We Have Seen His Glory: An Advent Sermon
Well, church, we have made it to the end of another year. Many of you, like me, may feel like you are crawling past 2021’s finish line rather than gracefully bounding across it like you had hoped. You may find yourselves weary. I pray that this Advent season refreshes you with the promised hope of the Light of this world. We have a great opportunity to reorient our hearts and minds toward heavenly realities with this part of our liturgical calendar. And yet, when I think about what I—imperfect man that I am—have to offer of my own resources to prepare a sober, edifying, hope-filled Advent sermon, I come up empty. Your pastors have nothing of their own resources worth mentioning to offer you this morning, or any other morning.
But as my estimation of my own weak and unworthy contribution decreases, my confidence in Christ remains unshaken. Indeed, my estimation of him—and his glory and worth and loveliness—increases with direct proportion to my despair of my own worth apart from him. He must increase, we must decrease. Your pastors cannot do much, brothers and sisters, but we can call your attention to the excellencies of One who can do much! We are worthy of no worship, but we can direct you to the one deserving of all worship! We will fail you, but we can say with absolute certainty that Jesus Christ is safe: he will never fail you, he will never forsake you. His treatment of his flock is firm and authoritative and gentle and wise, never-failing and always and in every respect good. We can call your attention to him. We will never find ourselves in an activity more worthwhile than getting an eyeful of the glory of Christ. I long to be nothing more than a pointer, to harken your attention to the excellencies of Christ in this sermon. In verse 14 of our text, John writes, “We have seen his glory.” That is all I want you to do this morning. I want you to see his glory in seven respects.
See the Glory of His Timeless Eternity
In the beginning was the Word (Jn. 1:1a).
The Word—whom John reveals in this prologue to be Jesus Christ himself—did not originate with the beginning. The Word—this Word, the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity—existed already in the beginning. Outside of time and space, outside the limitations of finitude and creaturely existence, was the Word. His existence transcends the beginning. His existence has no beginning. Back of the beginning—behind it, outside of it, never affected by it—the Word was. He does not come to be. The “now” he occupies is the timelessly eternal now. He does not exist within a moment; all moments exist within his will. He does not exist within a space; all space exists within his will.He does not change, not because he is lifeless, but because his life is so fully and purely active that he cannot be more than he is. Click To Tweet
Brothers and sisters, do you see the glory of his timeless eternity? It is an incomprehensible glory, a glory we don’t even have language for. We come to the very limitations of speech when we describe the “when” of this Word. He is the one who was, is, and is to come. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not change—he always is. And this does not mean he is static or immobile, as if change were required for him to have life. No, brothers and sisters, his life is limitlessly active now. He does not change, not because he is lifeless, but because his life is so fully and purely active that he cannot be more than he is. The theologian Geerhardus Vos described God’s eternity as “That attribute of God whereby He is exalted above all limitations of time and all succession of time, and in a single indivisible present possesses the content of His life perfectly (and as such is the cause of time).” In the beginning was the Word. See, brothers and sisters, behold and adore the glory of his timeless eternity.
See the Glory of His Co-Equal Majesty with the Father
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God (Jn. 1:1-2).
If you find yourself scratching your head at the grammar of this verse, then John’s mission is accomplished. It is supposed to stop us in our tracks. Do not shrink back from the linguistic tangle that is this passage, brothers and sisters: the confusing grammar is intended to teach us something. With pitiful, limited, time-and-space-bound creature-words, we are using the finite to grasp at and paw after the infinite. In the Beginning, this Word was. In the beginning this Word was with God. And in the beginning this Word was God. There is unity here. All that is divine, this Word is! His nature is the nature of the one, undivided, simple essence of God. To be the Son is to be the one and only God. And yet, distinction (without separation) is also posited here. The Word is God, and yet, the Word is with God (that is, with God the Father). He is God, and He is God with God.
See the glory of his authoritative, co-equal majesty with the Father, brothers and sisters. See it, adore, worship this majestic Son, and let the mystery of this truth flatten you in humble reverence. You cannot comprehend his majesty in an exhaustive way, but not because he is less than comprehensible, but rather because he is infinitely more. We reverently confess with the Athanasian Creed that “We worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal…” This same creed goes on to confess that “the Father is Almighty, the Son is Almighty, the Holy Spirit is Almighty. Yet there are not three Almighty beings; there is but one Almighty being.” “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” See the glory of the Son’s authoritative, co-equal majesty with the Father.
