There Goes the Neighborhood: A Christmas Sermon
The Incarnation. Think about this for a moment. The infinite got involved with the finite.
The following was a sermon I preached nine years ago tonight. It was my first Christmas Eve at the congregation where I still serve. Have a Blessed Christmas!
Since I don’t have children, I’ve never seen the actual birth of a baby. But I have had the blessing of seeing a child hours after having entered the world. I remember seeing my nephew, John Luke, on a late May morning in 2008. I held him as he slept, he did have a busy few hours there, what with all the being born and all.
It’s fascinating to see someone at the beginning of their life. It’s also fascinating to see someone at the end of their life. In 2011, I got word that my Aunt Nora was being placed in hospice. She had dealt with Alzheimer’s for several years and had come to the point where she had stopped eating and drinking. The doctors believed that it was time. There was nothing else to do, but make sure she was comfortable. I was in Michigan to look after Dad as Mom was going to have her knee replaced. I made it a point to go to the hospice...to say goodbye. I secretly hoped she might get better, but I was realistic that she was nearing her end. Indeed a few weeks later she did die after being on this earth for 87 years.
Two years ago, Daniel and I took my parents to Puerto Rico, where my mother is from. We took time to visit relatives and do some sightseeing. I got the chance to go to Arecibo Observatory, home to one of the largest radio telescopes in the world. At this location in the Caribbean, humanity could plumb the depths of space and still only understand a mere fraction of it.
I remember when I had the chance to travel to mainland China while in seminary. We had the opportunity to worship with our sisters and brothers in the remote southwest of the nation...all under the watchful eye of the government, which had sent along folks to “protect us.” I learned how it was to be faithful in a society where the government saw you as a potential threat.
Christmas Eve is always a challenge for pastors. We feel the need to preach, but the fact is, the message has been told again and again in the songs and the reading of Scripture. There isn’t much more to add, so my words are going to be short...hopefully.
The two gospel passages tonight look at the coming of Jesus in different ways. Luke talks about Mary and Joseph, a pregnancy, a census that the Romans wanted, and having to give birth to a baby in a smelly stable. Everything here is somewhat mundane, every day. Yes, there is that whole angel thing with the shepherd, but even the shepherds were so plain. Luke’s story is about people, places, and things. It’s concrete. John, on the other hand, is a whole different animal. Where things are finite and ordinary in Luke, John tends to deal with the infinite. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” says John 1:1. There is no Mary, no Joseph, no shepherds, no angels. Instead, we talk about the Word or Logos, about being rejected by people, about the Word being around since the beginning of time. In the midst of all this, verse 14 talks about the Word, the cosmic, the infinite taking on flesh, and living among humanity.
Think about that for a moment. The infinite got involved with the finite. Here’s what John 1:14 says according to the Message translation of the Bible:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
This is what Christmas is about. God, the infinite, the all-powerful and all-knowing, became a helpless baby. God loved creation so much that God decided to become one of us, to accept the limits of being human. God became Immanuel, God with us, by becoming one of us. God moved into the neighborhood.
As we get together with family and friends tomorrow, remember this: Christmas is about God getting involved in the life of the world for its salvation. God is about moving into our hearts and joining us in the good and the bad. Charles Wesley expressed this in his carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The third verse explains this wonderfully:
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
God has moved in. There goes the neighborhood. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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