A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Christmas 1 – He Has Made Him Known

Rev. Doug Floyd

Christmas 1, 2023
Rev. Doug Floyd
John 1:1-18

“No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”[1]

Merry Christmas! We are seven days into to our Christmas feast. Today we hear both the anguish of human history and the hope of the Gospel in this short verse. Consider the first part of the verse: No one has ever seen God.

Hear we revisit the great curse of Eden. Man walked with God in the garden. The sin of Adam and Eve resulted in banishment from the Garden. From now on, humans would worship God from afar. What we see in the subsequent history of the world is the degradation of worship and the breakdown in human relations.

We see it almost instantly. There is a dispute over the offerings made to God, and Cain ends up killing Abel. The blood of Abel cries out from the ground. The intimate knowledge of God has been lost. No one has ever seen God. The degraded humanity that tries to grasp at God, control God, use God for our purposes.

First we might clarify that even the word God is a problem. For many this is an image of some power that can be utilized. It is not relational. The nations turn to little g gods, but the word means something entirely different. They are looking to powers that can make sure their crops grow, their lives prosper.

The breakdown in knowledge of God impacted everything: all human relations, human engagement with creation, and human interaction with the divine. Athanasius reminds that sin corrupts. If not for the grace of God, sin would keep corrupting all things and all people.

No one has ever seen God.

This blindness to the Creator is spelled out in Romans 1.

22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.[2]

We have been so enriched by the Gospel; it is difficult to see back into a world before the Gospel. Of course, we can look about our world today and see where sin and death prevail. It is dark and hopeless. If you’ve read Lord of the Rings, this is Mordor. A dark and terrifying land that lives in service to the evil one Sauron.

A few years back there was a film called Winter’s Bone. In the film Ree Dolly is a 17-year-old seeking to care for her younger siblings. Her father has disappeared, and her mother is too sickly to care for the family. As Ree seeks for help, she unravels the mystery of her father’s death. He was killed by his own family. The whole family is broken down due to making and selling meth.

It is a hopeless world. The family ends up beating the girl and threatening to kill her. Every relation is coming apart. There is no light of love. At one point in the film, Ree discovers photo albums from her parents’ childhood. What she sees are happy normal pictures. There was a time of life and joy and innocence. But now the cloud of meth and corrupted the family and stolen all hope and joy.

This is the world outside the knowledge of God. This is the world where Jesus is born. He is born in enemy territory.

No one has ever seen God.

Now we come to the second half of the verse. “The only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” First, we might need to clarify the language of this second half of the verse. It is clearly speaking of someone other than the Father, yet it uses the phrase “The only God.” If we look back at verse 14, we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[3]

Specifically we read, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” This is the glory of the only Son. In verse 18, we read the words, “the only God who is at the Father’s side.” This is speaking of the “only Son.” The only Son is at the Father’s side.

Now we know that God the Father is without form. He is Spirit, so we cannot properly say that He has a side. This metaphor “who is at the Father’s side” point to an older metaphor, “who is from the Father’s bosom.” It indicates intimacy. The only Son who knows the Father intimately has made the Father known.

A world without knowledge of God is dark and hopeless. Our Gospel today tells us that the only Son has made Him known. There is no hidden, angry God behind Jesus. If we want to see the Father, we look to the Son. And what we see surprises us.

Jesus reveals the beauty and the glory and the love of His Father. Every aspect of Jesus life is revealing the Father. He is born into a family. Traditionally, the Sunday after Christmas proper is Holy Family Sunday. The emphasis is upon Jesus being born into a family. God is blessing the family and revealing that He works in and through relationships.

The Gospel reading for today is often the story of an angel appearing to Joseph and telling him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him. Jesus is revealing the Father. In this little story, we see the contrast between human power and God.

Herod is coming to destroy all the children that threaten him. He is exerting what appears to be real power because he can have the children of Bethlehem slaughtered. Yet that power is fading and corrupt. It destroys but has no life. We still see this kind of power at work in our world today.

In the escape of Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus, we see the unthinkable. The very God of very God makes himself vulnerable and dependent on human relations. How can this be?

This should be a sign of what is to come. It is pointing to the cross. Much of the artwork we see in early Nativities has the shadow of the cross hanging over it. Often, the baby Jesus is wrapped like a mummy in a coffin. These images are pointing to the cross.

While every aspect of the life of Jesus is revealing the Father, the cross is the fullest revelation. Jesus calls it “His glory.” In the cross, we see the Father revealed. He is completely vulnerable in the land that has turned against Him.

Listen to Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s description of the cross:

No fighter is more divine than the one who can achieve victory through defeat. In the instant when he receives the deadly wound, his opponent falls to the ground, himself struck a final blow. For he [the enemy] strikes love and is thus himself struck by love. And by letting itself be struck, love proves what had to be proven: that it is indeed love. Once struck, the hate-filled opponent recognizes his boundaries and understands behave as he pleases, nevertheless he is bounded on every side by a love that is greater than he. Everything he may fling at love—insults, indifference, contempt, scornful derision, murderous silence, demonic slander—all of it can ever but prove love’s superiority; and the blacker the night, the more radiant does love shine.[4]

Today we celebrate that Jesus has made the Father known. He has revealed the heights and depths and breadth of the love of God. This love is unfathomable. We live and move and dwell in the riches of God’s love in Christ. In and through Him, this world of woe is being transformed to the kingdom of our God.

Let me end with a return to Von Balthasar’s Heart of the World.

God’s Word saw that his descent could entail nothing but his own death and ruination—that his light must sink down into the gloom—he accepted the battle and the declaration of war. And he devised the unfathomable ruse: he would plunge, like Jonas into the monster’s belly and thus penetrate death’s innermost lair; he would experience the farthest dungeon of sin’s mania and drink the cup down to the dregs; he would offer his brow to man’s incalculable craze for power and violence; in his own futile mission, he would demonstrate the futility of the world; in his impotent obedience to the Father, he would visibly show the impotence of revolt; through his own weakness unto death he would bring to light the deathly weakness of such a despairing resistance to God; he would let the world do its will and thereby accomplish the will of the Father; he would grant the world its will, thereby breaking the world’s will; he would allow his own vessel to be shattered, thereby pouring himself out; by pouring out one single drop of the divine Heart’s blood he would sweeten the immense and bitter ocean. This was intended to be the most incomprehensible of exchanges: from the most extreme opposition would come the highest union, and the might of his supreme victory was to prove itself in his utter disgrace and defeat. For his weakness would already be the victory of his love for the Father, and as a deed of his supreme strength, this weakness would far surpass and sustain in itself the world’s pitiful feebleness. He alone would henceforth be the measure and thus also the meaning of all impotence. He wanted to sink to low that in the future all falling would be a falling into him, and every streamlet of bitterness and despair would henceforth run down into his lowermost abyss.[5]

Merry Christmas.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 1:18.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 1:22–32.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 1:14.

[4] Balthasar, Hans Urs Von, The Heart of the World, Ignatius Press, 1980: pp. 43-44.

[5] Ibid.

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