Christmas Day 2013 — Based on John 1:1-14
The prediction by the National Retail Federation was that Americans would spend over $600 billion on Christmas this year. That’s a lot of peppermint bark, and Christmas cards and Xbox Ones and holiday sweaters. If you had $100 bills and laid them on top of each other in a single stack, the stack would be 2 million 149 thousand 800 feet high, or just over 407 miles. That’s the distance from Boston to Baltimore, and that would be the bills in a stack laid flat not laying them out long-ways end to end which would easily circumnavigate the globe.
That’s a ton of money. Well actually, that’s over 6000 tons of money.
Which has to make you ask, whose birthday is it anyway? All those gifts that we’ve placed under trees and mailed and the decorations and all of it are to celebrate the birth of Jesus, right?
I’ve been watching Christmas movies as part of an Advent discipline in order to see if Hollywood gets the true point of Christmas or not. One of them, “The Bishop’s Wife” has a fantastic and short sermon in it. If you were here 12 hours ago—and that just might be Mike and me— please excuse me for using this image again, but I think it bears repeating. The good bishop said in his Christmas Eve sermon, “Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled – all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we are celebrating. Don’t ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most, and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”
Jesus’ birthday. Today. What gifts will we bring him?
John doesn’t take the same route as Matthew and Luke, forgoing the details of the Nativity story entirely. He writes his Gospel near the end of the 1st century, long after the details of Mary and Joseph and the journey to Bethlehem have been retold and written down. John strikes out on his own path to help explain how Jesus, the Word, had been with God from the very beginning. And not just that, but also was God.
This is heady stuff, to be sure. It’s one thing to celebrate the birth of a child, even a child of miraculous origins. It’s another to claim that in the very beginning, when the world was formed, the Word—Jesus—stood near to God. Jesus was—Jesus is—God.
Unbelievable. God became flesh—God became flesh!—and lived among us. Literally tented among us. God took up residence in our world, our neighborhood, in order to be among us and love us and show us truly what God is like.
So John writes that Prologue of his to declare quite unmistakably that Jesus was the Word and the Word was God. Jesus, born in Bethlehem so many years ago among the animals, he exuded a light in our dark world. And that light shines out in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
This one, Jesus, “was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
Many do not understand him or accept him or receive him. His stocking often remains empty—just $10 billion would make clean water available to every in our world—not even 2% of what we Americans have spent on Christmas. The world remains dark.
But John doesn’t stop with the darkness, he writes that all who received the Word, who believed in his name—Emmanuel, God-with-us—to them he gave power to become children of God. All who received him. Which, by my reckoning, includes you and me too. We have received him. He came to us, and we let his light flood into our lives, and because of this we, you and I, are sons and daughters of God.
Which is quite a remarkable thing after all. We are born not of flesh and blood, but of God. Through the birth of Jesus we too have experienced a new birth—we are, to put it in John’s language a little later—born again.
And so maybe today is our birthday after all. Of course its’ not the day we were born to our earthly parents, but it is the day we became a son or daughter of God. This day is the very reason we have seen Christ’s light, and we have been drawn to him. We have allowed his light to shine upon us and scatter the darkness from our lives.
So let us celebrate these next twelve days by sharing Christ’s light with others. We have been given such wonderful news, Jesus—the Word, God himself— came down and lived among us, and we have seen his glory. Let us share that news this Christmastide and fill Christ’s stocking to overflowing. Merry Christmas! Amen!