Good morning, Friends!
We are getting very close to Christmas! Just a few more days and we’ll be there.
I love Christmas. I love the music. I love the cards and the special foods.
I love all the decorations. Every year, we put up our Christmas tree. I carry the boxes of ornaments in from the garage. We’ve got a lot of ornaments. We’ve got ornaments from when my wife and I were kids. We’ve got ones our children made, when they were in kindergarten. Every ornament has a story, and every one means something to us.
One of our family’s most precious possessions is a Nativity set that Joyce and I got the first year we were married. It was made by some Catholic nuns we met and hung out with.
This group of nuns always sets up a new community in the poorest place in town, wherever they are. In the city where we were, they lived in the public housing projects. In a city in Korea, they lived with the trash pickers down at the city landfill.
Anyway, the nuns made these beautiful Natvity sets. They sold them to people like us. I think they gave them away to people who couldn’t afford it. When people who weren’t Christians asked them to explain the Christmas story to them, the nuns had such a beautiful, simple explanation. They said, “God chose this way to come to us, because God didn’t want anyone to be scared. No one could ever be afraid of a baby.”
I think that’s why we love the Christmas story so much. It brings God close to us, in a way that our hearts can understand.
We can understand a baby. We can understand the discomfort Mary felt, and the fear the family experienced.
We can understand that a baby needs to be held and fed and protected. A baby means joy and hope, and joy and hope are a big part of Christmas.
But there’s an even simpler version of the Christmas story than the one the nuns told Even simpler than the family in the stable, or the shepherds on the hillside.
The simplest version of the Christmas story is the one in the gospel of John. Here’s what John says.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning. Through the Word all things were made; without the Word nothing was made that has been made.
In the Word was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:1-5
There’s no shepherds in that story we just read. There’s no kings. There’s not even a baby in the manger.
John tells the Christmas story in a different way. He goes way back, to the beginning of all things. Long before the birth of Jesus. Long before the Bible prophets. Before everything we know, God had a plan.
God’s plan goes way back, to the beginning of all things. Long before the birth of Jesus. Before everything we know was created. Before the world came into existence, God was here. Before the world ever got started. God knew that we would need Christ.
John calls the Christ the Word. And the Word was the first thing that God ever said.
The Word that God said was Light.
Let there be light, and not just darkness. Let the Light fill the world, and push back the dark. Let there be stars, burning against the darkest night. Let there be a sun by day, and a moon by night. And God set the light in the sky, to brighten our day and so that we can see. And God set the light in every heart, so that the darkness in our hearts and minds would be pushed back as well. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.
Another way to tell the story is to say that the Word, the first word, was love.
God loved the world, and everything in it. When God made things, God saw that everything God made was good. And God told us to care for all those good things, and be gardeners and stewards of the earth, and give everything its name, and love them.
Another way to tell the story is to say that God knew, at the very beginning, that the world would need a Savior. God planted the hope for a Savior, deep in every heart.
The Savior would remind us and teach us that the world isn’t ours to destroy, and our fellow human beings aren’t ours to enslave. As it says all the way back in Genesis we are here to be helpers to one another. We are here to be good neighbors to each other. We are here to love one another.
Jesus was born as the Light of the world. Jesus came to be God’s Word. This was something God planned, from the very beginning, because God knew that the world would need a Savior.
Why is that? Well, we all make mistakes. Little ones. Big ones. We don’t do what we know we should. We say the wrong thing. We lose it in the moment.
We take what isn’t ours. We waste what we’ve been given. But even worse, we lose our faith. We lose our trust in God, even though God’s been so good to us all the time.
I could go on and on, but you know what I mean. We have messed up, beyond our ability to fix ourselves. And the whole world is like that. The world is a messed-up place. We need a Savior.
People expected a Savior who would come crashing in like a king, or like a super-hero. The Savior would fight their battles, and put things right.
But Christmas says that the Savior came as a baby, as a human child, as one of us. He would grow up, and ask questions, and work, and sweat, and get hurt.
Jesus wasn’t born as a super-hero. He was born as one of us. He taught, and he listened, and he made God’s kingdom seem very close. He told stories about how God’s world really works.
Jesus forgave people, and that’s so important. He said we could start over, with God and with each other. He said we could break away from the patterns of death, and live new lives again.
Jesus healed people. He prayed for them, he laid his hand on them, and they got better.
He helped them to get their faith back. He told them that deep down, there are fountains of living water we can tap into. Jesus invited people to sit down to dinner with him, and he told them they’d never be hungry again.
Jesus showed us how to be humble. So much of the world is fueled by arrogance and pride. Jesus didn’t mind to go into the humblest home, and bless whatever was on the table.
Jesus didn’t mind to sit down with people who were notorious for living bad lives. Jesus didn’t scold them. They knew what they had to do.
Some people Jesus told to leave everything, to give everything they had away, to be free from their possessions and money. Other people Jesus told to go home, and tell everyone how much God had done for them.
Jesus taught people how to pray. He taught people how to forgive each other. He taught us to tell the truth, and to witness to what we ourselves have seen and heard.
Jesus taught us to wait for the Holy Spirit to tell us what to say, that it would come to us at the right moment. He told us never to judge each other, but to leave all judgment up to God. He said that God has been merciful to us, and we should be merciful to each other.
Jesus never wrote a book. He never asked for money. He never set up an organization. He wanted us to remember his words, and live them, every day.
Jesus invited people to follow him, to do what he did himself – to teach, and to heal, and to pray.
He told us to go into cities, and villages, and homes, and help people to feel that God was near to them. Some people would listen. Others might not. Don’t let that stop you, Jesus said. Just go on to the next, and try again.
And wherever you go, whatever you do, love people. Whoever loves is born of God, and knows God. Whoever doesn’t love, is a million miles away from God.
That message, those words, are shining still. The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. . .
We’ve heard those words all our lives, and we still have to much to learn. There’s so much we need to put into practice.
Without Jesus’ help, we always fall short. But with Jesus’ words clear in our minds, with Jesus’ love in our hearts, we can do better. And with Jesus’ Spirit alive in us, we can live forever.
That’s the good news of Christ. That’s why we have Christmas. The Light. The Love. The Savior.
Merry Christmas! If I don’t see you before then, please be healthy and safe. Take some time this week to remember the Christmas story.
Look up at the stars. Listen for angels. And remember – the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.