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A reflection on the meaning of Christmas

The time has come! It’s Christmas! Yes, I know you may have already celebrated Christmas Day (if you celebrate Christmas), yet, the season continues!

Finally all this anticipation has come to some kind of fruition, our entrance into the story of Christ’s first coming has brought us to a 12 day party called the season of Christmas. We know the story: Prophesied of Old, a Savior finally comes to the world in the form of a vulnerable baby. Angelic visitations and visions, miracles and more all mark his birth, yet there is a quietness to it all the same. There’s no earthly fanfare, no immediate liberation, and no definitive defeat of injustice on the night of our Messiah’s birth 2,000 years ago.

What does it mean? Why would the savior come in this extravagant, yet still so-ordinary way? Sure he was born from a royal lineage, but we know he would soon be raised as a refugee, become an outcast to his own people, and be crucified as a criminal. This hardly seems to be the victorious savior our ancient forebearers were expecting. In all our Advent preparations, is this who we are expecting? A baby that cries and nurses and poops, a young man that made a practice of challenging his religious superiors, a political trouble maker that died in disgrace? Why would God send a savior like this?

The answer, which St. John gives us so incredibly beautifully in his Gospel, is simple for me to state to here today. It’s simply a matter of repeating the Evangelists own words. Yet it is also so deep that entire books have been written about it. Lives have been given to studying it. Entire systematic theologies are built around it. The reason “the Word became flesh” (v. 14) was so he could “dwell among us”, so that we (you and I!) could see his glory, receive his grace, and live in his truth.

The answer to the question of why God would send a savior this way is that God knew the only way to save us from ourselves—our own inclination toward selfishness and destruction—was to deal with our sin at the source. God knew that to deal with our sin at the source, he needed to be in relationship with us. God knew that to be relationship with us, had to reveal himself to us. God knew that to reveal himself to us, he had to become one of us.

So that’s what he did. In Greek the word logos is translated in English as the capital-W “Word.” It was the idea of the internal logic of the universe, the intent and creative purposes of God that necessarily pours out of him because of who he is. And John gives us this remarkable concept of this Word of God as not just an attribute, action, or power, but truly a divine person. Distinct from the Father, to be sure (he was “with God”) yet, so closely identified with him that St John writes he “was God” (John 1:1). It was this second person of the Holy Trinity, the eternal Son, that became flesh and dwelt among us.

God came to be with us as one of us so he could rescue us. And we needed—currently need!—rescue. Sin has so saturated this world and our hearts that we are powerless on our own to do it. We can’t fix our mistakes, our own pride, our own issues, much less our neighbor’s. The fact is that we are doomed to certain death if we continue on the course we are each set on from birth. We all need an intervention and that’s what God accomplished in Jesus. Incredibly, miraculously, and mysteriously, God claimed us as part of himself permanently by taking on human flesh. Since Jesus was both God and a human being, he did what no human being could ever do: he took the entire curse of sin on himself on the cross the single most selfless act in history. But it didn’t stop there. Jesus was raised from the dead, so we witness to a living Jesus, who even now is applying his redeeming work to the world through the Holy Spirit who lives inside every baptized believer!

So you see that God is always with us now, in us and with us through each other. He has revealed to us the truth of our need for him and his ability and action to meet that need as pure grace…a pure gift of himself. And he has revealed so much about himself to us in how he accomplished it: by becoming a vulnerable baby…by telling the truth…with a sacrificial love…a refusal to use violence…the formation of a called-out people.

As the Incarnate Word, everything about Jesus embodies the intentions and character of the Father perfectly. If you and I want to know how each of us was created to live, we can know! If you and I want to know how God would save the world we can know! We can look to Jesus! We can receive his way of thinking, his way of life, and even his willingness to die, knowing that if we have received him, we will be with him forever no matter what.

At the end of the day, the eternal value of everything we do and are as individuals and as a church hinges on whether we receive what Jesus has already done—in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension as Lord over all—and allow his life to shape ours. How do we receive it? By believing it. By accepting his gifts of grace offered to us at the altar. By allowing the Holy Spirit to conform our attitudes, actions and affections to the heart, mind, and will of God in Christ.

Yes, this is the meaning of Christmas. That Jesus is God come to us in the flesh, giving grace and revealing truth—the grace of sharing in his life and the truth of who God is so that…“… to all who…receive him, who…[believe]…in his name…[have the] right to become children of God…” (John 1:12 ESV)

This is grace and truth and the Good News to you today. Jesus has come. He is here. You can receive him. And if you do, you are a child of God, now and forever.