2016 has been quite the year. It has been up – with the Summer Olympics, huge breakthroughs in medicine which has allowed more people with ALS, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease to live healthier and longer lives, with more equal rights for people all over the world being recognized. It has been down – with the many police and terrorist shootings, with the deaths of some major celebrity figures, with confusing political movements happening all over the world. The social and global media agencies are using their powers to create intensity and stress about certain problems and to cover up other problems. With all of this going on in the world, some people may be wondering how Christmas is even relevant anymore. Yet, exactly because of our crazy world, Christmas is more important than ever. Christmas is important because it is about a beginning. Not an end or a middle, but about a new beginning. Christmas is important because it is about vulnerability. Not hiding or shaming, but about accepting and sharing. Christmas is important because it is about love. Not niceness or being kind, but about deep abiding love.
Christmas is about a new beginning.
If I said, “Once upon a time…,” you’d know I was about to start a fairy tale story. If I said, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…,” you’d know I would be starting a Star Wars story. If I said, “In the beginning…,” hopefully you’d all know that I was starting a book from the Bible. (Since there are two that start this way in the Bible, I’ll give you benefit of the doubt on whether it was Genesis or the gospel of John…) These lines are the telltale signs of a story to come. Setting up a story is very important business. A good story needs a good beginning to grab our attention and get us hooked. It needs to be able to tell us the setting, so we know where and when and what the context is. These are all clues we look for, and we understand so we know something of what is to come. The beginnings of all the books of the gospels are very interesting and relate strongly to the main emphases of the books themselves. The gospel according to John, which we heard this morning, paraphrases the beginning of Genesis, the beginning of everything. Because Jesus was in the beginning of everything, and John wants to highlight the eternal and essential and spiritual nature of what is happening throughout the story of Jesus.
But we do celebrate the birth of Jesus as a human being every year, because Christmas is the setup of a very interesting story to come. A story of a man who was also God, who came here to live with us, to teach us, to share with us, to save us from our sins. But we tend to forget that it is just the beginning of the story. We tend to make it an end in of itself. We have Christmas! Dun dun dun dah! And then the show is over and it’s time to go home.
However, the story of God’s work in the world simply doesn’t end with Jesus being born. No. God continues the work through what Jesus does throughout his life on this planet. The story of birth continues. Because this birth was just the first of many. Jesus’ birth was the birth of God on earth, but it was also the birth of a new way of living in relationship with God, and that new way is born in all of us when we are baptized as Christians. Christmas is about the beginning of the story in which we all become children of God and are saved from our sins. Like any good story, it doesn’t happen all at once, the process, the transformation, the story continues on, stretching far into the future. We celebrate with the beginning, so that we can remember again and again what has been started in us.
Christmas is about vulnerability, about being open.
Christmas is a celebration of a little baby being born in a stable in a backwater part of the world to some questionable parents. If that doesn’t sound a bit vulnerable to you, you might want to look up the definition of the word again. Jesus, the Savior of the universe was born as a baby, one of the most vulnerable creations on earth. Babies are unable to do pretty anything for themselves. They rely on other people for all aspects of their lives. They have no control over anything that they do. We have all grown up into adults, or are in the process of growing up into adults, where we are expected to be somewhat independent, to have some control in our own lives. We all know that many times this independence is simply skin deep. I am able to feed myself by going to the grocery store, but that doesn’t make me completely independent from others in terms of my nutrition. No, I depend on farmers and grocers, and truckers and teenagers who transport the food and stock the store shelves. We have a great ability to hide or ignore this reality in our perspectives though, not always acknowledging that we depend on those minimum wage workers for things like shelter, food, and sanitation. Vulnerability is about accepting these truths. It’s also about accepting and sharing our realities around our own emotions and how we act upon those emotions. It is about opening up all the stories of our lives, the hard ones and the easy ones to share. Usually the strongest connections we have with other people is when we allow ourselves to be fully seen in the hardest stories to share, those stories of pain, sorrow, and embarrassment. It is in those places where God is most at work and in those places where we are able to bring the deepest healing to ourselves and others.
Jesus came into this world as a human being and experienced the full range of human emotions and situations. We have a hard time grasping this concept of incarnation. Of the divine becoming human. Of the combination of the two together. That Jesus had to grow and learn as a human being, that he had to learn to relate to other human beings. That he had to learn to walk and eat on his own, that he didn't pop out of the womb as a little adult, unlike Renaissance paintings would have us believe, already wise beyond his years. We don't know how his wisdom and divinity was revealed to him throughout his years, but I imagine that process was one of self-discovery like all the rest of us. Like the rest of us, Jesus’ process of becoming an adult included learning how and when to be vulnerable, and he shares that with his disciples throughout his ministry in healing for all the people who come to him. We celebrate Jesus’ vulnerability, in the midst of a harsh world, so that we can share that same vulnerability in order to connect people with God.
Christmas is about love, deep abiding love.
I’ve heard this saying plenty of times in my life, “Christians are supposed to be nice.” I have to disagree. First, I disagree because I’m a lover of words and I know that originally, nice meant silly or ignorant. Christians are definitely not supposed to be silly or ignorant. Second, I disagree because Christians are not called to be nice to other people; Christians are called to love, to love God, and to love others.
Love is known as a lot of different things in our society. It is known as an emotion, a feeling we experience. It is known as a promise, a vow certain people make to each other. It is known as an act, exhibiting certain behavior or committing certain actions with other people. However, what is translated as love in the bible is much much deeper than that. Love is a steadfast loving loyalty that never, ever gives up. In the children’s bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, she describes God’s love for creation, God’s love for us, as “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” Woo! That is some powerful stuff.
Love is the reason God becomes a human being in the form of Jesus. 1 John goes as far as to say that “God is love.” The story of Christmas is really a scandalous story. God, the creator of the universe, almighty and all powerful, loves a bunch of dirty, confusing, doubting, messed up, self-destructive, human beings who are stuck in time and don’t really even last that long. But God, the creator of the universe, almighty and all powerful, loves all us dirty, confusing, doubting, messed up, self-destructive, finite humans so much that God offers them love, offers them himself. We celebrate today to remember this overwhelming story of love so that we will go out into the world to share the story and the love.
Christmas is about a new beginning. Christmas is about vulnerability. Christmas is about deep abiding love. We celebrate this day of Christmas because it brings such promise. It reminds us of the new beginning we have in God. It reminds us to be vulnerable and open to God and to other people. It reminds us of the “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love” of God. Rejoice my friends! Jesus has come for us! Amen.