Christmas Day Message 2022
I delivered the following message on Christmas Day, 2022 as a guest speaker at Rehoboth United Methodist Church:
Christ is Born! Let us Rejoice! Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all humankind. It is an honor to be with you at Rehoboth on this Holy Day, a special honor with Christmas falling on Sunday.
Before I begin, let us bow our heads. Father God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable, O Lord. You are our rock, and our redeemer, our light and our inspiration. Amen.
Christmas traditions! The magic… the lights! I remember as a kid our family tradition of riding through neighborhoods, seeing the pretty lights on Christmas… the neighborhood streets lined with luminaria. For a number of years, we filled up our own white paper bags with sand, lit, the candles, and lined our driveway. All of Wrenn Road seemed lit up! Mama would say, “It looks like the world is on fire!”
A few years ago, I started another tradition of lighting the Hanukkah Candles. The Jewish people celebrate Hannukah this time of year as well – today is the last day of Hannukah and tonight I’ll light the 8th candle, commemorating the rededication of the Temple of Israel more than 150 years before Jesus was born. They only had one nights worth of oil as the Greeks had desecrated the Temple, but that oil lasted eight days, allowing the Temple to keep their eternal flame until more oil could be prepared-- the eternal flame of God was to stay lit at all times as a symbol of God's presence. The Gospel of John actually mentions Hannukah – the feast of the Dedication of the Temple -- John 10:22-23 records, "Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade."
In our Christian tradition, we also have been lighting candles this time of year, celebrating the anticipation of the birth of the Christ Child. Over the past four weeks, we’ve lit the candles of Love, Joy, Hope and Peace, marking the days of the Advent Season as we approach Christmas, finally lighting the Christmas Candle.
Why do we do this? Why the candles? Why the lights? This time of year, the winter solstice, is the darkest time of the year. The lights of the season remind us that with Christ, we can overcome darkness.
The Gospel of Matthew, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry quotes the Prophet Isaiah -- , “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;” (Isaiah 9:2). Isaiah goes on to say “ on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
The wise men followed the light of a star to bring them to that light, the baby Jesus. “What Child is This?” the old hymn asks? Who is this child whose very birth changed the world, setting a dividing line in our calendars separating BC from AD?
Today’s reading from The Gospel of John may seem strange for Christmas morning. It doesn’t talk about the physical arrival of Jesus birth. There aren’t shepherds and angels or innkeepers or the manger that we find in the Gospel of Luke, or the Wise Men and the Star that we find in the Gospel of Matthew. There is no Bethlehem, no Mary or Joseph. But the Gospel of John gives us an important message for today, shedding light on “what child is this?”
The Gospel of John 1:1-14:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus Christ. God Incarnate. Literally, God made Flesh, dwelling among us. Isaiah 7:14 foresaw that “The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” – GOD with us.
The Gospel of John proclaims Jesus is the light of all mankind, shining in the darkness, giving light to everyone, giving us the right to become children of God. In John, Jesus Christ declares: “I AM the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Jesus brings light and salvation to the world. This is the true meaning of Christmas – the Son of God, who was with God in the beginning, coming to earth in the human form of a baby. He is indeed God With Us.
But what do we do with this Baby Jesus? It’s easier to think of him as Baby Jesus, laying quietly in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, halo over his head as he is adored by shepherds and wisemen and sheep and Angels. Some times we have a tendency to just want to leave Jesus there in the manger.
In the movie Talladega Nights, Will Farrell’s character prays to “sweet baby Jesus” – telling his wife he likes the Christmas Jesus best, and he can do what he wants because he’s the one saying grace. “When you say grace you can say it to grown up Jesus or Teenage Jesus or Bearded Jesus, whoever you want.” And will Farrell continues to pray to the “8 pound six ounce Baby Jesus.”
But we know Jesus didn’t stay Baby Jesus. He grew up, he healed, he preached. He taught love, and called us to love one another – even our enemies. Before he was betrayed and was crucified and was raised from the dead he taught us how to live –
He is not to be the only light coming into this dark world – he calls us to BE THE LIGHT!
Matthew 5:14-16 – Jesus says --“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We are called to follow Jesus’ example and to be the light, to be his feet and hands on this earth for the glory of God.
The Apostle Paul says, “For God, Who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Corinthians 4:6). In Ephesians, he goes on to say “For though once your heart was full of darkness, now it is full of light from the Lord. Live as children of the light!” In other words, you’ve seen Jesus. You know who he calls us to be, now let your behavior show it!
So after this Christmas Day has come and gone, when you put away the candles, when you roll up the strands of Christmas lights, when you’ve put the decorations back in their boxes and the tree back in the attic or out your back door, when you put away your Nativity Set, don’t leave Jesus in the manger, only to be hidden away until next Christmas.
Be the Light of Christ. Let your soul magnify the light of the Lord! Allow the light of Jesus to come through you, to spread His light to others. Go forward from this place, and be the light that brings hope to someone else, overcoming their darkness, whatever that darkness may be.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
|Handcarved Nativity Scene at Duke Chapel|