See the Glory of His Creative Work
All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made (Jn. 1:3).
If we had any doubts that John was impressing on our minds the Son’s divine nature, they are laid to rest right here. For here we see the Son credited for that for which only God is to be praised: the creation of all things. By beginning his gospel with the words, “In the beginning,” John harkens us back to the opening words of Genesis: “In the beginning God” (Gen. 1:1). And there, in the opening salvo of Scripture itself, we read about the all-powerful effortless majesty of Yahweh to create out of nothing everything. We call this doctrine creatio ex nihilo—creation out of nothing. This kind of creation is altogether different than any kind you and I have a say in. We create, but we create always out of that which exists already. We create houses out of timber and drywall and cement. We create illustrations out of paint and canvas. Even people, on the physical dimension, are made out of the reproductive contributions from a man and a woman: the seed and the egg. But in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing. His speech brought into existence all that exists. He spoke time and space into being. And John tells us that the Word was there. When Yahweh spread the cosmos out like a canvas and flung the stars and planets into being with the breath of his mouth like bright white flecks of paint on the backdrop of a created blackness, the Son was there. That was him bringing all of that everything out of nothing. The Father’s creative Speech is a Who—the Word. All things are always from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. Let us not imagine the creation of the cosmos is to be credited to one person, as if the operations of our Triune God were separable. When the works of creation are praised, it is the Son—with the Father and the Spirit—who is honored. This is why, when we confess with the Nicene Creed, we declare in unison, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God… By whom all things were made.”All things are always from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. Click To Tweet
Nothing, that exists, exists apart from the Son. He brought it all into existence and he providentially sustains it even still. To be creation, in other words, is to be the craftsmanship of the Word—to bear his signature. Your heart continues to pump blood throughout your entire body because Jesus Christ tells it to do so. The chair you are sitting on continues to hold your weight because Jesus tells those atoms to hold together. He is keeping the molecular structure of this pulpit together. He is directing coffee as it makes its way through your stomach to your bladder. He is making sure that your eyelids continue to blink and moisturize your eyeballs. The early church Father, John Chrysostom, put it like this, “Not only did He Himself bring them out of nothing into being, but Himself sustains them now, so that were they dissevered from His Providence, they were at once undone and destroyed.” If he stops speaking, the universe falls apart. Oh, would that we all be amazed by Christ’s creative agency! See the glory of his creative work.
See the Glory of His Divine Life
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (Jn. 1:4-5).
“In him was life.” Contrast this use of the word “life” with the creation of man in Genesis 2:7, where we read, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” The man became a living creature when the breath of life was breathed into him. Before he received this breath, he was but a pile of dust, but after, he was a living creature, endowed with the image and likeness of God. This is not so with the Son; he never became alive. In him was—before and outside of time and space—life. Life itself! The divine life. The overflowing lively life of the eternal God was in the Son. And this life is the light that enlivens and enlightens everything that exists.
We get our life from his life. Brothers and sisters, dwell on this remarkable fact: all our life exists by derivation. It depends on God. Our life is contingent, attended to ultimately by nothing but the providential grace of God. But the Word’s life is independent. The theological term for this is aseity—his life is a se, or “of himself.” It does not depend on anyone or anything. It is an overflowing plentitude of maximally burning vitality! His life is the life of the Triune God, which flows eternally in a pure now, as the Father begetting the Son and the Father and Son breathing out the Spirit.His life is the life of the Triune God, which flows eternally in a pure now, as the Father begetting the Son and the Father and Son breathing out the Spirit. Click To Tweet
This reminds us of that crucial doctrine we dare not forget: eternal generation. We find this doctrine in passages like John 5:26, where Jesus says, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” This is why we confess with the Nicene Creed to believe in “one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all the worlds, Light from Light, Very God from Very God.” He is God from God. His life is Life from Life.
