I have long thought it was pointless to write a sermon for Christmas Eve. I mean, how many Christmas Eve sermons have you actually remembered afterward? Hmm? Yeah, me too. Not one.
So I’ve always operated from the viewpoint that the gospel could speak for itself this one night of the year. The story of the incarnation is enough.
But lately, I’ve begun to realize that this is only true for people who already believe. For everyone else, it’s just a nice story. It makes us feel all fuzzy and warm, and for an hour or so, we can bask in the gentle glow of candlelight. We can pretend that the cute baby in the manger sleeps in heavenly peace, and won’t bother us too much with the reality of our human existence.
And that’s where we’d be wrong. Because the whole point of the incarnation – that idea of God becoming human in the person of Jesus – the whole point of that exercise is precisely to remind us of the reality of our human condition. And to let us know that God loves us each so much, God chose to enter into that condition and become one of us. That’s what the name “Emmanuel” means: God with us.
Soon, you are going to hear the opening verses of John’s gospel. I usually like to read this passage myself. I admit that this is a selfish impulse. So tonight, in an act of repentance for my selfishness, I have asked someone else to read that last lesson. I hope you will get something new from hearing these beautiful words in a fresh voice: In the beginning was the Word … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Someone mentioned this ‘holy mystery’ on Twitter the other day:
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
The Word didn’t become a religious system.
The Word didn’t become a theological checklist.
The Word didn’t become a political movement.
The Word didn’t become an ecstatic experience.
The Word became flesh. Loving embodied existence.
God chose to be among us as one of us. In a moment, we will remember how this story turned out. We will celebrate that Jesus not only came into our world as a precious baby, he grew up. He challenged worldly authorities in order to establish heavenly peace. He died for that peace. But the story does not end there. Birth and death are inevitable as part of this human condition. But Christ rose again from death to free us from the inevitable. Christ invites you to receive this gift.
Tonight, I invite you to receive Jesus.
As you take the bread and receive the cup, receive Jesus.
As you tip your candle into the flame, receive Jesus.
Even if you consider yourself a believer, already a Christian,
receive Jesus anew.
If you are a skeptic, or maybe you’re only here because your family made you come, receive this miracle of God with you.