A Sermon for Christmas Eve
December 24, 2015
(Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews1:1-4; John 1:1-14)
I did the last of my Christmas shopping this morning.
I arrived before many shop doors even opened, but still couldn’t quite avoid the frantic experience that is Christmas Eve shopping. Fake trees. Lights. Tinsel. Traffic. Crowds. Gifts.
To be fair, the experience included glimpses of the story inspiring this season. A crowded manger scene. The occasional carol with words worthy of angels. Christmas cards consciously calling attention to Bethlehem. An invitation to worship.
There is a focusing the evening before Christmas. The rush is, hopefully, behind. Presents wrapped. Lunch plans made.
And, finally, we gather. Of course, we’ve not forgotten what this ‘silly-season’ is all about. Yet, at the same time, we sense a need to remind ourselves of the events of the coming of Jesus into our world.
We just heard the beginning of John’s account of the ‘good news’. It tells not of shepherds or wise men. There is no mention of a manger or account of angels.
But make no mistake. This is the story of Christmas.
John tells of one who created the wonders of the cosmos and is the very essence of life. This one shines like a light in our darkness – and more – enlightens us. From this one power is given to become God’s children. John piques our curiosity: God’s ancient and creating ‘Word’ is coming into the world.
And then, what is possibly the most succinct account of Christmas you will ever hear: ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us’.
In Jesus – this word made flesh – the glory – the essence – of God is revealed. The author of Hebrews makes a similar claim: Jesus ‘is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being’.
And much to our surprise, this God-revealing Jesus brims – not with wrath and anger, revenge and violence – but is ‘full of grace and truth’. Again our Hebrews reading assures us: Jesus came and ‘….made purification for our sin…’. He comes, not to condemn, but to forgive and restore.
Jesus’ coming, teaching, suffering, dying, rising to new life revealed a way for our relationship with God to be founded, not on our fleeing from God in ‘fear’, but on God’s coming to us in ‘love’.
As Alistair McGrath suggests, the revealing of God in the person of Jesus was not an act of ‘invasion’, but one of ‘enticement’.
And all God asks of you is your trust. As John said: ‘To all who received him, who believed on his name, he gave power to become children of God’. Yes, the one who is ‘life’ wants to win your trust and live alongside you. This heavenly father desires to teach you – as a deeply loved child – to reflect, as Jesus did, God’s loving heart ‘of grace and truth’.
No wonder we celebrate tonight!
As you came in you received a copy of Anthony Van Dyck’s painting, Nativity. I sincerely hope it finds its way onto your fridge doors, into your Bibles, or wherever you will see it.
Nativity is famous among stable scenes for its scarcity. Van Dyck’s frame is so close that Mary and the donkey’s head are the only characters apart from the baby Jesus. Their attention is focused on the God-given child – drawing the viewer’s eye to him. Mary seems to be opening the cloth that covers – an initial revealing of the humble, gracious and true, ‘glory of God’.
This is what Christmas is about: Jesus’ earth-mission to reveal the loving heart of God. As Isaiah foretold, this one comes to announce peace between the author of life and you. To trust is to accept this generous offer.
In a moment we will tell each other the great story of God in the Nicene Creed and pray for the world God loves.
After this there will be a time for us to admit, in full knowledge that God is brims with ‘grace and truth’, that we do not always get life right. You may, or may not, have prayed this prayer, or one similar, before. Either way, I would invite you to make this prayer an act of turning and trusting the God of love.
Please consider praying this prayer between now and then and whether you might be able to follow one like this. For what it’s worth, in my experience, Jesus – and his gift of forgiveness and grace – is far, far sweeter than anything you will unwrap tomorrow!
May John’s words focus your Christmas: ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us.’