I love this season. It’s one of my favorite all year. Somehow it seems like the veil separating heaven and earth is somehow smaller – that we are closer to God during this season than any other. I love the pageantry of this season, the traditions like the carols and the candles and the reading once again of the Christmas story from Holy Scripture.
Tonight we heard the Christmas story told in two ways from Scripture. Luke’s text is the one that we typically associate with Christmas. His account contains the details with which we are all familiar: Mary and Joseph, the stable, the angels singing to the shepherds. Luke answers some of the important questions that we have concerning Christmas – the what, the how, the when, the where, the who…
On the other hand, our reading from the Gospel of John is not what we would consider a traditional story. There are none of the familiar characters, none of those familiar details. But don’t let that fool you. With grand and eloquent words, the Gospel of John describes the great mystery of the greatest Advent journey of them all – God’s coming to earth to take on human form and become one with us. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14)
You see for John, the mystery of Christmas is not the “what” – that Jesus was born a baby.
Nor is it “how” – Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Nor is it the mystery of “when” – it took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
Nor “where” – Mary gave birth to her baby in a stable in the city of David called Bethlehem.
Nor is it the “who” – the angel Gabriel telling Mary “You will call him Jesus.”
The mystery of Christmas for John is the question of “why.” Why would God undertake such a risky and difficult venture? Why would God choose to become one of us, knowing that it in the end it would mean abandonment, betrayal, suffering and death? Why indeed?
He Finally Gets It
Have you ever tried to tell someone something or explain something to someone and they have no idea what you are talking about? Once there was a man whose entire family believed in God, but he did not. And so when they went off to church on a snowy, cold Christmas Eve, the man stayed behind beside the fire at home. He thought them silly for believing in a virgin birth, that an Almighty God would condescend to come to earth. But as he sat beside his nice warm fire that night, he looked out his picture window to the snowy front yard. And he saw this little group of sparrows huddling together in the cold. For some reason, the man was moved with compassion for these little freezing birds and so he bundled up and went outside and tried to herd them into his garage so that they might be a little warmer. But the birds were scared of the man. He was so much bigger than they were and he didn’t speak bird at all. They kept running away from him and scattering and finally the man gave up. In great frustration he yelled out, “If only I could become one of you and fly among you, then I could make you understand.”
No sooner had the words left his lips than the man realized the truth of Christmas. God had the same problem with His people that the man had with the little birds. For centuries God had spoken to his people from above – through creation, the law, the prophets, burning bushes and leading clouds. And while his people would try to follow them, it would eventually become too hard to believe in something they couldn’t see, or hold on to, or talk to and they would fall away from God. By Jesus coming to earth as a human, he was telling us that he loved us enough that he would endure everything that humans could experience. He felt joy, love, friendship, betrayal, sorrow, pain, and death. There is nothing that we can experience that Christ has not felt before us. Christ truly understands our emotions and our situations because he has experienced them first hand. That is part of the why for him coming to us.
Proof of God's Love
I look out over all of you gathered here tonight and I noticed how you were all gathered talking to one another before the service. That shows that you all understand community. In order for this community to exist you have to have a level of trust with one another, some sense of affection, in some degree, for one another. That is similar to the community that God wants to have with us. You see God loves us so much, that He wants to be in community with us. He wants to walk side by side with us, laugh with us, cry with us, live with us. Have you ever heard the word Koinonia? It is a Greek word that means fellowship or a close mutual relationship. All the many years ago, God sent his Son to be one of us, so that He could have community with us, that true koinonia. Just as God calls all of us into koinonia with one another He wants that same type of fellowship and community with each one of us.
All of this boils down to God's love for us. It is a love that is never ending. There is a Christian band that calls themselves Petra. In one of their songs they are speaking about how easy it is for us to turn from God. The lyrics go on to outline how before we know it we can feel like we are so far away that we cannot possible see God nor God see us. But they wind up the song by expressing how it is always, always only one step back. There is nothing that we can do that will make God not love us. We can be sure of this by the fact that God sent his one and only Son knowing that it would cost Jesus his life. You see God is absolutely nuts about you. The love he has for us, the complete love that he has for us, is so deep, so strong, that I do not believe that our feeble, human minds can comprehend its breadth. But the good news is that we do not have to. We just have to believe that it is so.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” so that we might be able to finally understand our loving Heavenly Father and His plan for our lives.
We wrap this wonderful season is so many beautiful trappings and traditions: lights, ornaments, tree, carols, decorations, candles, family dinners, and exchanging presents. But as wonderful as all these things are, none of them can contain the wonderful exciting truth and miracle of Emmanuel: “God With Us” – “The Word (becoming) flesh and (dwelling) among us.”
John’s Gospel reminds us that the birth of Christ at Christmas was an event which changed the world forever, and the lives of all who have lived since. The miracle remains for us to experience by opening our hearts and lives to the God who wants to dwell in us. Even on our off days, even when we can’t see stars or don’t feel like singing carols, we can rest assured that God’s incarnate love seeks in us a dwelling, a birthing, so that our spirits may be filled with the Word whose light shines through all darkness. Won’t you let Him in this Christmas? Won’t you offer Him your warmest hospitality? Won’t you welcome Him into your life this year with open arms? Won’t you receive Him into your life as never before? I beg you to not let another day pass without taking time to speak with God, listen to what God has to say, and then invite God to dwell within you so you can be a beacon…a source of light and hope for someone else as we celebrate God coming to us, to be one of us, so we can dwell with Him for eternity.
And all God’s people said: Amen! and Merry Christmas!