Again, we are groping after eternal things with limited words here. We do not attempt to comprehend an incomprehensible reality. We do not attempt to explain this doctrine, as if to explain it away, rather, we want to preserve the mystery of God’s Triune life with language that is fitting and worshipful. Therefore, we confess with the great tradition of saints who have gone before us that the Son is eternally begotten from the Father. What does this mean? Well, on the one hand, because he is begotten he is what the Father is. Since the Father is God, he is God. And yet, because his generation is eternal, his reception of life never begun; it is timeless. He is the eternal Son of the eternal Father (Jn. 3:16); he is the eternal Word of the eternal Speaker (Jn. 1:1-2); he is the eternal Wisdom and Power of the eternal King (1 Cor. 1:24); he is the eternal Radiance of the eternal Glory (Heb. 1:3); he is the eternal Image of the eternal God (Col. 1:15). The Father was never without his Son, the divine King was never without his Wisdom and Power, the Glory was never without his Radiance—the Son is God with God. With all these biblical pictures, we reach at a divine mystery that is beyond our comprehension but not beyond our worship. He is blissful in the timeless eternity of his own divine life, and we worship him as he invites us into that blessedness. See, brothers and sisters, the glory of his divine life.
See the Glory of His Condescension
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him… 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 (Jn. 1:9-11, 14).
Behold the glory of his condescension, brothers and sisters! This Light of the world came into the world. By the miracle of the Holy Spirit, he was conceived in the Virgin Mary. He was made like us in every respect, yet without sin. Whatever it is to be a human, therefore, Jesus is. He, this glorious Second Person of the Trinity, came to us in humility.Whatever it is to be a human, therefore, Jesus is. He, this glorious Second Person of the Trinity, came to us in humility. Click To Tweet
Behold the scandal of the incarnation. Behold the lowliness! He was not incarnate in the womb of royalty. He was incarnate in the womb of a teen-mom from a hick town that no one thought much of. If Mary was not despised before her conception of Christ, she certainly was after it (no matter how primitive moderns may insist ancient Palestinians were, we must not be so patronizing as to think they did not know that virgins do not get pregnant. Can you imagine the talk from the neighbors? “There goes Mary, the unwed pregnant teen from Nazareth—can anything good come from Nazareth?”). See the lowly manner of the incarnation persist: God Almighty sent his angelic hosts as heralds not to the nobility of this world, but to lower-class shepherds. Even if they were to run through the streets of Jerusalem announcing the good news, no one would listen to them. Contemplate this humbling thought, friends: the first air that the newborn Jesus breathed in with his own nostrils and lungs was filled with the stench of animal dung, and this dung-scented air was a sign of more things to come. Jesus did not live a life of luxury. He was a vagabond—the birds of the air have their nests and foxes have their holes, but according to Jesus, the Son of Man had no place to rest his head. He would associate with terrorists and prostitutes and poor fishermen and tax collectors. He would keep company with the unmentionable. And, wonder of wonders, would accomplish his saving work to defeat Satan, sin, and death, not in some impressive display of grandiose power, but rather by dying a shameful death. Roman crucifixion. Naked and dishonored.
What does this mean for us, friends? It means we have a high priest who can sympathize with our weakness! It means we are never too far gone—too low, too despised, too dishonorable—to receive the saving work of this Christ. The Infinite one became a finite infant. He came low, brothers and sisters, he came so low that he can now fetch the lowest of the low. He came in humble birth, which means no one is beyond the saving grace of this Savior.He became flesh and dwelt among us without leaving any of his glory behind. Click To Tweet
And yet, we must not move on too hastily. Let us continue to marvel for a bit longer on the glory of his condescension. For as he descended, he left behind none of his glory. He brought all his glory with him in that lowly form! He became flesh and dwelt among us without leaving any of his glory behind. How do we know that he retains the majesty of his glory? Because, we say with John, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” He could not show us the Father’s glory if he had abandoned it, could he? And yet, in this grand mystery, he could nevertheless forfeit not his glory while also truly becoming a man. He could become a man without changing or shifting in his majesty.
Think for a moment about everything we have seen until now. We have seen the glory of his timeless eternity (the fact that he exists as the timelessly eternal one—never changing or diminishing). We have seen the glory of his co-eternal majesty with the Father. We have seen the glory of his creative work, and the glory of his divine life. Now, the question is, were all of those glorious realities still true for him when he walked this earth two thousand years ago? If, for example, creation owes its continued existence to the providential hold of the divine Son, then who held creation in existence while the divine Son was enfleshed on this earth? The answer is, the self-same divine Son!
