A sermon preached on Christmas Day at St. Francis by the Lake in Canyon Lake, TX.
The lectionary readings are here.
As you listened to the gospel reading just now, did you find it odd that it wasn’t about the manger scenes we typically associate with Christmas Day? Where are Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and angels? Where is the baby Jesus? Isn’t Christmas about the baby Jesus?
Well, yes, it is, but there’s so much more and I want us to talk about the ‘more’. God didn’t come as a baby to stay a baby or just to give us something to celebrate one day a year but to remind us of, to help us remember, the full and abundant life we are create for. This is the part of the story that John provides for us.
What we typically tell as “the Christmas Story” comes from a mashup of details from the gospel writers Luke and Matthew. The details they each provide place the story of the birth of Jesus into time and history as we can humanly understand it.
Luke tells us that by the time he chose to write his version of the birth of Jesus, that many folks had already “applied themselves to the task of compiling an account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” And that, “after having investigated everything carefully from the beginning … [he] decided to write a carefully ordered account… to provide confidence in the soundness of the instruction [we] have received.”
Luke starts with the announcement to Elizabeth and Zechariah of the birth of John, who would be Jesus’ cousin. And he tells of the angel’s visit to Mary and the reason for the trip to Bethlehem, and how they ended up in the stable, as well as the visit by the shepherds.
Matthew doesn’t give us a reason for writing what he writes, but starts with the genealogy, from Abraham to Joseph, the husband of Mary and then simply tells us that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem” before telling the story of the Magi traveling by the star to find the newborn king, whom they find in a house, not a stable. But we’ll save talking about them for Epiphany, because despite what our manger scenes may look like, they didn’t arrive until later.
And just so I don’t give the impression of ignoring the other gospel writer, Mark, I’ll just say that in his immediacy, Mark starts his version with Jesus and his cousin John already grown and offers nothing of their conception, birth, or childhood.
When John penned his version of God’s story, he decided to go way back before the birth of baby Jesus to the Beginning, to take us into the eternal nature of the story. Because, you see, the birth of Jesus wasn’t an add-on or a plan B, Jesus was and is and will always be part of God’s eternal story. And John tells us how we are a part of God’s eternal story, too.
In the Beginning was … the Word, Jesus, somehow, in holy mystery, both God and with God. One and yet distinct. In the beginning was also the mystery of the Trinity but that’s for another sermon on another Sunday. This is Christmas. The celebration of the birth of Jesus, yes, but not the beginning. Or the middle. Or the end. It is a continuation of God’s Story of Love.
This celebration, this Mass to celebrate the birth of Jesus, is so much more than a day.
It is so much more than a box of decorations we get out once a year and then put away when we are done with them. It is so much more than a once a year meal with our extended family and friends. It is so much more than the wonderfully wrapped “Just what I wanted” under the tree.
It is more than our words can fully describe. What we celebrate today is the Holy Mystery of God who spoke us into being in Love, for Love, to Love.
We celebrate the God who called an ancient people to learn to love as he loves so that the world would know love.
The God who again and again forgives when we choose our own way, for taking what we want instead of being grateful for the abundance God gives.
The God who always offers us the choice to be who we are created to be or try to find life for ourselves.
The God who loves us regardless of our choices and waits for us to return to who we are meant to be.
The God who feels the pain of our choices and offers us comfort and courage and strength.
The God who says, “you are my beloved.”
This is the God we celebrate.
God came as a vulnerable and fragile infant, born to the poorest of parents, in a time dominated by fear and violence to shine the light of love into the darkness.
God came to live and die as one of us so that we could live every moment of every day as we are created to live, in the image of the God who spoke us all into being in the beginning.
“Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”
This is what we celebrate with our manger scenes and trees and ornaments and gifts: the love and light and life that comes from the God who created all things and all of us as beloved children.
So that, as with our collective prayer we prayed to be “daily renewed by God’s Holy Spirit”. This Word, this Light, this life is for all of us, to guide our steps in The Way of Love.
God comes to us every moment of every day, waiting for us to respond to his invitation of love and life. The Christmas story is God’s Eternal Story and we are a part of the story. We are, each and every one of us, born in God’s image. We are born to shine the light of love into the darkness of this world. Each and every baby born, whether in a stable or in the grandest of palaces and every possible place in between says that God isn’t finished writing his story yet.
The baby in the manger scenes is our reminder of who we are born to be: beloved children of God.
Mary and Joseph remind us that even when God calls us to do the really hard things that he is with us, giving us courage and strength.
The angels proclaiming the birth are our reminder to share the message of hope and love we’ve been given.
The shepherds remind us of the awe and wonder of God coming to us, as we are, not requiring us to earn our way into his presence but drawing us into the kingdom, into God’s eternal story, as activists participants, shining the light into the darkness.
Yes, the Christmas story is about the baby Jesus, but it is so much more. It is the story of who we are meant to be, written by God, in which we are given the power to be children of God, born of God in Jesus’ name.
It is the story of God with us in our homes and in our places of work and play and where we volunteer and shop and participate in our communities.
Christmas is about God with us every day of the year, shaping and transforming us as we participate with God in the answer to the prayer the grown up Jesus teaches us: God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.