You know, I remember my very first Christmas sermon. That is, the first Christmas sermon I gave, not the first that I’ve heard, as I don’t think anyone remembers the first Christmas sermon they’ve heard. Actually, I don’t know if anyone even remembers the last Christmas sermon they’ve heard, but that is a topic for another non-memorable sermon. Actually, truth be told, if it weren’t for the convenience of technology and being able to save and call up an electronic copy of any sermon that I’ve written, I probably would have forgotten all my own sermons too, so don’t feel so bad if you can’t remember what I said last week. But the first Christmas sermon I gave wasn’t all that long ago, it was Christmas of 2006 and I was preaching at one of the churches that I served as an intern, King of Life in Coquitlam.
And it was pretty bad.
Granted, I was an intern with little preaching experience, but just thinking about it now makes me cringe. In that sermon, I went on and on about how on Christmas, we’d expect the story of Jesus’ birth, we expect to hear about angels and shepherds, stars and barns, a virgin and a carpenter, and of course the baby Jesus and how no crying he makes. But then we get this text from John, and it doesn’t have any of that. And in that first Christmas sermon I made the mistake of emphasizing how it’s only this year and how odd and unusual it is that we get this strangely worded passage, not realising or remembering that this passage from John actually comes every year on Christmas Day.
Every year we hear about how the Word was with God and how the Word was God. Every year we hear about how the Word was there in the beginning and how everything came into being through it. And every year we hear about how this Word became flesh and lived among us.
Every. Year. And I wonder how many people noticed my faux pas in talking about how weird it was to get this text instead of the regular nativity story, how we aren’t used to not hearing about the birth and the visitors, how it’s just strange to get a such a different kind of text on a day that we know so well. Maybe a day that everyone else knows well but apparently I wasn’t paying attention.
But even after all these years of looking at this same text on Christmas Day, after all the commentaries and other sermons I’ve read trying to make sense of it, after all the different angles I’ve tried to take in attempts to make this interesting, I find that I still don’t really get it, it still goes over my head, it’s all just as mysterious to me from the first time I’ve ever came across this passage.
And you know what? That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Because really, Christmas, as predictable as it can be is from year to year in terms of traditions, symbols, and stories, is still a mystery. Christmas, a day that we really go all out for pretty much every year, still isn’t really all that understood. Christmas, although we know what it’s about in celebrating the birth of Christ, we still don’t really know how all of that works.
I mean, we use terms like immaculate conception, or incarnation, or even simply miraculous a lot throughout this time of year. It sounds churchy and Christmasy and it is almost second nature for us to say them, hear them, and perhaps even believe them, but do we really know what it means? Do we actually understand it all? Do we even have to?
Yes, I do think Christmas is a mystery.
But it is a glorious mystery that is steeped in God’s grace and mercy. A mystery that continually reminds us of how God reaches out to us, invites us in, and welcomes us with these eternal arms of love. A mystery in which we can revel, worship, and celebrate. A mystery through and through, but also a promise that we can hold on to, and derive hope from.
See we do believe that God’s Word of truth, faith, and peace became flesh. We believe that God’s intangible being and glory became tangible through the birth, life, and ministry of Christ. We believe that God’s very presence that was formerly invisible to us has become visible through the gifts of community, relationship, and the elements of water, bread, and cup. How or why this works will always remain a mystery to us, but what we can know for certain is how or why this was done.
And that is through and because of God’s vast love for us, wanting to show us what it means to live in that relationship and community, helping us to find the peace that surpasses understanding, and welcoming us into God’s everlasting kingdom, called God’s beloved children.
You know, we may never get the mystery of Christmas. We may never understand just how wide and deep God’s love for us runs. We may never fully fathom the intricacies of Christ’s birth, but it’s ok, we don’t have to. Our understanding or lack thereof doesn’t change God’s love for us. Our limits of knowledge and deductive reasoning doesn’t negate God’s work in the world. Our inability to ever solve this mystery of Christmas doesn’t mean that we can never know God.
And that’s the thing, the mystery of Christmas does exactly that, it reveals to us the God incarnate, the Word made flesh, the Immanuel, God with us. This is so we can know God, we can see God, and we can continually trust in God’s presence throughout our lives and in the world, whether we understand it or not. So we can bask in the mystery, live with confidence in the love, and rely on God’s gracious salvation extended to us all through this miracle of a child born unto us.
This Christmas, may we not just seek to understand but seek to believe, that we might feel more fully the love of God shown to us through the Word made flesh, God with us, the Immanuel. Thanks be to God. Amen.