Christmas Day Year A 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
In seminary, when you take your required core class on ‘The Gospels’, it’s generally titled, “The Synoptic Gospels” because they only cover Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John is conspicuously absent, and quite frankly if you compare the prologues of those Gospels you can see why. Last night we listened to Luke’s nativity, the one we I’m sure we can all practically recite by heart, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” Now equally I would say that the prologue of John, traditionally recited at the end of every mass, is also quite memorable and easy to recite. But what it doesn’t do is evoke for us the images of a cooing baby in a manger, of the shepherds and the angels and the little drummer boy. Instead the author of the Gospel of John sets out to explain to us the cosmos, created and uncreated, the mystical origin of Christ as one of the three persons of the Trinity, the infinitude of Christ as the Word, the Logos, which has always been. It’s really hard to make that the picture on the front of a Hallmark Christmas Card.
But John’s prologue is no less important than the other stories that begin the telling of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In this Christmas season, when we are faced with the images of the baby Jesus, an important reminder of God as child, as baby, we must also remember that contained in that baby is the Christ, the Logos, the Word made flesh. Though this is a child born of Judean parents, drawing it’s first breath surrounded by hay and animals and blood and sweat and tears, this is also the eternal Word, the bringer of order to chaos. Aaron Klink writes, “The most central claim of the Christian faith, one that should scandalize us from time to time, is that God became incarnate, one of us, that we might know God’s nature and God’s love for us.”
This reading reminds us that Christ has always been; from the beginning this was the plan. It reminds us that God always had this path set out. God’s love and intention for humanity and for creation was always set this direction, not simply because of sin making its way into human nature. So for us in this Christmas time, in awe of the wonder and majesty of the Word made Flesh…the Triune creator of the universe contained in this little baby, perhaps we ought to take a lesson from John the Baptist’s playbook.
The voice crying out in the wilderness is said to have come, “as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” What is our job as followers of Jesus, if not to testify to the light, to the word, to Christ, so that all might believe? That is what we do in proclaiming the Gospel, the good news. In this time of Christmas, it seems to me there are so many ways we can point people back to that manger, to that light, to the Logos, through our words, and our actions, and even our attitudes.
One of my favorite Christmas traditions is watching at least one version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Amongst my top picks I would say are the 1988 film ‘Scrooged’ as a modern retelling for its brilliance and humor, and for accuracy to Dickens’ original text I actually always hail the 1992 release of ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ which includes a lot of lines from the book that you don’t always hear in many of the movies.
While I was watching that particular one just the other night, the speech that Scrooges’ nephew gives him in the office about Christmas really hit me. In response to Scrooge telling his poor nephew Fred how terrible and ridiculous and scandalous Christmas is, Fred says, “I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
That is exactly the sort of Christmas spirit that makes all the crazy running around, consumer culture, family stress, and general chaos pause for a minute. It pushes it all aside and, like John the Baptist points back to the true Light of God’s love made manifest in the world. Christmas is most certainly a time for celebration, for feasting, for spreading joy. But it is all those things precisely because of what happened in that manger so long ago. That God was born into this world in flesh and blood just like we are.
So then, how do we find ways to tell people about this joy, to be like John the Baptist and point towards this source of truth and light? Howard Thurman, a prolific theologian, author, and civil-rights leader wrote,”
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”
So as you leave this place today, with the proclamation of Christ’s birth on your lips, remember that this time especially is a time where we can point back to the Light of God’s Love made flesh in the world, and to begin the real work of Christmas.