A different look at Christmas, by Pastor Noel

Dec. 29 & 30 2018  1st Christmas

 

     Matthew and Luke give us lovely stories of Jesus’ birth—pictures that we see on cards and wrapping paper and in nativity sets of all sizes and materials.

     We act out these stories, and we sing them, and they have been painted by the best-known artists for centuries.

     Most folks probably couldn’t say which  part of the story came from Matthew and which from Luke, they just know that this is the Christmas story. (Hint: the three “Wise Men” are only in Matthew)

     Today we hear more Christmas stories—not as vivid as Matthew and Luke, but just as much Jesus’ story as the others.

     In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul writes that Jesus came to be just like us so that we could be like him. He says that we “might receive adoption as children” of God, and “then also an heir.”

     Wow! That puts us smack dab in the middle of the Christmas story! Not dressed as folks from years ago, but as ourselves, now, here. God’s children, poised to inherit all that God offers, now and for ever.

     The Christmas story isn’t just about Jesus, it’s about us, too.

     Because of Jesus we don’t have to live by the law, expecting the law to be our guide and ticket to life with God. We live by grace, by the generous gift of grace that is like being held in God’s hand all our days.

     Grace is a wonderful gift, and it is also a responsibility. As we live by grace we know the depth of God’s love and care for us, and we live by a new standard. So, we do live by the law, but not because we expect the law to save us. 

     We live by the “new light of (God’s) incarnate Word” and we live to make that light “shine forth in our lives.”

     So grace doesn’t give us permission to hurt each other (or ourselves). Grace doesn’t give us permission to rob or cheat or take more than we need, but grace does offer forgiveness, reconciliation, as we continually turn back to God.

     This turning back to God, trusting God, is what we call faith, and that is what Paul gives us as the path to salvation.

     For Paul, it seems, the Christmas story is as much about us and about God as it is about Jesus.

     For John, the Christmas story is not just about us, or Jesus, or God. For John the Christmas story is for the whole cosmos.

     For John there is no stable in Bethlehem, no angels, or stars, or any of the Christmas card pictures.

     For John there is “the Word.”

     You have probably heard this before, but it bears repeating. John doesn’t mean this word is letters on a piece of paper, or even sounds coming from our mouths.

     “Word,” or “logos” in Greek, refers to God’s activity, God’s behavior, God’s very being.

     This being is part of the structure of all we can see and touch and feel. All the stars and planets, the air, the snow, birds and flowers, good (and the evil that came to be it’s partner), and ourselves.

     All of this was breathed into being by God, or is subject to God’s ultimate and eternal purpose. So, while evil may not have been created by God (theologians have argued this for ages) evil is under God’s authority, and God will prevail.

     John tells us that one aspect of the Word is light, and that light is life for us. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” The darkness will not overcome it.

     So Matthew and Luke give us scenes for Christmas, Christ’s birth, that we can see and watch, looking on from a distance. We are not invited to participate. (Unless we are cute kids in a pageant)

     We are in John’s Christmas story from the beginning: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

     Our being, our lives, bodies and souls, are with Jesus, the Word, from the start. His light, the light that is life, is in us and all around us.

     That story would be hard to put on Christmas cards, and hard to be a pageant, too. No stable or angels or Holy family—just us filled with the light of Christ.

     So for John, and for us, the Christmas story cannot be captured in pictures or pageants. For John, the Christmas story is us, being the light of Christ in the world that Christ caused to be. For John, the story is not about Jesus’ birth, but about our birth as God’s children.

     For John, we don’t look on at the story of Christmas, we are the story of Christmas. Every day of the year.

    

 

 

 

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details