You see, when the Son assumed a human nature, he did not leave behind his divine nature (as if such a nature could be “left behind”). The eternal Son of God whom we worship dwelt and tabernacled on this earth, yes; he assumed a human nature, but he was not circumscribed by his human nature. The Second Person of the Trinity was no less than an infant on that first Christmas morning, but he was most assuredly more. This is why the fifth-century Chalcedonian Statement on Christ includes these crucial claims: “We confess one and the Same Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; coessential with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood…” it goes on to say, “begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and four our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”
So, when we ask the question, “Who died on the cross?” The answer is “the Son of God.” And, when we ask the question, “Who is eternal in his perfect, unchanging life?” The answer is “the Son of God.” When we ask, “Who changed and grew throughout his life as a human?” We may answer, “the Son of God.” And when we ask, “Who remains immutable and unchangeable?” We answer, “the Son of God.” This is what we worshipfully extol when we confess the hypostatic union: one person, in two natures. He—the Son—died in his human nature, and he—the same Son—remains timelessly eternal in his divine nature. He changed as a man, even while he remained unchangeable and outside of time as God.
Listen to the way John Calvin communicates this marvelous point: “The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven, yet without abandoning heaven; was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb, to live on the earth, and hang upon the cross, and yet always filled the world as from the beginning.” Christ exceeds. See, brothers and sisters, the glory of his condescension.
See the Glory of His Revelation
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (Jn. 1:14, 18).
Because the Son did not leave his glory behind when he was incarnate, he is able to translate divine glory into flesh and bones. He reveals to us the glory of our Triune God, translating incomprehensible and infinite splendor into comprehensible and finite form. The fourth-century Church father Athanasius makes this point brilliantly:God, recognizing our inability to lift our gaze up from the created order to heaven, came from heaven to the created order to stand at our eye level. Click To Tweet
For since human beings, having rejected the contemplation of God and as though sunk in an abyss with their eyes held downwards, seeking God in creation and things perceptible, setting up for themselves mortal humans and demons as gods, for this reason the lover of human beings and the common Savior of all, takes to himself a body and dwells as human among humans and draws to himself the perceptible senses of all human beings, so that those who think that God is in things [physical] might, from what the Lord wrought through the actions of the body, know the truth and through him might consider the Father.
What is Athanasius saying here? He is saying that God, recognizing our inability to lift our gaze up from the created order to heaven, came from heaven to the created order to stand at our eye level. He is saying, “Since human beings could not seem to stop worshiping creation instead of the Creator, the Creator—without ceasing to be Creator—became a creature to accommodate their limitations!” This is what I do when I need to get my sons’ attention while they are preoccupied with making a mess all over the floor or throwing a tantrum: I drop down to my knee. I stoop to bring myself to their eye level.
That is what God does for us in the incarnation: he stoops and makes himself available. In this way, he becomes intelligible enough for us to worship him. In the person of Jesus, we have access to the God who dwells in inaccessible light. In Jesus, we approach the unapproachable. See the glory of his revelation.
See the Glory of His Salvation
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. 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… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:12-14, 16-17).
It was not for his own sake that the Son of God became a man to live and die and rise again. All this was for us, and for our salvation. In his incarnation, Christ assumed a human nature for us, not only so that he could represent God to us—revealing for us the incomprehensible majesty of God—but also so that he could represent us to God. He came as the Second Adam to succeed where the first Adam failed. He came to offer an atonement for our sin. He came to achieve a perfect and sinless obedience that he might impute to us who come to him by faith and faith alone. He came as a human, to pay a human penalty for human sin, and to win a human righteousness for a new humanity, and we are invited into it. He came to man, to bring man to God. This is the glory of his salvation, brothers and sisters: the Second person of the Trinity invites us into the bliss of his own blessed life!This is the glory of his salvation, brothers and sisters: the Second person of the Trinity invites us into the bliss of his own blessed life! Click To Tweet
It matters that we confess everything we have seen this morning, and not merely part of it. It matters because if Christ is not divine, our worship of him is blasphemous. It is a wicked evil to worship a creature. All of us here on this side of the Creator-creature divide have an obligation to worship our Creator. If Christ does not fit that bill, then what we do here week after week is horrifying and is a grotesque perversion of our nature. Therefore, we must confess and truly believe that Christ is truly divine. But if Christ is not truly man, his life and death and resurrection for us mean nothing. On the necessity of both natures, Francis Turretin writes:
The work of redemption could not have been performed except by a God-man associating by incarnation the human nature with the divine by an indissoluble bond. For since to redeem us, two things were most especially required—the acquisition of death for satisfaction and victory over the same for the enjoyment of life—our mediator ought to be God-man to accomplish these things: man to suffer, God to overcome; man to receive the punishment we deserved, God to endure and drink it to the dregs; man to acquire salvation for us by dying, God to apply it to us by overcoming; man to become ours by the assumption of flesh, God to make us like himself by the bestowal of the Spirit. This neither man nor God alone could do. For neither could God alone be subject to death, nor man alone conquer it. Man alone could die for men; God alone could vanquish death.
