Sunday Sermon – December 31, 2017

December 31, 2017 – I Christmas B

Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

Jamie Osborne

“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.”

This past week, Lauren and I and the kids went to Huntsville to visit family. When my four-year-old nephew walked up to me I greeted him and said, “Merry Christmas.” That stopped him dead in his tracks. He cocked his head to the side, looked up at me, and said, “Christmas is over.”

My nephew’s name is Van. And I realized in that moment Van didn’t understand that Christmas was longer than a day, because he and my brother’s family go to a church that doesn’t follow the liturgical calendar like we do in the Episcopal Church.

I wanted to explain that Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a season to reflect and celebrate how God’s saving work came among us in the person of Jesus. A festive season to celebrate and ponder the vulnerable self-giving love of God.

So there we were, looking up at me with a puzzled look, wondering how I didn’t know Christmas was over. And there I was, trying to figure out how to explain Christmas was a season. I was grasping for words that would be theologically informative, yet accessible for a four-year-old.  The next thing I knew, I heard myself saying, “Well, haven’t you heard the song about the twelve days of Christmas?”

Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I knew they were neither theologically informative nor were they accessible for Van, because, before I even finished my sentence, he had already scurried off to play.

Christmas is over.

At least it can feel like that. Especially after the energy and rush of Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Everything was so big and majestic then. The buildup to Christmas day is long and begins the day after Thanksgiving, sometimes earlier. Lights went up. There were parties and events and preparation and travel.

This was my first Christmas here at St John’s and I have to say how magnificent Christmas Eve was, here last Sunday. The flowers and music, the whole atmosphere was moving and inspiring.

But now things feel normal, maybe less than normal. Things feel small compared to the big build-up to Christmas Eve.  Lights are coming down; the Christmas parties are over. Our guests have left, or we have returned home.

Christmas is over—or maybe the feeling of smallness and quiet, maybe even what some refer to as the “post-Christmas blues,” mean we have just now begun to enter into the heart of the season of Christmas. Because at the heart of the season of Christmas is God’s self-giving love demonstrated in the smallness and vulnerability of a baby.

During the season of Advent, we looked expectantly at the coming of Jesus into our lives to free us from sin, bondage, and death. And in Christmas we are confronted with the seeming strangeness of God’s saving work. In Christmas, we see God’s saving work demonstrated in the vulnerable, self-giving love of Jesus.

The first coming of our Lord wasn’t a military conquest. There was no dominating or possessing of nations and peoples. No shows of power or military might. There was no grand program to eradicate world hunger or poverty or disease. There were no celebrity endorsements or social media campaigns. There was just a baby being born to his young mother and father.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

There’s a quote from Frederick Buechner that helps us begin to see the astonishing vulnerability of God demonstrated in the Christ child. “The Word become flesh,” he writes. “Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed.”

At the heart of Christmas, and at the very center of God becoming flesh in the person of Jesus, is the invitation to trust in the love of God that never seeks to possess or dominate us. God doesn’t bully us or beat us into submission. God gives God’s self in love and lets us choose.

The same John who tells us that the Word became flesh is also the same one who tells us that the Word “came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”

Every time we look at Jesus, we see him offering himself up in love for you and me and all of creation. We see his vulnerability in offering us the choice to accept and trust in his love, or to reject it.

There’s Jesus, throwing himself at the mercy of humanity by becoming one of us as a baby, fully dependent on others for life itself.

There’s Jesus proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and letting others mock and dispute him, and allowing them to choose to walk away.

There’s Jesus offering himself up on the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace, and even as his earthly life is being taken away from him, he respects and honors the decisions of those who choose not to receive him.

In the places of smallness and quiet, is where Jesus makes clear the vulnerable, self-giving love of God. Whatever place we find ourselves in, wherever we feel like we need help, where we are unsure, where we need to know we are not alone, there in that place is Jesus. Not dominating us, but inviting us to trust in his love. A love that knows no bounds in his pursuit of us.

And in the remainder of the season of Christmas where things can feel small and quiet, maybe even lonely and sad. In this place, in this early morning service, and in this particular moment in each of our lives, Jesus offers himself to us again in his body and blood, and has given us power to receive him in the vulnerability of his complete offering of himself to us and to the Father. And as we receive him, he promises us to meet us in the vulnerability of our need for him.

“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.”

Thanks be to God, and Merry Christmas.