(Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-12)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Like many of us here today, I am in the habit of reading the daily newspaper. It’s a habit that I’ve kept for many years now and people often wonder why I do it. They claim that the daily news is nothing but the same old depressing stories of crime and violence and heartache. I reassure them that yes, the stories do tend to highlight only the bad things that people do to each other. Yes, stories of encouragement and redemption are rare finds indeed! But then I explain that God can be found in all those stories. Over time, one starts to notice the underlying trends and interconnectedness amongst all the stories. Read the news long enough and one sees God’s mighty hand at work in all the various stories. Everything is connected, from weather to markets to obituaries to crime reports to cartoons, and God is at work in all of them.
This is a particularly fun time of year as the news try to highlight stories of giving in preparation for Christmas. A few weeks ago, I read a story about a woman in Omaha who was robbed of her wedding ring outside of a restaurant. Personnel at a local jewelry store heard of the woman’s loss and generously gave her a new ring. In other news, there is a story about an anonymous Instagram account entitled, “Tips for Jesus.” Apparently a mysterious diner is going around to restaurants, ordering meals, and leaving enormous tips on the receipt, such as $5000 on a bill for $576. Pictures are taken of the receipts and shared with others through the social networking site, Instagram. The account’s tagline is, “doing the Lord’s work, one tip at a time.” There’s also the story of an anonymous donor stopping at a Salvation Army red kettle in Indiana for the last 6 years and dropping in a gold coin valued at more than $1200. Similarly, for the last several years a wealthy businessman from Kansas City has gone to shelters, thrift stores, and food pantries and handed out crisp new $100 bills to total strangers. He’s written “Secret Santa” on each of the bills and remains anonymous. There are plenty more stories of generosity that appear in the news this time of year. God is at work in each and every one of them.
Today we end our Advent journey and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Today is a day unlike any other day. Sure, there have been many people born on this day of the year for the past several millennia and there will be many more born on this day of the year for millennia to come. But this day we celebrate a very unique birth, the birth of Jesus Christ. God came to us in the form of a man over 2,000 years ago. God chose to experience our reality as one of us so that we might reclaim a lost relationship. God, the almighty and everlasting ruler over all of existence, chose to be limited by time and space as a mere mortal. God chose to take on the form of man in order to lead us out of sin and give us an example of a righteous man. What an awesome gift to be given to us! It is a gift unlike any other gifts! All other gifts pale in comparison to the gift of Jesus Christ!
This is why we gather to exchange gifts each year. We are mimicking the gift-giving of God. Even though the gifts we give each other pale in comparison to the gift we receive in Christ, God is still pleased by our gift-giving. When we exchange gifts, the gift itself is really secondary to what is conveyed to the recipient. Our gift-giving conveys our love and appreciation of that person. It strengthens our relationships with each other and God is very pleased with this. God always wants to be in relationship with us and always wants us to be in relationship with each other. God is a relational God and nowhere is this better illustrated than in the birth of Jesus. God comes near to us and enters into an intimate relationship with us. What a glorious gift indeed!
The prophet Isaiah recognized how special the gift of Jesus was. He proclaimed, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation.” He heard the same news of crime and violence and heartache as we read about in our newspapers today. The people of Judah were no different than we are today. They needed a messenger who would bring peace and salvation. God came to His people in the man of Jesus, comforting and redeeming them, so that they might see in plain sight that “our God reigns.” Through Jesus, the people of Judah could finally know the peace and salvation of God as Isaiah says, “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all nations; and all the end of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” The “holy arm” of God didn’t just come to the people of Judah either. Jesus came for ALL people, bringing peace and salvation to ALL people. King David sings of how God’s “right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory” for the people of Israel. David sings, “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.” Both Isaiah and David realized God’s glorious gift of peace and salvation in Jesus Christ.
What makes God’s gift so glorious? How is God’s gift so special? We get a hint of answers to these questions in our reading from Hebrews. The author of the letter recognized God’s gift of the Son as the “appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.” The Son comes to us as master over everything. As the author notes, “he is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” What’s important to note about this statement from the letter to Hebrews is that Jesus “sustains all things by his powerful word.” The words of Jesus keep us and sustain us in this life. It is the words of Jesus that make God’s gift so glorious and special!
This brings us to our gospel reading assigned for today. It is John’s distinctive account of Jesus’ birth. Unlike the accounts of Luke and Matthew, there’s very little in this account that would suggest an earthly birth. There’s nothing about Joseph and Mary, the angels’ appearances, the star, the inn, or the manger. Indeed, the only reference to an earthly birth comes in the last verse when it reads, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” John’s account is more interested in describing Jesus’ spirit at the beginning of time. It’s not really as much a birth narrative as it is a description of Jesus’ nature. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Jesus IS the word of peace and salvation spoken of by Isaiah and David. Jesus IS the Word of God. Jesus’ very nature IS peace and salvation. With Jesus comes peace and salvation, both in what he says to us and in who he IS.
John explains that Jesus is more than the Word made flesh. The words of Jesus and the Word of Jesus is that of light. John states, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” The light of Jesus comes to all people. The light came to the people of Judah and the people of Israel. The light comes to both those who are able and unable to see it. The light comes to both those who deserve and those who don’t deserve to receive it. The words from Jesus and the Word of Jesus are rays of light in our dark world.
It is true that we live in a world filled with crime and violence and heartache. The news remind us of this fact each and every day. But we also live in a world that Jesus came into and still remains in. We live in a world in which God sent the gift of the Son. We can’t forget this! Jesus brings the gifts of peace and salvation. God WANTS us to live in peace and salvation! God wouldn’t have sent the Son if we weren’t supposed to have these gifts. Jesus’ gifts are gifts of light. They warm and comfort us. They feed and sustain us. At the same time, Jesus IS the gift of light and life. When we know Jesus, we know peace and salvation. We know true and everlasting peace and this is a gift from God, born from a deep love for us.
Many of us cling to the assurance of John 3:16 which reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But few of us seek assurance in the very next verse, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” We read about or listen to the news and see all the crime and violence and hatred. We see a world overrun by sin as Isaiah and David saw and we may believe God has condemned us to misery in this world. We may believe God is punishing us for our overwhelming sin. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. God sent His son so that we might be SAVED…so that we might know PEACE! God’s light to the world is a GIFT, not a curse.
The newspapers have it right. They SHOULD take the time during the Christmas season to highlight the generosity shared among people. God’s gift of light in Jesus is a magnificent, glorious gift indeed. It is meant to be shared with all and for all. Jesus is the true light for ALL the world, sent by the Father to comfort and save ALL of us. Today, let us rejoice and sing out, “Oh, how the light shines!”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.