12/25/2016 Christmas Day The text is John 1.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
William Richard Ezell wrote in his sermon, “God is Here,” of the day he found some graffiti on the door of his church. He wrote, “The last place I expected graffiti was on the door of a church. Serving as a minister to a growing, suburban congregation afforded little time to oneself. Consequently, I would often withdraw to a room at the opposite end of the building. There I was free of most interruptions and distractions. [But what I found] etched in the brown door at eye level were three words: GOD WAS HERE (Obviously an innocent gag, probably written by one of the creative teenagers with whom I worked.). [Yet,] admittedly, reading such a statement in a church does make one slightly uncomfortable.
A week later I returned to my place of quiet. I needed peace from the frustrations of a crowded day. I noticed that the graffiti had been tampered. Altering graffiti occurs on buildings and bridges, but in a church?! But there it was, not blatant, but changed. And better yet, my training confirmed, more theologically accurate. For someone had crossed out “was” and written above it “is”. In a quiet room the message of Christmas was proclaimed: GOD IS HERE.”
That was the message that the angels announced, that the shepherd’s heard, that the wise men sought, that Herod feared, that the world did not even notice. It was the message that Mary cradled and that Joseph admired. It was the message wrapped in cloths. It was the little baby Jesus.
“God is here” is the message of Christmas. For in Jesus, God’s one and only Son became a man. He was God in a suit of flesh. He was the visible expression of the invisible deity. In Jesus God was expressing himself in a language that we could understand. God was identifying with the frailties and tragedies of the human race. God was getting up close and personal.
Often when we think of God, we look toward the heavens. We think of God as being up there, far removed from the cares and concerns of this created world. But because Jesus became a man God is no longer unreachable. In Jesus, God became touchable, approachable and reachable God came down here to live with us for we could never reach him up there. In love He came down here to us. He closed the gap between us and touched our lives.
John used one word to describe what God did in Jesus and that word is “dwelt.” In the time of Jesus, to dwell meant “to live in a tent.” In our world we would best describe it as Eugene Petersen does in The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” God, in Jesus, became human, taking up residence and living among us.
Before Jesus was born God had visited His people performing mighty and miraculous works. So in order not to forget the people constructed physical monuments and buildings to help them remember that “God was here.” But when Jesus entered the world the verb tense changed from past to present — from “was” to “is.” Because the Word became flesh, we know that God is present in all of His splendor and glory. We don’t have to erect structures to remind us of the past for God is here. God is here is the bread and wine we eat. God is here in the prayers we speak, the Word we preach, the people we reach. God is not relegated to some far off place in the heavens.
In the one act of becoming human God identified with our pain. The pain of loneliness, He felt it. The hurt of rejection, He felt it. The sadness of losing a loved one to death, He felt it. The scars of mental or physical abuse, He felt it. When we suffer pain, we want others to understand. We want others to be like us so they can identify with us. We don’t want to be alone. We want others to feel our pain and our hurt. When Jesus became a man He understood us; He identified with us; He felt our pain, and He hurt and He bore in His sinless soul the weight of our sin, so that we could be forgiven.
When Jesus became a man he showed us God. He came in the midst of the loneliness and the horror of a world gone mad. Christ came among us to show us who God is and what God is. Jesus showed us God in a way that we can understand. In a way to renew us and give us hope even in the darkest of times, for he is the light of the world, and no darkness can overcome him.
Jesus came to save. Jesus came to show us God’s love for us. Jesus came to make us whole. Jesus came because we needed him, and through him, we are blessed and welcomed into the family no matter what we may have done in the past.
The power of God’s forgiveness and grace in Christ is illustrated in a story told by Tim Zingale, [in Christmas Colors] about a young girl who ran away from home to get married. Her father was angry and said he would never forgive her or ever want to see her again. She was sorry and wrote long letters seeking forgiveness, but still the father remained unforgiving. She eventually had a son. One day, when the boy was old enough to run and play, an idea came to her. Why not send her son to her father. He would be a living letter telling her father of her love for him and that she still very much wanted his forgiveness. They drove to grandfather’s house. The boy had not been there before, but the house was as his mother remembered it. She told the boy to knock on the door. When Grandpa answered, he was to give him a big hug and a kiss. The boy went to the door, knocked, grandfather answered, the boy reached up, kissed him and gave him a huge hug. His heart melted and the father motioned for the girl to come in as she was standing just a few feet from the door. Reconciliation happened that day just as reconciliation happens between God and his children. Jesus is God’s sign of his love for us and his power to forgive us our wrongs.
And so it is that John begins his gospel – not with the sweet story of a virgin conceiving a child, a trek to Bethlehem, a stable birth, angel song and shepherds glee. John begins his gospel with the Word. He begins at the beginning of all things. John begins by showing us at what lengths God will go to reconcile us to himself. It begins with the Word becoming flesh and taking up residence with us. It begins with God choosing to know what we need and then providing it for us.
This, my friends, is the true meaning and gift of Christmas. May you find hope and joy and a Merry Christmas in this message of God’s presence. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.