The Other Christmas Story Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1

The Other Christmas Story

 

            This morning, the second Sunday after Christmas we have the privilege to hear what I affectionately call the “Other Christmas Story”. Today’s reading from John is not one that comes to mind when we think of that story that we have spent two weeks celebrating. You see, brothers and sisters, even though the prologue from John’s Gospel does not have angels, shepherds, an impoverished virgin, or any of the other elements from the story we all know and love.  It is very much a story of the incarnation. Reading John allows us to strip away all the human characters and geographic and historical elements of the story. Thus we are reminded who the real actor in the story, who is truly the protagonist. And we find the character who is key in the story is the story’s author.

                        The reading from John’s Gospel on the other hand does not give us anything that we can easily visualize or depict in any way. That is because instead of the emphasis being on the human situation into which the Christchild is being born it brings attention more on who exactly this Christchild is.  In hearing this reading as part of our Christmas celebrations we are reminded who the protagonist—the primary actor—is in this story.

            The main actor is not Mary or Joseph. It is not the shepherds in the fields. It is not even the angels who are singing praises to the Lord. It is that Lord who is the story’s hero. It is a God who loves His creation so much that He places Himself in the midst of that creation.   He places Himself in the midst of a dirty smelly stable, in the midst of a family that knows poverty, in the midst of a world where things like violence, oppression, and strife were commonplace. Joseph, Mary, the Shepherds and those Kings from the East do have parts to play in God’s story, but for the most part the story happens to them.  Perhaps the human players in the story have the same part we do. Our role is to prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of the baby king and to receive him as Lord.  Our part may be to let God’s story happen to us.

            Today’s readings all point to this one fact; that our God is a God of action;  a God who delights in blessing His people. Look at the oracle from the prophet Jeremiah. The entire 7 verses are about what God is doing. He is going to bring them out of the land, He is going to gather them, He will lead them back, the list goes on and on. Even the things that He describes Israel doing is because God lets them or empowers them to do it. And that is important, even the things we are commanded and empowered to do by God are in itself a gift and blessing from that God.

            This is also central in the readings from Ephesians. In Jesus Christ we are granted our very identity and life. We become sons and daughters not because of anything we do, but what this Son who was given us that first Christmas will ultimately do. And as the imperfect sinner I am I know there are times that I disappoint my heavenly Father. But that is the beautiful thing…. God’s goodness isn’t dependent on my own goodness, as a matter  of fact on the contrary my moments of brilliant faithfulness and obedience, as few and fleeting as they are totally dependent on the incarnation of the son and the Bestowing of His holy Spirit.

Because after all God made up His mind at creation that what He saw was good—so good as a matter of fact that despite our best or worst efforts we cannot spoil it for Him. God loves the world He made—all of it: smelly animals, insignificant young virgins, busybody innkeepers, sweaty shepherds and you and me.  The incarnation, God’s birth as a real flesh and blood baby boy makes that Love known to His people in such a powerful way. Sometimes we get so hung up on what we should or must do sometimes that we fail to realize that perhaps the most important thing we as Christians can do is thank God as often as possible for all He has done. I know a lot of non-Christians who are caring and giving, but have no idea where their blessings come from, thus praise and thanksgiving are not in their lexicon. Perhaps our praise and willingness to worship an incarnate God should be what sets us apart.

            I think the greatest miracle in all this incarnation business is not that God could come to us this way. I mean after all He is God and can do anything He wants. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that He would—and does—come to us this way, that He would humbly present Himself to a creation that did not know him, as John reminds us this morning. This is the Love that we celebrate this Christmas season, the true gift that comes wrapped in swaddling clothes: that God comes to the world, in spite of the world to save the world. 

   November 2018   
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