Christmas Day, December 25, 2019
December 25, 2019: Christmas Day
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14
From John’s gospel, “… the Word became flesh and lived among us…” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning and a very Merry Christmas to you all!
The Church’s traditional Christmas Day Proclamation makes reference to not only biblical events, but also, to events within the ancient Greek and Roman empires. Thus, the coming of the Christ at Bethlehem – Christmas Day - is described within the context of human history – history both sacred and secular. The Proclamation says:
“Today, the twenty-fifth day of December, following thousands of ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image. Thousands of years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant. Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah; Thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges; One thousand and thirty-two years from the anointing of David as king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.
“In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome. The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace,
“Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.
“Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.”
I thought of that proclamation when pondering today’s reading from the Gospel according to St. John. You see, while Matthew and Luke offer lots of details about the birth of the Christ, and the Christmas Proclamation retells the history of our salvation from the moment of creation, John sums up the entire Christmas story in these nine words: “the Word was made flesh and lived among us.” And, for me, it is the simplicity of those words that describes the significance of Christmas, as well as confronts us with a challenge just as it has confronted every Christian since that glorious day at Bethlehem.
There is so much that I could say this morning about this short passage from John’s gospel for in John’s mind, Christmas happened long before Bethlehem. John offers that the Christ has always existed as God’s own self present from before the creation of the universe. But it is that phrase, the “Word was made flesh” that offers us the greatest challenge. For the Christmas story is not simply God’s story or a story from two thousand years ago. It is our story – a story that seeks to continue to permeate our very lives. A story that lives on through us as the Word made flesh becomes who we are.
I have shared with you that in my own journey of faith, just as I am certain has happened in your own journeys, there have been many, many times when I lost my way, when I knew I was heading in the wrong direction but couldn’t put my finger on the reason why. There have been times when I found God strangely silent, when I grew perplexed that my prayers seemed unanswered. Times when scripture made no sense to me and times when the complexities of life seemed to overwhelm me to the point of absolute despair. More often than not, it was in those moments of darkness that I encountered the “Word (still) made flesh.” A simple note in the mail, or someone said that they prayed for me, or someone offered a word of counsel that helped me find my way forward. It was in those moments that the “Word made flesh” became a reality as I discovered and saw and heard the Christ in a stranger, priest, or friend. In them I encountered Christ in the flesh and it changed my life then just as it still changes my life today.
You see, everyone marked as Christ’s own in baptism has promised to not only carry forth Christ’s light and be God’s redemptive and peacemaking presence in our communities and the world, and we have promised to forgive, to love, to be just and merciful, to serve all people. But, we have also promised to be like Christ and as Christ, to be and embodythat Word made flesh, and, thereby, continue God’s mission of reconciliation and restoration in this world. And that, friends, is the eternal challenge of every Christian: We are called to be Christ, to be that “Word made flesh” in ways that truly make a difference in the lives of every person we meet. In so doing, we, with St. John’s and thousands of Christians throughout the world, show forth the amazing grace and mercy of that moment at Bethlehem years ago; that moment that continues to change us and change the world.
Beloved, “Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.” And by God’s grace may that flesh continue to live in and through us always. Amen.