Christmas Day – The Nativity of Our Lord
“A Truly Merry Christmas”
Seminarian Brendan Harris, Vicar
St. John 1.1-18
25 December 2020
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus ☩ Christ; Amen.
The day has come. The greatest day in the whole year has arrived. Finally, you get some time off from work, you’re on break from school, you get to go see family, you get to go give and get presents, you get to forget the woes of this world and just unwind for awhile. Finally, it’s Christmas. Now hopefully, you can say at least some of these statements without reservation, but I’m willing to bet that Christmas this year isn’t going to be quite what it’s supposed to be. There are family members who aren’t going to be there, who you can’t get to see because we’ve been told to stay away. It’s finally Christmas, but Christmas doesn’t really match up to everything it’s hyped up to be sometimes, does it? Great, it’s Christmas, but we’re still cold, and distant, and afraid of everything, of each other, of friends, of family. Even though Christmas is supposed to be all jubilee, the greatest holiday in our culture, hands down the best day of the year—even the best day fails to satisfy. Maybe your Christmas will go absolutely perfectly—I really hope it does—but there will quickly come a day where you will wake up and sigh, and the day will have passed on to yet another, and another, and another.
Although the worldly celebrations of Christmas can be good and wonderful—and by the way, never be shy about being merry about Christmas, and I would encourage you to embrace all the fun hallmark things that come with it, with the discernment befitting a Christian—but don’t let that be the end of it. Christmas is not a secular holiday, that very combination of words makes no sense because the word holiday literally means “holy day,” and your benefit from it is not contingent on your worldly festivities, your get-togethers, or your presents. Christmas is Christ Mass, that is, Christmas is Christ’s Divine Service—it’s right here. Christmas is that most wonderful, greatest day of the year because it is cosmic, it changes absolutely everything about the entire world; it’s more than just a shift of the seasons or a turning over of the calendar. This is why St. John goes back to the beginning, He goes straight back to Genesis: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” While we are here zoomed in on our little worlds, our families and clans and our goings-ons, the Word of the Lord tilts our heads back and zooms us out. “In the beginning,” before ever there was a Christmas tree in a house or a jolly Santa Claus, our Lord spoke. And what did He speak? His Word, and “He was in the beginning with God.” What are these words He spoke, do you reckon? Did He say “abra cadabra,” or “presto,” or “leviosa,” or just snap His fingers? No, He said, “Let there be light.” And then there was light; His Word made the thing it mentioned come to be. He said, “let there be life: let the earth sprout vegetation, let the waters swarm with living creatures, let birds fly,” and so they did. And most importantly, He said, “Let us make man in our own image.” And what was that image? It was God’s image: therefore, they must shine with the light of His holiness, and they did, for He is Light; they must be teeming with life and joy, and they did, for He is Life; and they must be overflowing with love, and they did, for God is Love.
But man departed from this image, and in sin he lost these gifts that God had given him. We took things into our own hands, and we broke it. Ever since Adam’s fall, there really has been no one who has been good, no not one, really there never were any good boys and girls who deserved presents. You see, Adam and Eve were not content to wait under the Christmas tree in the garden, but the devil convinced them to seize the gifts of the Lord before it was time: “Did God really say?,” he slithered, “These presents are for you, you know, just go ahead and open them and your life will be better. It’s what God really wants, right?” But the present of the knowledge of good and evil was not yet intended for man, God had not given it to them, He had not said “it is good,” and therefore it became a curse to us all. Because we broke God’s Word and did not believe Him, His light became darkness to us, His tree of life became death for us, and His love would burn us eternally as hellfire, and so He shut us out of the Garden and ultimately destroyed it. This first “Christmas,” if you will, did not go so well.
But the goodness and loving-kindness of our Savior was promised by His Word, and His Word must do what it says, and thus He appeared. Though the world had become all darkness and did not know God, yet the Light continued to shine, and the true light, which gives light to everyone, came into the world. That Light of Light, that very God of very God, refused to allow Christmas to be lost. His Word shone in the darkness, leading His people through the wilderness of the earth’s younger years as a cloud, and then finally the time came. Now His full purpose is revealed, now the time has come to open the presents on His terms, and so “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” With these words, God stepped down from His throne; He came all the way down into the depth of the darkness of this world, and crawled into human flesh. You see, this is the true meaning of Christmas: that God stooped down to us, that He got off His throne, and humbled Himself to become man. He humbled Himself to crawl, to kick and cry, to drivel and snivel and mess Himself as a helpless, little baby. It is at this point that we kneel in the Creed, when we say “and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man,” this is what we mean. We fall to our knees because our Lord was willing to fall down to us, to become even lower than us, to become a baby so that He could one day become crucified like a criminal, so that He could bring us up again with Him in His resurrection. For in this way, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Even at the end of a long year, even in the middle of the chaos and disappointment of this world, it is in this way that the Lord brings joy into your lives and shines upon you with His smiling face. He gives you Christmas and drives all the gloom of the devil and his little helpers from the face of this earth.
And now you can say: Christmas is saved. You can have a Merry Christmas, no matter how drab it may or may not end up, because it isn’t dependent on you. For the Lord Jesus has shone Himself in this world, and through your Baptism into Him, you have the washing of regeneration and no longer have to live in darkness or loneliness. Although that old tree in the Garden is gone now, He has given you a new Christmas tree that will outshine all others. The Light of Light which was laid in a manger now beams forth from the great tree of His Cross, from His new throne, and from His bloody lap He gives forth the presents of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, of light and love, of peace on earth and good will toward all. In His Church, no one will leave without His gifts. This Cross shines through the darkness, because the Word became flesh and lived and died for you, and now you can say with all truth and from the bottom of your heart, “Merry Christmas.” So spread the Word, spread the joy: don’t hide this under a bushel, don’t ever lose your wonder. Because He has made you His own, you have been made a vessel and filled with His light, His life, and His love. Even if someone is blind to the gospel and doesn’t know the Lord, let the warmth of your kindness show forth His light to them, for even a blind man can feel the sun shining on his face. If you know grandma or grandpa is spending this Christmas by themselves, call them, bring them food and gifts, go to them, don’t let them forget what day it is; it’s Christmas! If you know someone who might be lonely, call them, visit them, speak to them, embrace them: it’s Christmas! Jesus is here, and He has come to draw you unto Him, and to gather all together. On this day, the Lord has given you everything you need to live through every day until the end of days. So be sure to come back to His Church to receive His presents, for here, here everyday shall be as Christmas for you.
Rejoice, for Jesus is here: Merry Christmas! In His ☩ Name; Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus; Amen.