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Christmas Day; John 1:1–14(–17),Luke 2:1-20 -(35)

Let me throw out a proposition, not entirely mine, but one that I first thought about quite a few years after reading a book published by “Upper Room” titled “”Too Much Holly, Not Enough Holy? – Searching for Christmas”. It is a one year diary starting at Epiphany, the end of one Christmas, and the writer, Patricia Wilson, shares her struggles throughout the year, as she seeks to find the holiness needed to counteract all the window-dressing around the next Christmas, window-dressing that obscures the holy like so much holly!

She concludes that to celebrate Christmas, one has to live the Christmas spirit every day of the year, and that too is my proposition, or thesis, for this Christmas Day sermon.

The New Testament has only two “Christmas” stories, that is stories of the events around the actual birth of Jesus, not just his ancestry or conception; those in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And, to be picky about it, the Matthew story is really the Epiphany story, and deals with events perhaps 18 to 24 months after the actual birth. Mark’s Gospel ignores the birth of Jesus, and writes only of his adult ministry. And John is something else entirely, not mentioning the birth of Jesus at all, but beginning with a great hymn to the eternal Word, the Light of the World, that came into the world with Jesus.

Luke and Matthew, in the popular imagination, thanks largely to countless Christmas creches, large and small, public and private, and of course greeting card, have been blended together into one story, all happening on one night about 2000 years ago, along with adding some details, such as oxen, donkeys, lambs, camels and other animals that are actually from some non-biblical stories about the birth of Jesus, or from pure imagination, like drummer-boys.

The beginning of the Gospel of John, the hymn to the Word and the Light was paraphrased in the Introit at the beginning of this Service. It tells us the universal meaning of the birth of Jesus. John’s hymn of course has been totally marginalised and ignored in the popular Christmas story. I’m normally quite strict about not merging (mooching?) biblical texts together, but if Hallmark can do it, I can do it, and if they object to me bringing that most important Gospel, John, into the story, they can sue me!

So, let me reflect on Luke’s and Matthew’s stories and John’s hymn, as we once again begin to journey through the Church year, and seek to live in the spirit of Christmas every day.

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.

And Luke writes,

And [Mary] gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The limitless power of the Word of God, through whom all that exist was created, comes into the world, as a baby, born, not into a palace, or even into a middle-Eastern inn, but in a stable, and this eternal Word finds its first resting place in a cattle feed-trough!

John writes,

What has come into being with 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.

Consider how Luke tells the same story,

Then an angel of the Lord stood before [the shepherds], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Have we understood the meaning of this light, the light that shines into our darkness, a light which the darkness of our sin and despair cannot overcome? Have we been terrified, have we stood in awe, before the glory of the Lord, the Lord who is with us?

John writes,

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him.

In Matthew’s Gospel we read of the magi, and of King Herod,

Then [Herod] sent [the magi] to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the Child, and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.

We know, of course, that Herod’s intentions were not honourable, he meant to kill the child. But have we too not recognized the light that has come into the world? Have we been too busy with our own lives, and failed to recognize the light that is the light of our world? Or worse, are we so taken up with our own agenda, our own importance, that we feel threatened by this act of God entering history, and like Herod, at best seek to ignore, at worst want to do away with the light which is Christ within us?

St. John continues,

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God …

while St. Luke’s Gospel reads, telling of events eight days after the birth of Jesus, quoting the words of the aged Simeon to Mary,

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

The rejection of the Lord is still a fact today. We do not need to look far for those who reject him; they are not only outside the Church, but even among those who were baptized in his name. We need not fault those outside the Church; we do need to examine ourselves. Have we rejected the light, because we do not accept that the way of that light is towards servanthood and a cross? Babies in mangers, with adoring shepherds and angels all around (and maybe even drummer boys?), are well enough, but are we prepared to accept serving our neighbours and the cross (whatever those means for us) which that baby in time accepted and ask of us? But we didn’t know at our baptism that those were a part of the bargain we were making with Christ; nobody told us, we protest. Nevertheless, if we reject the servanthood and the cross, we reject the light!

But there is nevertheless hope for us! St. John concludes,

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. … grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Even if we don’t want to serve, if we hesitate to follow to the cross, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is with us. Salvation is ours, because salvation is only available to sinners. Those who are perfect have no need of salvation, but we who are imperfect, even so imperfect as to reject the light of the world and the cross towards which he leads us, we have the grace of Christ to save us.

We are the people of God. We know that we are imperfect, but we are the people of God! We are once again beginning the twelve days of Christmas; even though the world will declare Christmas ends today, with the last turkey carved! I pray that we will continue Christmas through the year ahead, knowing the power that is ours as baptized daughters and sons of God. I pray that we will live the spirit of Christmas every day of the year, even though the festivities stop today. I pray that we will become the instruments of God’s dominion becoming real in our world.

The light continues to shine in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it yet. We are the keepers of that light!

Copyright ©2021 by Gerry Mueller