Well, we have 4 gospels in the Bible only two of them give us stories of Jesus’ birth. The two oldest New Testament writers, Paul and Mark, do not mention Jesus’ birth at all. Matthew and Luke writing about 30 years after Paul and 15 years after Mark have come up with stories about the birth of Christ which are very different from each other.
Last night, we heard about Jesus’ birth in a stable, about the angels coming to the shepherds who then visited Bethlehem to see this new baby. In a week or two, we will hear about wise men coming from the east, following a star, and arriving via Jerusalem at Bethlehem and bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. In fact, the only time the wise men and shepherds meet is on Christmas cards or during Christmas pageants.
John’s gospel starts very differently as well. Some scholars think that the passage we read this morning it’s an early Christian hymn. It is certainly very different from the birth stories of Matthew and Luke. John’s story is hardly about the birth of Jesus at all, but instead focuses on the difference that birth makes for all of us. This portrait of God and Jesus offers a grand cosmic vision of an unfolding history and our part in it. We are not only observers of this cosmic story, but essential participants. God’s intention is to become flesh, “the stuff of our world” and live in specific moments in our world, in our communities, in our lives. Not just over 2000 years ago, when Jesus was alive, but now in the 21st century, through us, who are the Body of Christ.
The revelation of God’s self
John’s introduction to his gospel starts with the words: “In the beginning …”. To most of us listening today, this brings to mind the first words of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created …”. I’m sure that was intentional; it would have had much meaning to John’s Jewish readers. His Roman and Greek readers, however, would have related far more to the next bit: “In the beginning was the Word”.
The Word, or Logos in Greek, meant far more than just speech. To Greek philosophers, the Logos was the generative principle of the Universe or the first principle that lies at the heart of all that is good, true and beautiful in the universe. In Christian terms, I like the definition “The revelation of God’s self” – all that is good, true, beautiful and (I’d add) loving in the universe. V18 of this chapter says of the Word / Logos / Son: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
In Jesus we see God
Especially in times of great struggle we seem keenly, even cruelly, aware that we are simply not able to see God. Because of our limitations, God becomes human so that we can see God. In Jesus, God becomes accessible to us, and even vulnerable like us. As Paul wrote to the Philippians (2:5-7), “Christ Jesus, who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, … assuming human likeness” – the eternal and immutable God becoming finite and vulnerable in order to become truly available to us.
Jesus, The revealer of God
In order to truly reveal God to us, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; today we celebrate that as we remember the story of Jesus, born in a stable, laid in the Manger, worshipped by the shepherds and loved by Mary and Joseph. But the Christmas story is so much more than that. Christmas isn’t just a holiday or festival. But rather, Christmas witnesses to a reality that permeates our whole life. John invites us to contemplate a non-sentimental Christmas that fills us with hope and joy the whole year.
The cosmic significance of Christmas
He focuses on the cosmic significance of God becoming a human being. Have you heard the expression: “God became man that man might become God”? It doesn’t mean we become immersed in God. Losing our identity or that we take on all the characteristics of GOD (all those omni’s and all’s – omnipresent, omniscient, almighty all powerful etc). In Anglican theology, we would say it as: God took on our flesh so that we might take on his divine nature. Not become God, but think, act and live as God lives, as Jesus lived on this earth.
Jesus, the Revealer of God, communicates to us the thoughts, feelings, and desires of God. Yet, he doesn’t just talk about what goes on inside God — he is God, so his life shows us God. In order to know God, we need to look to Jesus, to listen to Jesus, to try and understand Jesus. In Jesus, we are emboldened both to live with hope, as well as to share with others the hope that is within us.
God’s incarnational intention
Which brings me back to God’s incarnational intention, which I mentioned earlier, and how it challenges us to live out God’s story in the world. To engage the specific broken places in our communities and even in the forgettable interactions we have with our neighbors. God calls us to embody God’s justice and love in the world, not just by speaking it, but by living it out. Not through testing philosophical edicts against the long arc of history, but by showing up in the world we have, as the people we are, to make God into flesh once again. To make a difference.
God’s incarnational intention is that God’s presence becomes unmistakable in our midst because the faithful have put their bodies, and not just their language, into effect for what they believe to be true.
So, there we have it. When the decorations are down, the carols stopped, the nativity sets put away, Christmas, as the Christ living in our flesh, continues all year. As one song says: I wish it could be Christmas everyday. Well, it can. It’s up to us. Amen