December 25, 2022
Merry Christmas! Oh, it’s been quite a wait to be able to say those words on this day! It’s been a whole season of waiting, really. We marked the days for the last month, waiting for today. At our house, Hazel would move a star in the calendar one day at a time as we approached Christmas. Here in the church, we lit the Advent wreath, one candle at a time, one week at a time. I’m sure many, if not all, of y’all have some kind of countdown that was happening at your house—whether for the joy of Christmas or being ready for its business and stresses to be over with (I’ll leave that to you). But what is important is that the day is here, and Christmas has arrived!
And this year is a little different from other years. This year, Christmas falls on a Sunday, an event that only happens every seven years or so. It’s pretty special, getting to wrap our Christmas celebrations with the hymns of praise and celebration together, and telling the story of Jesus on this holiday. But you’ll notice that the story we told this morning from the gospel was a bit different from the story we heard last night at Christmas Eve service.
Last night it was all about the birth. Luke opens the story of Jesus for us by describing the wonder, the danger, and the joy of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. He tells us about the unique circumstances that led Jesus to be laid in a manger, and not a crib. He helps us dwell with the shepherds, tending their flocks by night. He introduces us to the brilliance of the angelic hosts, praising God and delivering the message of salvation.
Today, though, we hear the cosmic hymn of the divine Word made flesh. John, I’ve said before, seems to shift dramatically from giving us such human stories of Jesus that we can imagine ourselves physically there, to such heady and holy descriptions of Jesus’s ministry that it can be really hard to wrap our heads around it, sometimes even getting lost in John’s words as he describes Jesus. Well, with this hymn of creation—“In the beginning was the Word”—I think John combines the two. Yes, it’s heady and holy and cosmic. But it also pulls us down from heaven right onto the very earth we stand on, just like the Word did on Christmas.
Because that’s the whole point of Jesus’s birth, right? Luke may tell it as a narrative instead of a poetic hymn, but it tells the same truth, that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” What could be more fleshly than being born? When we dwell on the Christmas texts we remember the words of Isaiah, naming the coming savior as Emmanuel, “God with us.” And how much more could God be with us than if God became exactly what we are—flesh and blood?
It’s honestly crazy when you think about it though. By being born, God became part of the creation that the Word brought about—“all things came into being through him,” right? God made creation, crafted it with loving care, and then jumped into the midst of it! And then, in Jesus, God experienced fleshly life. He breathed this same air that we breathe—it went into the Savior’s lungs! And he drank water, maybe even water you and I have drunk! And he felt hunger, and thirst, and pain, and heat, and cold, just like you and I feel! God experienced life the way you experience life. God walked on the same earth you walk on. Does that hit you the same way it hits me? God wasn’t content to remain separate from us, maintaining a kind of divine distance that could sympathize but never experience our material existence. So God became human to show us just how deeply God loves us.
It puts an interesting spin on the claim I’ve heard repeated from time to time, even in our own hymns, that Jesus was born to die. Born to die! Could that really be the purpose of God becoming human was just to die? Even to die for our sake—was death the only point? I think not! God became human, God took on flesh and blood, God experienced creation, because God loves creation far too much to allow anything to get between God’s love and this creation. The Word became flesh and lived among us so that, by living our lives, we might have abundant life through him.
See, the Word became flesh, born as a baby, not simply to die—but to live! And to live as one of us! God lived as a human being, not pretending but really doing it, because by doing it that way we could be sure that there is no experience we have ever had that God doesn’t know and understand intimately. God became flesh so that when we experience the joy of a new baby, God knows what that feels like in our bodies. God became flesh so when we get distracted and worried because we are hungry, or thirsty, or worried for our friends and family, God knows what that feels like in our bones. God became flesh so when we are touched by the realities of material existence, we can know that God knows precisely what that feels like. And what happens to you, all of you, matters to God.
So this Christmas, sit back in the wonder of that reality. God became flesh, God became human, God became like you to show you that there is nothing that will get in the way of God’s love for you, for your neighbor, for all of creation. The Word became flesh and lived among us, and by living among us he showed us that our lives matter to God. Our experiences matter to God. Our hurts, our joys, our pains, our triumphs, our aches and pains, our tears and hunger, our waking and our sleeping, our euphoria and our depression—they all matter to God. Because God became flesh and lived among us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.