God. Human words written in a book can certainly be the very Word of God without error, and hell-deserving sinners can find themselves at last enjoying the pleasures of heaven forevermore.

We draw near to the stable of Bethlehem. We look over the side of the manger and see a baby like any other baby. But this baby is the eternal God come for our salvation. How it can be I do not know, but know it I do.

The existence of all the world hangs on the mystery of this night, as does the existence of your soul. Since God has humbled himself to a manger, let us bow before him in worship with the angels, shepherds, and wise men.