Receiving the Gift of God
For several years now I have been hearing a question asked at Christmas that I confess still surprises me. It surprises me, not because it’s a bad question, or a silly question. It surprises me, because it’s stabs at the heart of what we are doing here at this time, celebrating in this way. I confess I am still stunned when someone asks, “What is the significance of this baby that is celebrated at Christmas?”
For the vast majority of us who have grown up in the church this question seems so obvious that we scarcely know how to answer it. “Jesus Christ is born for goodness sake. What more is there to say? He’s the Savior of the world.” What does that mean though? How do we reconcile that answer with all of the other Christmas traditions and activities that surround us?
The significance of the baby celebrated at Christmas will not be found in the significance we give to him, but in the significance God the Father gives to him. I suspect you are here, because you know this baby matters. You may be present week after week to celebrate this significance, or you may be here only occasionally. Don’t be discouraged by that. God has brought you hear to this Christmas to celebrate the significance of the baby who is the Word, the Light and Life of all things.
First we learn that in Jesus Christ, the baby who comes at Christmas, we meet nothing less than the very presence and revelation of God. When one speaks or writes the word, one is communicating. “The word of the Lord came to the prophet” and we through the prophet hear God’s message. Now we discover that in Jesus Christ the word identified with God from the very beginning has taken human form, and Christmas is the story of the birth of God’s self-communication to the world.
This God who is holy and righteous and different from us has come to be among us. He who made all things has come to dwell in human flesh. It is as Leo, the Bishop of Rome in 461 AD says, “Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut out form this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no one free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice seeing the palm of victory at hand. Le the sinner be glad receiving the offer of forgiveness. Let the unbeliever take courage on being summoned to life.”
So, we meet the very presence and power of God in this baby. We also learn that God’s presence in Jesus Christ may not be altogether obvious to those who are looking. Maybe this is the real reason why so many people are beginning to ask about this baby. It could be the baby is covered up by Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Hermie the Elf, the Heat and Cold Misers, or any number of other characters who come alongside of Santa Claus to make Christmas so very exciting.
However the opening verses of John’s gospel tells us the Word came to a world that should have known him. He had created the world. He came to a special people chosen from all the nations to be his own and to a land that was his heritage, but he was rejected. Jesus was not universally celebrated as the revelation of God, nor worshiped as the one in whom we touch the ultimate reality of God. If we were to make our way through the rest of John’s Gospel we would find story after story of prominent religious leaders who could not recognize Jesus, who found him offensive, who accused him of blasphemy, charged him with being demon-possessed. The blind thought they could see.
So, we are confronted with this baby as the very God we worship. Some of us are repulsed by this notion that God is wrapped in bands of cloth and sleep with the cattle. We won’t be provided with a slam dunk of fool proof evidence that this is the God we have been seeking. After all we are called to believe that a particular Jew, living in a buffer state in the Middle East, powerless before the Roman governor and the powers of the of the state, is the One in whom we meet the Creator of heaven and earth.
Since the genuinely religious people of the day had rejected him, shouldn’t we dismiss him as insignificant and out of place. But rejection is not the whole story. There are those who received Jesus, who trusted him, who found themselves by a miraculous birth to a virgin that they are in fact the empowered children of God themselves. On the surface they hardly seem like qualified candidates for the divine family—a Samaritan woman at a well; an unnamed Roman official, a man born blind, Mary of Bethany. They are a strange group of people to gather up in support of the most outrageous and amazing message of hope in the history of creation. But maybe that tells us something about the God who comes in the baby.
You and I are included in this odd group of God’s children. Isn’t that strange? There’s nothing about us which should cause us to be significant, or worthy of God’s attention. Yet, here we are calling on his name, dining at his Table. He has come for us, and we have nothing else to do but celebrate.
In a Christmas Day sermon by a church leader in Constantinople in the year 389 AD we hear these words: Christ is born: glorify him. Christ comes from heaven: go out to meet him. Christ descends to earth: let us be raised on high. Let all the world sing to the Lord; let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad, for his sake who was first in heaven and then on earth. Christ is here in the flesh: let us exult with fear and joy—with fear, because of your own sins; with joy, because of the hope that the brings us.
So, why celebrate the child born at Christmas? We celebrate him, because he is our new beginning. Whatever we have made of our lives; whatever trouble we have found for ourselves; whatever struggles we discover in trying to do things our way and on our terms we are not abandoned to despair. “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.” Thanks be to God! He is as the creed reminds us, “Light from light, very God from very God.” He is “the Word of the Father comes to his own image, in the human race. For the sake of my flesh he takes flesh; for the sake of my soul he is united to a rational soul, purifying like by like. In every way he becomes human, except for sin. O strange conjunction! The Self-existent comes into being; the Uncreated is created. He shares in the poverty of my flesh, that I may share in the riches of his Godhead.”
The baby is God’s promise not to abandon us. He is mercy upon mercy. He is grace upon grace. He is healing salve for our sin-sick lives. He is hope for our broken promises. He is goodness beyond measure. Let us all receive him. Let us run into the streets and proclaim him Lord and Savior. Let us lift up the baby who has come to us. After all,
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.-Christina Rossetti