Sermon for Christmas Day 2023
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christmas Eve is traditionally the time when the church tells the story of Jesus’ birth. We get Joseph and Mary and shepherds and angels and the manger. They’re all still here today. They’re in our hymns and in our creche and in our hearts.
But on Christmas Day the focus turns from the story of Jesus’ birth to a deeper dive into the meaning of Jesus’ birth. And so we move from St. Luke, whose purpose in writing his gospel was to get down an “orderly account” of the story of Jesus, to St. John, who gets right to the heart of the meaning of it all.
John begins his gospel with language hearkening back to the creation account in Genesis:
“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.”
John sets the scene for his gospel by describing the Word that existed with God and as God from the very beginning, before creation itself came into being. This Word brought creation into existence. This Word was and is the spark of life.
This is all very conceptual, very theological. It is beautiful and powerful and important, but so far these are ideas that John is putting before us. This Word is, at this point, remote. Abstract. Distant.
But not for long. Not for long, because John goes on to tell us that this Word came into the world! The world did not know him. Many of his own people did not accept him. But the Word came into the world, and to those who did receive him, he gave them power to become children of God. In other words, they were drawn into relationship with him, a close relationship.
And then comes the most wondrous statement of all: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Here is the meaning of Jesus’ birth: This Word that existed with God and as God from the beginning of time became a human being. What was abstract has become concrete. What we struggle to understand as an idea or a concept has become a person. The God who is above all, and through whom all things came into being, has entered his own creation, becoming incarnate, coming to us in the flesh as an infant.
And so what can sometimes seem so distant to us has come very, very close. The Word became flesh and lived among us! In theological terms this is called the incarnation. God took on human flesh to come close to us, to connect with us, to reconcile us to himself, to draw us into relationship with him.
My wife and I got into the habit of taking walks every day when we had our dog. Sadly, our dog died this summer. But while we lost our dog, we kept the walks. We found that we enjoyed them so much that we’d keep doing them. Only now that we aren’t juggling a leash and poop bags we have made a point of holding hands on our walks.
Some of you want to say, “Aww, how sweet,” right now, while others want to groan or roll your eyes. It’s okay. We are well aware that some see us strolling hand in hand and think it’s corny or cringey. But here’s the thing we have discovered by holding hands for a half an hour almost every day – it brings us closer. There is a connection there that is deepened. If we’ve been distant from each other or preoccupied, we are suddenly more present to each other. If we’ve been snippy with each other earlier in the day and there are lingering resentments, that all fades away with that human touch. It’s hard to stay mad at someone you’re holding hands with.
Sometime after we started this practice, I came across an article about the benefits of holding hands, which affirmed everything we’d noticed since we started doing it. It even gave scientific, biochemical explanations for how holding hands can lead better overall wellness, decreasing stress, soothing anxiety, lowering your blood pressure and heart rate.
This isn’t just for married people. Holding hands is not just a romantic gesture. Last week I went to see one of our church members who is in hospice. He is now in a haze of morphine, making it difficult to carry on a conversation. But the moment he recognized who I was he put out his hand, and I held it the entire time I was there. That human touch established a connection, a closeness.
When we hear John tell us that the Word became flesh and lived among us, he is telling us that in Christ, God has come close to us. God has come to us in the flesh. God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ to establish a deep and close human connection with us. The Word became flesh so that instead of being distant, he can be present to us and for us. The Word became flesh so that any sin separating us from him can be overcome and we can be reconciled. The Word became flesh in order to bring us the wellness that comes from his touch.
You might be thinking to yourself at this point, “But pastor, Jesus came in the flesh a long time ago. He’s not here anymore. It’s not like we can hold his hand. He is not here in the flesh for us to touch today.”
Are you sure about that?
There is a moment in our worship service where we take hold of each other’s hands. We do it during the Passing of the Peace. You wouldn’t guess from how casual and chaotic it can be, but it is a holy moment. We, the church, are the Body of Christ, and so when we take hold of each other’s hands, we aren’t just saying “howdy.” We are connecting through human touch as the Body of Christ. We aren’t just touching each other, we are touching Him, the Word who became flesh. We are literally passing the peace of Christ!
There’s another moment in our worship service where this happens. It happens when the bread of the Lord’s Supper is placed in the palm of your hand. The Word becomes flesh as Christ’s body is given for you. When you touch that bread, you touch Him. When you take hold of that bread you are taking hold of him. And when you take hold of him, you are deeply, personally connected to Him. He is truly present for you. Any difficulties or troubles in the relationship melt away through his forgiveness. His touch makes us well.
The story of Christmas is something we hear once a year, but the meaning of Christmas is evident Sunday after Sunday. In fact, the meaning of Christmas shapes every moment of our lives as we come to see that God is not far off, not distant, not merely a concept or an idea, but is close, living among us, full of grace and truth. The meaning of Christmas is that in Jesus Christ the Word became flesh so that he might take your hand in his – today, and forever.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church