In my tradition, we use a lectionary. This means that the Bible readings for each Sunday are predetermined. We use a three year cycle of readings. After three years almost all of the New Testament is read in church and significant parts of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is just too big to get done in three years.
We use the Revised Common Lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary is used by several mainline denominations. This replaced the Episcopal lectionary several years ago. Only we didn’t quite accept all of the Revised Common Lectionary or RCL. The exception is the First Sunday after Christmas. In the RCL, a post birth Jesus story is the gospel. In the Episcopal lectionary most of John 1 or the prologue of John is the gospel. We changed the RCL to our customary Christmas readings. So, instead of hearing about Jesus in the temple, we hear John’s gospel prologue, like the good ol’ days.
The Episcopal Church leaders (by that I mean the bishops) in their great wisdom overrode the RCL on the First Sunday after Christmas. So after the celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus, we either look wide-eyed or sleepy-eyed at the deep theology of John.
I do not mean to put John 1 down. This is very significant theology for the church and Christians everywhere. It just seems like a jolt from adoring the baby Jesus. Now Jesus is the Word and the Light. We shift from goo-goo dada to holy smokes this is cosmic, literally cosmic.
Maybe what the bishops want us to remember is that Jesus is a lot more than a baby in a manger. Jesus came to save the world. I think my grand-daughter is really cute, but she is no savior of the world.
The commercialization of Christmas seems to shove the whole purpose of the season to Santa Claus and buying. The baby Jesus gets lost in the shuffle. A Sacramento TV station observes the twelve days of Christmas with the 25th being day 12. Actually, the 25th is day one.
Luke has those wonderful birth stories. John brings us back to the reality of the incarnation, the Christmas. Something really stupendous took place at Jesus’ birth. And it was a lot more than a birth, angels, and shepherds. The angels and shepherds are very important, but not as important as this birth.
God, whatever God looks like, took human form. The creator lived alongside the creation. The Word that was the cause of things to come into being became a being.
That is why John begins by aping the first verse of Genesis in his first verse, “In the beginning ….” Matthew begins with a genealogy. Mark begins with the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke begins with the birth stories of John the Baptist. John begins with the beginning of everything.
Ironically, the creator, the Word, came into the world and the people did not recognize him by whom they who owe their very lives. It is a paradox that the creator was not recognized by the creation (or at least most of creation). He went to the people who had a special relationship to God, but they did not want him (or most of them did not). We, who promise to seek Christ in all persons, also fail to see Christ.
Still, there were people who did accept him and they believed him. To those people he empowered them to become children of God. They were not God’s children through any natural act or desire. They were God’s children through God’s actions.
That Word through whom we were created became one like us and lived among us. The Word became a human being, Jesus. Jesus had a particular face, stature, and eye color. The Word became flesh. This is a person who experienced life as we do. To become flesh is to know joy, pain, hope, suffering, and loss. When we read the gospels, Jesus is thirsty, tired, angry, loving, and weeping. He is also one with the Father.
We were always meant to be God’s children. We just forgot. Even after so many years when Jesus dwelt among us, we still forget. Even so, Jesus never gives up on us. Jesus always brings us reconciliation, forgiveness, and salvation. Jesus’ gift to us on the first Christmas is that we may now have the same relationship with God as Jesus enjoys.
We are children of God not because we will have all our religious questions answered, but so that we become related to God. We are given the opportunity to know God as Jesus knows God. The story of God’s self-revelation and God’s self-giving love for humanity is still being written.
We are descendants of those who had that first century spiritual hunger. We know we don’t have all the answers. And so we seek a community of believers. We study at home and other places. We search for the truth. It is this search that leads us to Jesus. To know Jesus is to know the truth. (Only Jesus makes us hunt for it nonetheless.) It is a lifelong hunt. We find the truth, the Word, not in this life, but only in the next. When we do encounter the Word in the next life, we will recognize him because of what we learned in our hunt.
Where do we find Jesus in this life? We find Jesus in all the people we encounter. We find Jesus in the Eucharist. We find Jesus in the joy of a newborn baby.
“We affirm a belief in the Son, Christ Jesus. We say that God took on human form, came and lived among us, suffered the same trials that we suffered, experienced the same feelings that we experienced. Jesus was purely human and purely divine. …. Jesus was God incarnate. …Jesus never drew attention to himself but always pointed to God.
“Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish theologian of another century tells a story of a prince who wanted to find a maiden suitable to be his queen. One day while running an errand in the local village for his father he passed through a poor section. As he glanced out the windows of the carriage his eyes fell upon a beautiful peasant maiden. During the ensuing days he often passed by the young lady and soon fell in love. But he had a problem. How would he seek her hand?
“He could order her to marry him. But even a prince wants his bride to marry him freely and voluntarily and not through coercion. He could put on his most splendid uniform and drive up to her front door in a carriage drawn by six horses. But if he did this he would never be certain that the maiden loved him or was simply overwhelmed with all of the splendor. As you might have guessed, the prince came up with another solution. He would give up his kingly robe. He moved, into the village, entering not with a crown but in the garb of a peasant. He lived among the people, shared their interests and concerns, and talked their language. In time the maiden grew to love him for who he was and because he had first loved her.
“This very simple, almost childlike story, written by one of the most brilliant minds of our time explains what we Christians mean by the incarnation. God came and lived among us. I am glad that this happened for two reasons. One, it shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is with us, that he is on our side, and that he loves us. Secondly, it gives us a firsthand view of what the mind of God is really all about. When people ask what God is like, we as Christians point to the person of Christ Jesus. God himself is incomprehensible. But in Christ Jesus we get a glimpse of his glory. In the person of Jesus we are told that God, that mysterious other that created the stars and the universe, is willing to go all of the way, to be one of us, talk our language, eat our food, share our suffering, and die on a cross. Why? So that a single person, you, me, might be redeemed and grow to love him.”
On our small, insignificant planet, in all the universe, the Word of God came among us and dwelt with us. This is a big deal. This is Christmas. This is more than enough reason to celebrate. And so I say to all: Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad.