In the Name...
And, let me wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. Christmas is fun, isn't it? But, it's also a very strange time of year. I mean, a lot of strange things go on. We bring trees into our houses, complete with falling needles, and festoon them with lights, garlands, and ornaments. We put money in red kettles, almost as a reflex action. And, we go to church at night. So much about Christmas is strange. And yet, at the heart of it is the passage of scripture we just heard read, and it doesn't mention shepherds, stars, taxes or Caesars, wise men or angels. Instead it says, The Word was made flesh and dwelt - lived - among us. And, that is Christmas.
No sermon can improve on this simple statement of this single truth. The Word was made flesh, God became Man. This is the most wonderful, amazing, exciting event in all history, in fact all history is dated from this event - BC or AD. And from the build-up of the past weeks, the decorations, the manger scenes in front of people's houses, it seems that everyone agrees. But, on reflection, what is it that we're agreeing about? The birth of a baby in a place called Bethlehem, certainly. But, how is that baby known to us at any other time of year? That is, when we hear the name Jesus, do we automatically think “Jesus of Bethlehem?” Or does some other place spring to mind? Jesus of - Nazareth. This is how Jesus was known throughout his life and that's important for us to remember tonight as we celebrate his birth.
You see, the story of Jesus does not end with the angel's song, Glory to God in the Highest. It doesn't even end with the visit of the wise men. The story continues. King Herod hears of the birth and orders the murder of all the children in Bethlehem. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt and hide there for three years and when they do return it is to the city of Nazareth at the other end of the country. The point is that you and I know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but, his parents couldn't tell a soul.
The massacre of the children was no secret. Simple math would have exposed him. And so, in an age where everybody was identified by their home town, Simon of Cyrene, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary of Magdala - Jesus, the Son of God, had to live and die under an alias.
Tonight's Gospel also contained these words, "he was in the world, the world was made by him, but, the world knew him not." And this is also part of the Christmas story. Rejection.
There are few things more moving than the birth of a child and perhaps that's why people find Christmas so easy to celebrate. The mood is right - the silent night, the shining star. But, over the next few days, the decorations will disappear, the manger scenes will be dismantled, the ornaments packed away and for many, so too will any thought about Jesus as the Christ, as the Word of God who spoke words; words which tell the world that the baby laid in the wooden manger becomes the man nailed to the wooden cross; words which speak self-denial to a world which encourages self-indulgence; words which speak of ultimate accountability to a world which denies individual responsibility; words which speak peace and justice to a world which profits from conflict and deceit. These words will not be put away in a cardboard box any more than the one who spoke them could be put away in a stone tomb. But, many will try. Many will try. And they'll call that “getting on with life.”
So, how will we get on with our lives after tonight? After the wise men found the Christ child they were told to go home by another road. We too must leave here by a different road. We cannot return to our homes unchanged and claim we have celebrated Christmas. We celebrate Christmas tomorrow, next week, next month - we celebrate every time we repeat the words, when we live the words, of the Word made flesh. He was in the world and the world knew him not. So much for the world. How well do we know him? Jesus of Bethlehem has a universal appeal. Jesus of Nazareth appeals to the universe. And, He makes that appeal through us.
So, may we always celebrate the Word made Flesh as child, as man, and as God.
In the Name...