The three gospels that we are most familiar with, that of Matthew, Mark and Luke, give us an eyewitness account of the birth of Jesus . . . a story that we all know very well. They recount the story of Mary and Elizabeth and their pregnancies. They tell about Joseph and his dreams sent from God to protect the Holy Family. They each tell of wise men and the holy angels and poor shepherds who visited the baby in the manger. They each tell of the evil deeds of King Herod when he found out that he was tricked by the wise men, and they all tell about the holy family’s flight into Egypt and their eventual return. These are the stories that we know, that we’ve grown up with and that are familiar to us in our carols and hymns at Christmas time.
But the fourth Gospel, the one we read this evening is quite different. The Gospel of John tells us about who Jesus really is.
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it . . . . . No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’ It is he who has become for us – Emmanuel – God with us.
Human beings, for the most part, think in terms of months, years and decades. We do this because we are time driven, finite beings. We all know that we have a beginning, and we are all (sometimes painfully) aware that someday we will have an end. It is hard for us to think in perspective of hundreds of years. I can remember back perhaps forty of my sixty-four years. Before that it becomes a blur. In history, we learn about things that happened hundreds of years ago and some things that happened perhaps thousands of years ago. But for the most part, things that happened beyond six or seven thousand years ago tend to remain somewhat obscure in our collective human conscience. We aren’t that clear on the dinosaurs or on the ice age because we only have fossils and a few footprints left to identify with. The baby Jesus in the manger is relatively easy to envision at a mere 2,000 years, but the creation, we tend to limit with our understanding of the event. For some, there is the feeling that 8,000 years is a good estimate and yet for others 8 million years might be better.
But science today has been given a number of clues that the creation was not millions of years ago or even tens of millions. It has been estimated that the universe we live in is at least fourteen billion years old; and that this may not be the only universe ever created; there may be others. Science has also been given clues as to our own origins and the origin of all matter. There is clear evidence that the creation we see, the rocks, the metals, the air and everything that is, is the result of the implosion of hydrogen and helium driven stars. There also seems to be evidence that at one time there was nothing and then . . suddenly . . . there was everything, as if someone ‘gave the Word’ and it was.
It is even harder to imagine that every particle of every being . . . every atom that ever existed or was created is still here and yet even more bizarre, if you think about it long enough . . . they are within all of us and make up our very being. I may be 64 years old, but the components that make me and you and the entire world around us are in a word . . . ancient, created hundreds of millions of years ago by the God of creation who we can only regard as incomprehensible.
Then there is DNA, the stuff of life, a molecular compound that within every cell stores a nearly infinite record of our collective histories and exact instructions on how to build a human being . . . and not just any human, but a particular human like ‘me’ and a particular human like ‘you’ from the primal elements of creation. And what of the prime mover in all this? Is it a mystery for us to ponder, as many secularists have declared –or- have, we who believe, been given clues to the origin of our creation?
The Christmas gospel we read tonight from John the Evangelist bears witness to these mysteries that in the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
Jesus, the Christ, has been described in the scriptural texts as the Author of Life. Life itself is God’s crowning glory of his creation. For out of the billions of suns and planets in the universe, it was on this planet earth where God chose to create life where there was none. The gospel bears witness to the fact that Jesus was with God billions of years before the world came into being. That alone is hard for me to imagine. But harder still, is the fact that he came personally to save this creation from certain doom in the form of one of us as Emmanuel – God with Us. Why do you suppose he did that? I believe that life itself is so important, so unusual, and so delicate an event in the universe that it continues to command God’s every attention.
That is why Jesus tells us in the gospels that every hair on your head is numbered and that not even a sparrow falls out of a tree without God’s knowledge. That is how important all life is to God’s purpose. So important, in fact, they He came personally to protect what was His from the beginning so that nothing would be lost, but would forevermore be with Him, where he is.
Jesus came into the world, born of a woman, to buy back his lost creation with his own blood. As Paul tells in his letter to the Galations . . . before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian. In other words, before Christ, we were subjects under the law and we were also condemned under the law. But through Christ and faith in his blood, we have been acquitted under the law and made free to become adopted into the family of God where we are able to call God ‘Abba’ father – or a more literal translation – daddy!
This is the ultimate gift of Christmas: that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that none would perish but have everlasting life. By accepting this free gift, we become true sons and true daughters of the most high and heirs to the Kingdom of God.
We celebrate this truth each and every week in the Eucharist as we perpetually remember the great mystery of Christ’s sacrifice . . . We who are believers can bear witness to these great events by living lives worthy of God’s call to us. Whether we call ourselves Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, or Messianic Jew, we have been chosen by the Lord of Life and author of all creation to respond to him in praise and adoration through acts of hope, love and charity for all people. And I am not talking about the ‘ho-hum’ lives of faithless humanism in which we Americans tend to find common ground, but in justice and in truth and in service to all people everywhere and in all the varied situations of life. To be excited about our freedom and our faith just as King David was in tonight’s Psalm . . .
Sing to the LORD a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
The prophets of old weren’t complaining about getting out of bed each week to go to temple, they were . . . all of them . . . living their faith like . . . ‘free men’ . . . who were once condemned under the law! And so should we see each and every day as a blessed opportunity to praise God and to serve all God’s people where ever we find them. This year we found that our Anglican friends in Tanzania live life loving and praising God even in the worse imaginable circumstances. Their families live in poverty and have suffered for years from AIDS and HIV. And yet, one of their greatest pleasures is in praying for us in this church . . . for this ministry so that through us they might be relieved and protected in some way in the circumstances in which they find themselves.
What we have learned from Fr. Kahene and his congregation is that we should praise God in all the varied circumstances of life and never write anyone off . . . because God has a vested interest in each and every soul that he has ever created. When we give up on people who we believe are unreachable, we diminish the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of all the faithful.
The Christmas Story is a story of redemption for God’s creation. And much like the air we all breathe and the water we all drink, God’s redemptive grace must apply to everyone . . . every gender, every race, ever age, every body or it is meaningless for all. Our job in this season is to spread the good news of the Christmas message, to rejoice with God and his whole creation that once all was lost, but now all shall be restored through Jesus, the Christ and our Messiah. Amen