Texts: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrew 1:1-12; John 1:1-18
These tableaus tell an important part of the Christmas story by helping us to imagine an actual human baby and the actual human people who were drawn to witness his birth, but they don’t tell the whole story. In the midst of our messy and constantly moving world, the peaceful vignette of the nativity scene seems so distant as to almost be a fairy tale, a representation of an event that never happened—or could never happen—in the chaos of the world we know.
In spite of the holiday cheer and festivity of the season, I think John’s image of Christmas is much more like the world as we know it. Not far beneath the thin veneer of holiday joy, there lies the same trouble that overshadows our world every day. Wars continue to rage, conflicts continue to boil, people continue to flee and suffer and die; while the stationary serenity of the nativity scene gives us hope for the peace that one day will be, it does not say much about the sin and evil that swirls around us now.
Instead of a world that seems to pause to recognize the birth of the savior, John tells us about a world stumbling blindly forward, oblivious to the savior already present; a world which owes him its entire existence, but which does not even recognize him; a world that continues spinning on through the endless night, where people continue machinating and scheming, oppressing and exploiting one another, fighting and killing and dying in the darkness, heedless of the light shining among them.
This sounds like the world we know, a world bathed in darkness, living in fear: fear of war, fear of climate change, fear of election tampering, fear of government overreach, fear of the loss of the familiar. As strangers encounter one another in this darkness, we fear each other. We huddle together into our little tribes, seeking safety within our bubbles and painting horrible pictures of the enemies around us who wish to destroy us and our way of life. We sharpen our spears and steel our nerves to fight in not only on battlefields, but in legislatures and public forums and internet comment sections. We have become so afraid of one another in the dark that every moving shadow prepares us to kill or be killed.
On Christmas we celebrate that into the midst of this dark world, the true light has come. While we throw up walls and barriers and checkpoints to separate ourselves from our enemies, from the people we have come to believe are too stupid, too malicious, or simply too foreign to let into our safe space, we remember that God has torn through the barriers of heaven and earth to become human: to become one of us. While we are separating ourselves from one another with politics and ideologies and labels, God becomes one with us in flesh and blood and spirit and truth.
We try to save ourselves by isolating ourselves from those who are different from us. We close borders and gentrify neighborhoods, we draw boundaries based on race and class and political opinion. It is this separation that creates the fear and the hatred that cloud our vision; but God chooses to save us by stepping into our story, by slipping into our skin to experience our hopes and joys, our fears and sorrows alongside us. The Word made flesh teaches us to step out in faith across those borders, to walk across the no-mans-land and enter into the experiences of the other, to come to see and know one another in the light of God, to even come to love each other. Instead of a motionless nativity scene, Christmas is embodied in the movement of people toward one another, mirroring the movement of Christ toward us.
This is what John means when he says that Jesus gives us the power to become “children of God.” Jesus teaches us to be like our Father; to become incarnate—fully present—to one another; and in so doing, to be able to see the light of life that exists in all people, the True Light of the Word of God. Through the Incarnation of Jesus at Christmas, God has given each of us the power to become fully incarnate to one another. We often think of Christmas as being primarily the story of a child, the baby Jesus lying in the manger, but it is as much about the story of all the children of God learning to truly see one another in the Light of the World.
The nativity scene reminds us that when Jesus became human, he was born not among the rich or well-educated or powerful, but among the poor. Because he lived among the poorest of us, he knew their struggles and he learned to love them for who they are when the privileged and elite did not. As children of God, we also have been given the power to live and work among those whom the world would teach us to disdain, to learn to love them as Jesus does. We have been given this ability not because of where or to whom we are born—not because of the will of the flesh or the will of a person—but because we have been reborn of the Spirit.
At Christmas, we celebrate that the light of the world came into our darkness and still shines there. We celebrate that because the darkness has not overcome him, it cannot and it will not overcome us. The light of the world shines within us, and we have the power to shine that light into all the dark corners and forgotten crevices of the world where people still huddle in fear of one another. Christmas is a celebration of God becoming one with us and giving us the power to become one with one another. We celebrate the Incarnation of Christ whenever we become incarnate to each other, whenever we cross the borders that divide us and reach out in love to bring joy in the midst of fear.
Christmas never was a single moment to be captured in the nativity dioramas we see everywhere this time of year. Christmas always has been and always will be a recognition and a celebration of the living, moving God who continues to break into our existence, to shine light into our darkness. Christmas is a moment of clarity, a pause to look around and recognize Christ where he has always been: in the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, but also in the bread and wine at the table, broken for us; in the faces of this community, sanctified and sent out to be messengers of God’s good news; in the poor, the hungry, and the outcast among us, inviting us into relationship; even in the enemies we have been taught to hate and fear.
Today, we celebrate that Christ has come into the world to bring us release from fear, to be one of us and to teach us to be one with each other. He is the light of truth and love, shining in the darkness; today we bear witness that the darkness does not overcome it.