a sermon on John 1:1-14
preached on Christmas Eve 2013 at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
When I was growing up, it would be about right now on Christmas Eve that we would be opening presents. In my mom’s family, we open most of our gifts on Christmas Eve, then Santa Claus brings us a few more on Christmas morning, though we’ve had to negotiate a new arrival time with Santa in the years since I’ve been working on Christmas Eve and can’t join them until Christmas Day! Every year, I remember some conversation about the schedule—when I was younger, it was usually me trying to get to the gifts earlier!—but it almost always worked out the same way: we would go across the street to my grandparents’ church for a 5:00 service, come home, finish preparations, and eat dinner about 7:00 or 7:30, then move into opening presents around 8:30 or 9:00. In the end, whatever the scheduled worked out to be, the gifts were really the focus of the evening. That’s what it’s all about, right? Why would we think of doing anything else on this holy night other than opening presents??!!
More and more, this whole Christmas season becomes about the gifts—about the things that we exchange with our family and friends, about making sure that the value of the gift we give matches that of the gift that we receive, about finding the perfect gift for the right price with the least amount of effort. In the end, there is something about all these gifts and presents that matters, but only as much as they point to the real gift of Christmas: the gift of God coming to us in Jesus.
Our reading from John tonight takes us right there. It may not be the familiar story of angels and shepherds in a manger, but ultimately it tells us everything we need to know:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it….
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 is the real gift of Christmas, the gift that really matters, the gift that keeps on giving: the presence of God who comes into our world, who walks and talks with us, who eats and drinks with us, who laughs and cries with us, who puts up with us, who loves us and cares for us beyond our wildest dreams.
This is the best gift we could ever imagine: the presence of God among us, the vision of Immanuel, God-with-us, the reality of God visible and available and living right here, on earth, beside us, among us.
The greatest gift ever is that God comes to us, living a human life, struggling human struggles, walking the same ground and breathing the same air and drinking the same water.
God set aside God’s power, glory, and honor so that we could come close to that power, glory, and honor in Jesus, so that we could not just glimpse God from afar but encounter God up close, in person, face to face. As Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood is said to have said, “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.” (quoted by Rachel Held Evans) When we encounter Jesus, the ultimate gift, we encounter God.
So on this Christmas Eve, when it is so easy to look to our gifts to give our lives meaning and hope, we can turn our eyes instead to this ultimate gift that changes everything about our giving—not simply because we’ll never measure up to it but because this gift is truly unlike any other before or since. When we welcome this gift at its fullest, we can do nothing but set aside the presents that so easily define this season and instead embrace the presence of God in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, dwelling among us, the presence that really matters. We will find this presence of God around us and among us—maybe in the time we spend with family and friends over the coming days, maybe in the people who care for us and help meet our needs, maybe in the people who inspire us and challenge us and even frustrate us, and maybe even at this table, in this simple meal, where we trust that God will host us and meet us.
The presence of God in Jesus, embodied in these and countless other ways, gives us confidence and hope of God’s presence each and every day, not just to make us feel better or to get through the difficult moments of our lives but most of all so that we can be the presence of God for others. Ultimately the gift of God in Jesus Christ keeps on giving to us and to all people as we give it to others, because we take the light of Christ that we have received and reflect it out to others, because we embody the love of God in our daily lives, because we are not afraid to share this wonderful gift of glory, grace, truth, and love with everyone we meet.
So as we go forth to celebrate this Christmas, exchanging gifts with our family and friends and celebrating a bit of time away from the everyday routine, may the gift of God’s presence in Jesus Christ be the only present that we need, and may we share the wonder of God’s love with everyone we meet, in word and in deed, this Christmas and always, until all things are made new in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all, forever and ever! Amen and amen.