See the glory of his salvation, brothers and sisters.Be grateful, brothers and sisters: the Triune God has acted not only to create us, but also to redeem us. He swallows us up in his eternal love! Click To Tweet Does this truth not grip you with an overwhelming sense of gratitude? Are you not compelled to cry out, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created… for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 4:11; 5:9b-10)? Be grateful, brothers and sisters: the Triune God has acted not only to create us, but also to redeem us. He swallows us up in his eternal love! Lay all your crowns before this lovely Savior, friends. He is worthy of all your worship. He is worthy of all your devotion. He is worthy of all your allegiance. Christian, the glory of this Christ is unfading. He never diminishes in majesty. And he invites you to come continually to him. He invites you to sit at his feet, like Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, to learn from him. He invites you to simply come, perpetually, to receive his goodness. Never grow tired of him, brothers and sisters. Never take your adoring gaze away from him; nothing else is worthy of your devotional attention.
And friends, if you are not a Christian this morning, and you find yourself on the outside looking in on those of us who are in communion with this incomparably glorious person, I want you to know that you are invited to come in. Be numbered among the saints who adore this Christ. It does not matter how low you are. If you find yourself in the cold, pressed up against the windowpane watching us lovers of Christ as we stand around the piano, singing hymns, with mugs full of hot chocolate and hearts full of mirth, you must know that you are invited to join us. Do not stay a moment longer outside in that wretched cold! It does not matter how long you have rebelled. It does not matter how unfit you think you are. It does not matter if you are ashamed of your dress. The Lord Jesus will greet you at the door, and if you let him, he will be pleased to replace your filthy rags with his own spotless robes of righteousness. This Savior came in lowly form so that you could receive him. So come to him with the empty hands of faith. Come with your nothing so that you can receive from him the fullness of life. Leave behind your pitiful aspirations and your guilt and your sin—drop it all and come to Jesus. He invites you to do so. And yes, in case you are wondering, I have been so authorized to speak on his behalf. As an ambassador of Christ, I implore you on behalf of God—as if God is speaking through me—be reconciled to him. God made Christ, who knew no sin, become sin for you so that in him, you might become the very righteousness of God (cf., 2 Cor. 5:21). Friends, if you are not a worshipper of Christ Jesus, you are invited to become one this morning. Come to Him to receive forgiveness of sins and new life; he is eager to answer those kinds of requests. His heart is fundamentally generous.
Christian, let me remind you that this Word has become flesh not only to dwell among us, but also to dine with us. He dined with his disciples in the flesh two thousand years ago, and he continues to dine with us in the Spirit today. God’s Word tells us that when we eat this bread—an emblem of his body—and when we drink this cup—an emblem of his blood—we are participating in Christ (cf., 1 Cor. 10:16-17). Somehow, supernaturally and mysteriously, when we come to this table with our hearts lifted in faith to Christ, the Spirit of Christ facilitates communion with Jesus here. He nourishes our faith. And all this is made possible because the Son of God was incarnate two thousand years ago. “He abhorred not the virgin’s womb.” He thereby sanctified physical, created things like bodies, and water, and bread and wine. So come with confidence in Christ, brothers and sisters. Your Good Shepherd has set a table for you here in the wilderness. Come to eat, drink, and be grateful. Come with expectation to this table. Come in full devotion. Come and let us adore him.
 Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics (Lexham Press, 2020), 1:10.
 John Chrysostom, Homily III, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Tiomothy, Titus, Philemon, ed. Peter J. Gorday (IVP Academic, 2000).
 Calvin, Institutes, Book 2.13.4.
 Athanasius, On the Incarnation, ch.15.
 Francis Turretin, Institutes, 2:302–3.