My sermon from December 25th, 2011 based on John 1:1-14.
Did anybody find anything exciting under a tree at your house this morning? What was it?…
How about in a stocking? Anyone hang up a big overstuffed sock last night and just happen to wake up with some things in it? What did you find?…
I remember Christmas morning growing up; stockings were always hung by the fireplace in the front room. The tree was a couple of rooms away. My sister and I had to wait until the appointed hour before we could wake mom and dad up and then we would all begin with stockings. Our stockings often had some candy and some nuts in them. They often had some little trinkets or games or toys of some kind. One of the things I remember getting almost every year growing up was the lifesaver storybook, anyone ever get one of those?
Well, I think I must be getting old, because my favorite Christmas treat isn’t the lifesaver storybook. It isn’t a candy cane. It isn’t even something chocolaty, which is rare for me. This year I have come to realize that my favorite Christmas treat is an orange, or best of all one of these little Clementine’s. I just love these! They’re easy to peel. They’re sweet, but kind of tart, and they’re the just right size for a little snack.
Shortly after Heather and I started dating I had the opportunity to spend Christmas with her extended family in Salina. Her grandma and grandpa Kollhoff do a great job of providing stockings for all of the grandkids and every year, without fail, they put an orange in everyone’s stocking. I have to tell you, a decade ago I didn’t get it. I didn’t want an orange on Christmas; I wanted a treat, some chocolate, some candy of some kind. Like most all of the grandkids, I usually just set my orange to the side. It was so ordinary. I could get an orange at any point in the year. It didn’t seem like a Christmas treat, it just seemed so ordinary…
Today we celebrate the birth of Christ or as he is often referenced in the scriptures, Jesus of Nazareth. His mom and dad, Mary and Joseph, likely would have called him Yehoshua which in English we say as Joshua. The name Yehoshua is a compound word that translates most closely as God liberates or God saves.
We call him Jesus. His mom and dad likely called him Yehoshua and in the Bible he is called many different things. In the book of Matthew he is called Emmanuel, which means God is with us. The word Christ, which means anointed one, is often used as a name or a title for Jesus. The scriptures also refer to him as Lord (a kingly title) as both the son of God and the son of Man, as the Lamb of God and the Light of the world, and as Rabbi or Teacher.
While all of these names and titles and images for Jesus help paint a picture for us of who Jesus is and who he can be for us, there is one name or title that I want to focus on this morning as we talk about and celebrate the child who is born this day. That title is “Word of God.” Today we celebrate that the Word of God has been made flesh. I want you to hear again those first five verses of the John text that were read a few minutes ago…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The Gospel of John has a very different feel to it than the other three gospels and it tells the story of Jesus, not in a practical narrative way, but with a more mystical tone. In John, the story of Jesus’ birth doesn’t reference a trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem and it doesn’t talk about shepherds or wiseman or angels. However, the story of Jesus’ birth in John’s gospel connects back to the very creation of our world, to the stories found in Genesis. Let’s take just a minute to unpack all of this…
Some force or spirit or being is present with God at the very creation of heaven and earth. The author of John identifies this spirit as the Word of God. And not only was this spirit or being with God, but at the same time that this spirit was with God, this spirit was God. And all that exists, all that came into being, came into being through this spirit, this essence, this Word of God. Everything that exists in all of creation, you and me, and everything that we can see came into being through this very word of God.
The author of John continues, then, with words that I find to be very powerful, “What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people.” Not only did this spirit, this word of God, bring all things into being, but in him was life itself and through him all things came to have this life which is the light of all people.
Ok, now I know this might be kind of hard to track in its heady philosophical language, but let me try to break it down. When God created the earth there was a spirit or a presence there with God. It was through this spirit or presence, this word of God, that all things came into being. But even more than just bringing them into being, this word of God brought life to all things because of the light that was the essence of this word of God. We are more than just an accumulation of atoms and molecules and cells. There is a life inside of us that is deeper than simply the physical and scientific realities that we know. Though so much of what we are and see and experience seems ordinary, it is truly extraordinary because of the light of life that is born this day.
John concludes the section of text that we read this morning with the statement… “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” Today we celebrate the fact that the very word of God, the very creative essence of God that gives life purpose and meaning and beauty, is born into our midst. Today we celebrate that this life and this light have come so that the ordinary might be extraordinary.
This fall I was talking to Ben Myers, a member of our congregation, who shared a bit of his boyhood story with me. He had several siblings and their father died rather suddenly when he and his siblings were still quite young. The community rallied around his mom and their family and his mom worked incredibly hard. At the recommendation of several people in the community she opened an account at one of the local banks and tucked away all of the money that she could there as a means of providing protection for her and her family.
The 1930’s were a tough time all around, though, not just for Ben’s family. The local bank closed in the depression and never opened back up. Ben’s family lost everything that they had put in the bank and this single mom of several kids had to work even harder to survive.
Ben explained to me that his mom worked incredibly hard and did everything in power to provide for the family. She gardened extensively so that they could eat out of the food she raised. She was too proud to ever ask for anything from anybody and wouldn’t receive help or assistance in providing for her family. As Ben told me the story he had a reflective look in his eye and then he confessed, “sometimes I would go to the neighbors and they would give me an orange, but I would never admit it to my mom. She was too proud.”
When I used to get an orange in my stocking at Heather’s grandparents I would overlook it and just set it to the side. It was so ordinary I didn’t really understand it or appreciate it.
When Ben was growing up an orange was a very rare treat, something to be eaten without mom’s knowledge for she was too proud to accept help from anyone.
Over the last several months I have taken the time to really savor these little oranges. I peel them and breath in deeply the aroma as I watch the little mist spray up and fill the air in front of me. I have peeled the sections away from one another one at a time and enjoyed the delicious sweet flavor of the fruit. I hope never to look at this fruit as ordinary again. I hope to always be able to appreciate the extraordinary in it and in all of the life that we live in the presence of the word made flesh.
As we celebrate Christ’s birth this morning I invite you into an awareness of the incredible and extraordinary things all around us. I invite you to think about gifts that you might be taking for granted that you have the opportunity to see and to appreciate differently in the light of the life of the Word of God who has become flesh and who dwells among us.