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Sermon for Christmas Day – December 25, 2022
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I read an article last week which pointed out that the most enduring and beloved Christmas stories all have a shadow of darkness to them. “A Christmas Carol” is essentially a ghost story with a selfish and bitter old man and a sick child. “It’s a Wonderful Life” features suicide as a central plot point. Even “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is run through with Charlie Brown’s melancholy and depression.
What makes these stories so enduring and beloved is that they tell the truth. They don’t deny the darkness. They tell the truth about what human life in the world is really like, and then they bring light into that darkness, whether through a dream-induced conversion, or an angel named Clarence, or Linus taking center stage to remind everyone what Christmas is all about.
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we heard the Christmas story in Matthew, which is told from Joseph’s perspective. On Christmas Eve we always hear the Christmas story in Luke, which is the one everyone knows best, with the manger and the angels and the shepherds. On Christmas day, we hear the Christmas story according to John.
John ties the Christmas story back to the beginning of creation, echoing the language of Genesis: “In the beginning was the Word…”
John uses his own unique style of stunningly beautiful theological poetry to describe the meaning of Christ’s birth: “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.”
But John, perhaps more than any other gospel writer, doesn’t shy away from the darkness. John tells us that Christ was in the world, and the world came into being through him, and yet the world did not know him. John tells us that Christ came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. John is telling the truth about the world’s rejection of God. He is describing the world as it really is. John, more than any other gospel writer, acknowledges the darkness. John, more explicitly than Matthew or Luke, points us to the shadow of the cross.
This might be a bummer of a Christmas sermon so far, but I believe that if we are really going to take hold of the true hope and joy of Christmas, we too need to acknowledge the darkness, because it is precisely into this darkness that the light has come.
This darkness takes the form of Scroogy, selfish hearts. It takes the form of sickness. It takes the form of despair. It takes the form of melancholy and depression. This darkness casts its shadow across our world and often across our lives. A Christmas story that doesn’t tell the truth about this is mere sentimentality. It might provide a momentarily pleasant distraction, but it cannot bring us the true hope and joy of Christmas.
John tells the truth about the darkness, but only so that he can let the light shine into it. Knowing that Luke and Matthew already did a good job of telling the story of how Jesus’ birth took place, John tells us what the birth of Christ means.
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people,” John tells us. When Jesus grew up, he would say, “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” The birth of Jesus means that we have life! This is much more than just having a pulse and some electrical activity in our brains, and abundant life doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll all live to be 102! This abundant life is a life lived in relationship with God, the one who created us. It is a life lived knowing that we are not insignificant specks on a tiny planet hurling through space, but precious and beloved children of a Heavenly Father. The Word became flesh to open our eyes and our hearts to this life that is really life, a life with God that begins now and continues forever.
“The Word became flesh and lived among us,” John tells us. Christmas means that God has personally entered into our world. God has personally entered into human existence. God came to live among us! God came into the world in Jesus and experienced the joys and the sorrows of human life, from dinner parties with friends to terrible betrayals, from the most boisterous laughter to the most bitter tears, from the warmth of his mother’s embrace to the pain of a broken body, from a baby’s cry to a human’s last breath. He experienced it all. He lived among us! As the Word became flesh and lived among us, God came close to humankind. And so God is not merely an idea. God is not a far off, abstract concept. God is close to us. God is close to you!
This Word that became flesh and lived among us was full of grace and truth, John tells us. Grace is an undeserved kindness. Grace is something we cannot earn or achieve for ourselves, but instead is given to us as a gift. The Christ child is God’s gift of grace to us, the gift of a savior. When Jesus grew up he would bring grace to people as he had compassion on the sick and suffering. He brought grace to people who were cast out or alone. He brought grace to people by forgiving their sin. The birth of Jesus meant God was bringing grace into the world, and into our lives!
The birth of Jesus also brought truth. This isn’t just about accurate facts or the laws of nature. The birth of Jesus brought the world the truth about God. As it says in our reading from Hebrews, “Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Anyone who wonders about who God is can simply look to Jesus. Anyone who wonders what God is like can look to Jesus and see God’s gracious, merciful, loving heart.
“A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” John tells us. What Christmas means is that in spite of the darkness in our world and in our lives, a light shines. No matter how powerful or oppressive the darkness may seem, it will never overcome this light. What happened in and through the birth of Christ will never be snuffed out! The world would try, but it didn’t work. Be sure to come back on Easter to hear that story!
I hope your Christmas is filled with fun and laughter and good food and good company. I hope it is filled with merriment and joy and rest. Today is a day to celebrate and rejoice. Christmas means that we have life! Christmas means that God has drawn close to us! In the birth of Jesus, God has given us grace and truth!
Scroogy-ness and sickness, despair and disappointment are sometimes part of our Christmas stories, but today a light shines right in the middle of that darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church