Christmas is a labor of love, is it not? So much had to be done to get us to today—either by you, or by others: a tree was selected and cut, purchased and brought home, set up and decorated; lights were hung, decorations were placed; cards were written and mailed; food—mountains of food—was shopped for, prepared and cooked; presents were picked out, ordered and wrapped; and planes, trains and automobiles were employed bringing us all together [or not—given the weather!]. It’s no wonder that some of us find ourselves a bit tired and frazzled today.
And, let’s not forget that for some of us, Christmas is just a labor—a season, a day, to be endured. There isn’t a place for a tree—or the means to get one; there isn’t money for presents or special foods; and family and friends are too far away, estranged, or lost long ago. It’s no wonder that some of us find ourselves a little blue and out of sorts today.
All the more reason, then, that it is good for us to gather as Christian community this morning, to be reminded that the purpose and meaning of Christmas don’t actually depend on us: what we have done—or have not done; whom we are with—or not; the presents, the food, the tree. That’s all great, but ultimately, it’s all window dressing on what really matters.
Instead, the transformative power of Christmas is grounded on what God has done—and oh, what God has done!
As Christians, when we think about what God has done for us—God’s saving work and God’s love—we talk a lot about the cross, and about Jesus dying for our sins. That language has its place, of course, but for me, talk of God’s saving work really begins and ends with today: the whole of God’s relationship to humanity, the core of God’s loving nature, and the almost unimaginable depth of God’s care and passion for the world God created are all encapsulated in this moment, in this day, in this baby—the Word made flesh, dwelling among us.
In this living Word, Jesus Christ, the covenant that God made with God’s people has been written on God’s flesh, as well as human flesh. In Jesus Christ, the abyss of sin and death that yawns between God and humanity has been forever traversed and overcome. In Jesus Christ, the wall of guilt and shame that hides us from God—and God from us—has been permanently and irrevocably torn down. And in Jesus Christ, the infinite qualitative gap that separates the divine from the human has been shrunk down to the size of a newborn baby’s foot, a newborn baby’s fist.
And all of this has been done in the free, gracious decision of God, who out of love for the whole world chooses to knit human sinews—human flesh and bone—into God’s own being; who chooses to be with us not from a distance but as near as our own heartbeat, our own sighs, our own whispers. In the incarnation, God has taken all that we are into all that God is, and bound Godself to us with the strongest possible cords of love, such that from this moment onward, God’s being and our being—and the being of the very cosmos itself—are inseparable.
What happens to us, happens to God; what we know, God knows; what we feel, God feels; what we experience, God experiences—not from some faraway throne in heaven, but from the inside, from the deepest places in our soul where our most private longings and our most secret shame rest. God dwells with us not in judgment, not in indifference or neutrality, but in fervent, ardent love.
And it’s this divine love that explains the incarnation best. Love desires closeness, intimacy; it wants to share in the life of the beloved—it wants a part in both joys and sorrows; and it needs a real relationship, a relationship we can see, taste, and feel. God took flesh and was born among us for love’s sake–that we might know God as love, know ourselves as loved by God, and be empowered to love others through God.
And so in the end, it is this love of God, shown to us in the face of a newborn baby, that is the good news of Christmas, and that enables the church to proclaim the gospel message of Jesus Christ with boldness and conviction—especially today. Because the Christmas message is, at its core, a message of God’s abiding, caring presence with us at all times and in all places: it is the warmth of God’s love enveloping us, the strength of God’s hands uplifting us, the wisdom of God guiding us, and the promise of God’s restoration, renewal and reconciliation—both now and in the future.
This is the gospel message of compassion and consolation the church can offer to the sick and suffering, those recovering from illness or injury, the lonely and the brokenhearted. This is the gospel message of solidarity and hope church can offer to those fleeing violence and danger, and stranded on the border between the United States and Mexico. And this is the message of comfort and assurance the church can offer all those who have lost a spouse, a parent, or a loved one this year, and whose Christmas table will be one short.
Because of Jesus Christ, to all those—and to all of us—the gospel comes. It is because of Jesus Christ, this little backwater baby, that the church can say, unto you a savior is born; into your life, love has come down; in your heart, God dwells.
You are not, and will never be alone. You are not, and will never be abandoned. You are not, and will never be, forgotten. Because in Jesus Christ, God has taken you—broken, grieving, weak and weary up into God’s arms, embraced you, and promised to bear your pain with you, walk with you and shine a light in your shadowy valleys. And nothing that anyone says or does—nothing that you say or do—can separate you from God’s love. In Jesus, it’s all done—once and for all, once and forever.
So, for all of us today, I wish us the joys that we bring one another: good food, hugs and kisses, rich conversation, warmth, and peace. But mostly, I wish us the joy that God brings us: undying, unshakeable love, new life and new hope, and a vision of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God that we catch a glimpse of today in this baby Jesus. Merry, merry Christmas.