“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
I speak with you in the name of Emmanuel, God with us. Amen!
Good Morning. Once again is it a blessing to have you here this morning. Not only am I blessed that you are here to worship God on the Lord’s Day, but also I am blessed that you are here to help me think through something as well. I know. During sermon time you usually zone out and wait for the next part of the service where you have to stand up and say or sing something, but please indulge me this morning.
I would like you to think with me for bit about this opening of the Gospel of John that we heard proclaimed just moments ago. This is the Gospel of John’s version of the Nativity, the incarnation, the coming of God as man in the form of Jesus Christ. If we had heard the same story from the Gospels of Luke or Matthew we would call it the Christmas story, but this version does not sound much like Christmas to me. Where are the angels, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men, a manger, and little baby Jesus? Where’s the drama in John, the dialog, is there even a plot line? No, there isn’t, not really. John simply says, “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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” and later, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,”
Compared to the lavishness of the nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke, John’s is a little stark. I mean imagine with me, if the Gospel of John was the only Gospel we knew, the only Gospel to make it into the bible. Could we even have a Christmas pageant with this reading? As we have noted already there aren’t any sheep or angels; so what would the little kids dress up as? There’s no Mary or Joseph; so no parts for older children either. So, I guess the pageant is out. But what about Christmas carols? There is no manger; so no “Away in a Manger”. This version is not set in Bethlehem; so no “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” nor angels; so “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is out too. So, no pageant, no carols, is this still Christmas?
According to the Calendar it still is. We are smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season. Culturally, retailers and most folks think of the Christmas season as lasting from the day after thanksgiving until Dec. 25th. That’s not the Christmas season. Its really advent, but we should probably just call that the shopping season. The Christmas season of the Church calendar, the calendar we follow in our life of faith, lasts from December 25th, the feast of the nativity, until Jan. 6th the feast of the Epiphany. So, according to the calendar it’s still Christmas. But is it still Christmas in our worship? We have taken down the mangers and removed the straw, we have placed the advent wreaths in storage, and our Christmas tree in the lobby is so dry it’s more appropriately called kindling then a tree at this point. In our lives, the gifts have been opened, the holiday meals served, and the guests are gone. We are pointed towards new years, and Christmas is fast becoming a memory. So, we have this Gospel from John with nothing more then God becoming Man and being among us.
Ahh, but that my friends and neighbors is the most important point: Christmas is about God becoming Man in the form of Christ. Christmas is about knowing Jesus of Nazareth as Emmanuel, God with us. Just as we are continually an Easter people, freed from the powers of this world by the Resurrection of Christ, we are also a Christmas people, sustained, comforted, and guided by God with us all the time.
Now, that sounds nice, and it even sounds easy, but it is in fact trickier than we might think. While God is with us, we are not always God. See, we really like the baby Jesus. He’s cute, and cuddly, and the song says “no crying he makes”. What could be easier to love than a baby that doesn’t cry? I am reminded of an atrocious movie that came out recently entitled, “Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” During one scene of this parody of NASCAR racers and culture, Ricky Bobby says the blessing before the family dinner. He prays, not to God, not to the Holy Spirit, nor to Jesus Christ in general. No, he prays to little baby Jesus in his crib. The humor of this scene comes from its truth. We like Christ in his manger; it’s the full grown Christ that gives us trouble. Jesus as an adult speaks the truth and that makes us uncomfortable. Jesus calls us to live not as individuals buts as a community that cares for its neighbors; while our society says we should be rugged individuals always looking out for number one. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us; while our society teaches pre-emptive attack to get “them” before they get you. Jesus calls us to be motivated by our love of God and not by our desires for material wealth; while society says that you are not of value unless take as much as you can as often as you can. All these things that we are called to by Christ, make us want to wrap Jesus up in swaddling clothes and put him back in the manger. But, here’s the skinny, to be a Christmas people, we must be with God as much as God is with us. To be a Christmas people each and every day we must not just be with Christ at the manger but also with Christ on his journey to minister, to die on the cross, and to be risen from the grave.
My brothers and sisters, on this day, where the symbols of Christmas are fading into memory, we are challenged to remain a Christmas people. On this day, when we hear the stark story of John’s version of the nativity, we are called to walk in the light of Christ every day of our lives. On this day, when we peak into the dawning of another year, we are challenged to share God’s Word, show Christ’s love and serve all people, more then ever. Let us begin answering Christ’s call today. Let us with out prayers gathered around God’s table, where each and every time we gather we are reminded in the simplest and most dramatic terms that God is with us. Then let us carry Christ in our hearts to all that we meet and in all that we do each and every day. My Bothers and Sisters, Emanuel, God is with us, and let us too be with God.