There is no other time of the year that captures our imagination the way Christmas does. No matter how old we are, the child within us gets caught up in the lights, the images and the all around wonder of this season. Everything around us seems charged with electricity and all our senses are heightened. We want to absorb all the sights and sounds of Christmas and feel the buzz of this special time of year.
Where do all the images and stories of Christmas come from? From the Bible and, in particular from two of the gospels - Matthew and Luke.
Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s perspective. In a dream, he learns that the child Mary is carrying is the Son of God. And so, he takes Mary to be his wife and commits himself to safeguarding the child Jesus. From Matthew, we hear the story of the Magi who come from the East following the star to offer gifts to the newborn King of the Jews. Through that gospel we also learn how Herod wants to kill the child and how Joseph must take his young family into Egypt until the ruler dies.
Luke, on the other hand, tells the Christmas story from Mary’s point of view. She learns from the angel Gabriel that she will give birth to the Messiah. The story of how they must travel to Bethlehem to enroll in the census also comes from Matthew along with how there was no room for them in the inn. The manger scenes in our homes showing the baby Jesus lying on a bed of hay with animals surrounding him comes from this story in Matthew. Finally, angels appear to shepherds watching their flocks under the light of the stars and they come to join the scene.
And so we can thank Saint Matthew and Saint Luke for these beautiful images that come to mind whenever we think of Christmas and the birth of our Savior.
This morning we listened to the story of Jesus’ birth from the gospel of Saint John. If Saint Matthew told the story from Joseph’s perspective and Saint Luke from Mary’s perspective, we can say that Saint John tells the story from the perspective of heaven. There are none of the sentimental images in it that we typically associate with Jesus’ birth. Rather, Saint John takes us all the way back to the first day of creation when God brought the world into being by the word of his command. In fact, Saint John tells us that the child born today is that Word through whom God brought the world into being. The images that come from Saint John are not those of a child sleeping in a manger being serenaded by angels. Rather it is the image of the powerful voice of God thundering through the universe bringing all things into being.
Saint John wants us to be clear about one thing. The child born this day is not just a sweet, innocent child. He will not grow up to be just an important man or wise teacher. No. He is God. As such, he demands not just our admiration but our adoration. He demands not only our affection but our total obedience. He demands not only that we celebrate his birth once a year but that we live for him every day of the year. This child is our King, our Savior and our Lord.
In the beginning, God’s first words were “Let there be light!” Saint John tells us that the Christ Child is “[t]he true light, which enlightens everyone…” This day God is inviting us not only to celebrate the birth of Christ but to step into the light. In the baby Jesus, God is offering us nothing less than himself. He demands that we respond by giving nothing less than our very selves to him.
We cannot live without light. It helps us to find our way, to avoid danger and to tell one thing from another. When we are in darkness we feel lethargic and depressed. We have to feel our way along hoping not to fall over hidden obstacles. During these cold, dark days of winter, we can feel especially sad and miserable because of the diminishing hours of sunlight.
With the birth of the child Jesus, God is inviting us to step into the light of his truth and love. He is challenging us to turn our back on the darkness of sin and confusion and to walk in the way his love marks out for us.
It can be a scary thing to step out of the darkness and into the light. Often, we prefer the darkness. We are afraid that the light will expose our flaws and imperfections. We do not want the illusions, fantasies and denials that we use as a crutch to help us deal with life to be taken away from us.
However, something wonderful happens when we find the courage to step into the light. We discover that the darkness which we thought was covering up our negative qualities was also hiding much of our goodness. As we allow our weakness, flaws and imperfections to be exposed to the light, we also discover that God loves us just as we are. We do not have to earn his love or try to impress him or anyone else. In fact, we learn that we are loved precisely because we are weak and vulnerable. Finally, we discover that we cannot be good on our own. We desperately need a Savior to help us to walk in the light, to be healed and to be transformed. That Savior was born for us on this day.
Saint John challenges us to put aside the sentimentality that can so often cover up the true meaning of this Christmas day. He challenges us to turn away from the darkness and step into the light which the Christ Child brings into the world. Will today be the day that you give your life to Jesus? Will today be the day that you live as a child of God? Will today be the day that you learn what it means to have a Savior and to have your life transformed by his grace and truth? That is the only way that this day will be a true and fitting celebration for the birth of the Word who made the universe and “sustains all things by his mighty word.” That is the only way that we will discover for ourselves the true meaning and lasting impact of His birth for the history of our world.