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Another Christmas Story

1/4/2015 Second Sunday of Christmas The text for today is John 1:1-18.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Merry Christmas, my friends!  I know it doesn’t feel a lot like Christmas this weekend, especially with us worshiping in the Fellowship Hall on folding chairs instead of in the nave with candles in hand.  But Merry Christmas, just the same!

As New Year’s Day has come and gone, and most of the Christmas decorations have been packed up and stored away for another year, it is now that we can begin to celebrate Christmas.  For, Christmas is not a shopping season which ends with a big gift exchange on December 25th.  Christmas begins on the day we celebrate Christ’s birth and continues for 12 days.  But, of course, for most of us, the celebrating ends this weekend.  Monday, we go back to our normal routine and leave Christmas behind us.

Christmas just isn’t what it used to be years ago – a season full of special days.  Even in my younger years, I focused on the one evening and one day event.  I spent hours shopping, decorating the house and baking goodies.  I religiously sent out Christmas cards and mailed packages in a timely manner so that they would arrive on time for the big day.  And once that day was over and the packages were unwrapped, quickly, things were put away and life resumed as if the day never happened.

I guess what we feel about the Christmas season all depends upon what we expect out of it.  If Christmas is merely Santa Claus and homemade cookies and family gatherings, focusing on children, and little more, then this season and the reason for the 12-day celebration is lost in the wrapping paper and bows and decorations that have been put away for another year.

But, my friends, this is not what Christmas is all about, and you know that as well as I or you wouldn’t have braved the weather today to be here.  Christmas is about a miraculous and transforming event in which God chose to enter human life and be with us through the best and worst of what this world can toss in our direction.  Christmas has never been a celebration reserved for children.  Christmas is not just for families.  It is for all people as a Savior of the world was born to brighten the hearts of each and every one of us.

Most of us are very familiar with the Christmas story that comes from a combination of the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  We hear Luke’s version every Christmas eve and we get Matthew’s side whenever we hear of wise men and a star.  But there is another Christmas story – the one told by John.

In John’s gospel, there is no nativity scene.  There is no Mary or Joseph.  There is no baby lying in a manger.  There is no virgin birth, no magical night of angel song.  In John’s gospel, all the details fade as God takes center stage.  For before anything was created, before there was light in the sky and life on the planet, there was God.  And God spoke and with his word the world came into being.  This word of God, the very essence of God, God’s presence and power and compassion became flesh and lived among us as God chose to identify fully with his creation.  This was God’s choice for us.  God chose to come down from heaven and take on human flesh.  He came as a physician for those in need of help.  He came to heal our wounds and to soothe our broken hearts and minds.

Of course, this was not what was expected by those watching and waiting for the Messiah when Jesus was born.  Most were looking for an anointed one who would come with a sword in one hand and whip in the other to drive out the oppressors.  Even John the Baptist was anticipating a messiah who would look and act like God’s royal henchman.  What he got instead was Jesus; God’s word of grace made flesh, a humble and faithful servant who came to save, not to condemn a troubled world and a people in need of hope.  What he got was a compassionate and merciful man who reached out with divine forgiveness, even to sinners like us.  John was expecting something very different for his God was a severe, even an angry God, whose instruments were the axe, the winnowing fork, and unquenchable fire.  What John got was a God of mercy and love, who would bring about his reign, not by executing stern judgment against sinners, but by offering himself upon the cross as a sacrifice for all.  This is the brilliance of God.  This is the truth and divine grace made flesh in Jesus Christ.

This is the Christmas surprise.  It is an undeserved gift given by the all-powerful God who humbled himself by taking human form and coming to us, not as a member of the royal house of the day, but as a member of David’s royal house which was now defunct.  This messiah did not come to offer us quick and easy solutions to our problems.  Miracles happen slowly, in God’s time and in God’s way.  For your see, Jesus was not sent into the world to fulfill our expectation of God.  Jesus was sent into the world to give us what we truly need from God.

And what we need is patience and compassion.  We need forgiveness and mercy.  We need light to brighten the dark places in our lives.  We need hope to meet the challenges of living each new day in a broken and troubled world.  We need a savior who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  That love may, at times, be tough love – a love which calls us to renewed faith and freedom, a love which calls us to be risk takers for our sake and for the sake of others, in order that we may all grow and bear fruit.  This may not be what we expect or want from God.  We may want another Garden of Eden, but what we need is a God who will stand by us through thick and thin, a God who will call us back to him and love us in spite of our faults and failures.  And this is what we received on Christmas as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Fortunately, God has more in store for us than a one-evening, one-day event.  And John in his gospel helps us to get beyond a quaint scene of Jesus’ birth, complete with a familiar cast of characters to see that God has a much broader idea in mind than what we expect from him.

So, my friends – Merry Christmas!  Don’t be so fast to put Christmas away for another year.  Celebrate God’s gift of unexpected grace.  For, Christmas isn’t Santa Claus or homemade cookies or family gatherings.  What makes this season bright is the miracle of God choosing to come to us through his Son, the greatest gift of all.  So, have yourself a merry little Christmastime and a blessed New Year, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.



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