John 1:1-14 • December 25, 2012
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
For several years now, as I’ve reflected on the Christmas story, one thing continues to fascinate me. The location of this event. It all begins in the tiny town of Bethlehem. Bethlehem was probably not unlike many small towns that we are familiar with in North Dakota. You know the kind of town – where everyone knows everyone else in minute details that make most of us uncomfortable. You know what I mean – you live in one of these small towns and travel to Bismarck to run a few errands. When you get home your neighbor has a play by play recap of your trip to the big city ready for your immediate review. And of course, this play by play needs your review before going to print in the next edition of the town’s weekly newspaper. You just gotta love small towns.
So here’s where my fascination with Bethlehem is. In a town where everyone probably at least knows everyone on a first name basis, I’ve always been amazed that, within a half mile radius of the manger and birth place of Jesus, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of people who were absolutely clueless about what was happening right in the neighborhood. Maybe there were just too many other things happening in town that week,or maybe people in Bethlehem were just more absorbed in details that focused on their own individual needs and gratification – really not unlike life in the towns we live in today, if you really think about it.
While at the exact time that everyone was worrying more about who was on the cover of People magazine that week, eternity was breaking into time. God was entering the world. God was moving in.
In our gospel reading from Saint John on this cold Christmas morning, we hear, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
What the beginning of John’s gospel reminds us is that the Christmas story had its beginning long before Joseph and Mary, and in a place far beyond Bethlehem. In the beginning, the Word was “with” God. What God was, the Word was. Not human becoming God, but God becoming human. God coming into human flesh, coming in from outside.
It’s not that God wasn’t around before the birth of Jesus. But in the birth of Jesus, God entered into relationship with the world in a new way. The Word came in flesh to live among us and make God known to us. In the Christmas story, God’s desire to bless and love and redeem the world will not be denied.
God moved in.
That’s the joy of the Christmas story on this cold December morning. God has come to be with us. And the good news of this relationship is that nothing in this world can separate any of God’s children from that relationship. Not even our rebellious nature or our indifference; our sins or our suffering. God moved in. In times of insecurity – God is there; in deserts of isolation and temptation – God is there; in gardens of indecision – God is there; in crosses of suffering – God is there. God is there. God is here. God moves in.
An what’s most exciting is that for the writer of John’s gospel, the idea of God taking on flesh through Jesus, of God moving in, was not a onetime event – but part of an ongoing process, beginning with Jesus and continuing through every follower of Jesus from that time on.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are part of this Christmas story. Just like so many in that tiny Bethlehem town who missed it, I think you and I miss the reality of God moving in too from time to time. Our attention at Christmas is centered on things that actually have little to do with the Christmas story. I know I can think of dozens of things in the past month that have caused me to miss the fact that God moved in. Things that have distracted me from participating in the Christmas story.
Pastor Peter Marty offered a nice reflection about Christmas last week in one of my favorite theological journals, The Christian Century. It helped me focus as I prepared for today. Pastor Marty wrote, “God came into the world through intense labor pains to meet the absence of brotherly and sisterly love. God’s encounter with our often cruel species would happen in a face-to-face manner, a flesh-to-flesh way. The wake-up call began with Jesus. As his love spread beyond the confines of Bethlehem, your face and body – and mine – somehow became involved. So we celebrate Christmas with a joy that must seem odd to some. We sing our hearts out. We cherish relationships that are not entirely perfect. We look other people in the eye. We give chunks of ourselves away. It’s not that hatred and cruelty have disappeared. It’s that the arrival of love in the midst of the sorry mess we have made of creation gives Christmas its special wonder.”
I don’t know why you are here today, but I’m glad you are. Maybe you’re here because you feel a sense of obligation. Maybe it’s just a tradition for you to worship on Christmas Day. Maybe your spouse or parent made you come. Maybe you’ve experienced a significant loss in your life this past year and you are trying to capture that old feeling Christmas used to bring to you. Maybe you’re struggling for answers to questions that you have in the wake of tragic events that have taken place in our world recently. I don’t know why you’re here, but I do know that there is good news for you today. For all of us. The good news is not that the Visa and MasterCard bills won’t come due for another 30 days or that all of the holiday parties and preparation is finally over so we can rest. The good news is that the God of all creation, the One who created you and loves you, knew that you could never find your way to God on your own, so God came after you. God moved in.
Many missed that in the tiny town of Bethlehem so long ago. Let’s not miss that in the town of Bismarck today.
The birth of a savior named Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, that we celebrate this morning, changed the world forever. I hope and pray that God coming to you and me and embracing us with his love through this child has changed us and will continue to change us in all the days to come. God has moved in. Merry Christmas. Amen.