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December 25, 2006 (Christmas Day)—“The Word in Flesh and Bone”
Interim Pastor Steven Jensen
For many of the years I was a military chaplain at sea or stationed in various parts of the world at Christmas, my family would show their concern for how I would spend the day. They knew I would work—conducting worship; visiting the hospitalized, imprisoned, lonely, and those standing duty; perhaps taking troops to an orphanage—and wondered if I would be able to celebrate the day. I understood their written concerns for me, but until I received a call from my niece this week, I’m not sure I had processed the whole question.
“Uncle Steve, I’m sorry you can’t celebrate Christmas this year because you have to work.” Does it seem ironic that she is suggesting a pastor is not able to celebrate the birth of Christ because of the tempo and volume of pastoral acts and pastoral care or because the family is 6,000 miles away?
I know that she means she would like me included in our family festivities that are especially joyous this time of year. But it gave me pause to ask myself how I am celebrating Christmas—not only as a pastor, but as a child of God. My own spiritual growth and renewal requires that I hear again the Good News and ask myself where and how it impacts me today.
I also have to reflect on my contribution or lack thereof to my family traditions. Although attending worship and reading the Christmas narrative are key parts of our family celebration, are we focusing too much on the family ritual of gifts, meal, games and “remembering when”? Do we give sufficient attention to enhancing our individual and family spirituality in discussing and appreciating this marvelous gift of God?
How many years have pastors asked in the Christmas sermons you have heard whether or not congregational members are getting the point of this holy day? Does that question, in fact, become a part of the expected ritual and thus have little impact?
I have to admit that I was always disappointed when the appointed Gospel for Christmas was this text from John and not the birth narrative of Christ. I didn’t want to discuss philosophy or play word games at Christmas—“the Word become flesh.” I wanted the comfort that comes with rich tradition. I wanted to replay in my mind the Christmas card image come to life. Loving parents rejoicing in the birth of their perfect child. Angel choruses singing from high above in a clear starry night. Shepherds dressed in clean, well-pressed native costume gathering around an immaculate, scented stable. Native livestock bathed and groomed and strategically placed for the pastoral scene. Quiet, serene Bethlehem serving as picturesque background for the Nativity tableau.
But that was not the Bethlehem of the day. It was not a magical night for the vast majority of the people; it was simply the end of a long, tiring day. Bethlehem was an occupied town in an occupied country. People were being forced to travel distances whether it was convenient or not, and many ill and infirm died en route. The town was anything but peaceful with so many crammed into homes of family and friends, in simple inns, or more likely in tents or make-shift shelters. The cave or stable in which the holy family took shelter likely had not been mucked with all the innkeeper had to do and probably had more animals of burden than normal. Hardly a place the mothers among you would care to give birth, much less house your new-born child. But it is into life just as it is that the Savior comes.
The event was not stage-managed by a Hollywood director or a Sunday school teacher. God sent his Word of love and forgiveness of sin in the form of his only Son to a little known part of creation to everyday people simply trying to survive. That suggests that there is no place and no person outside of God’s sight.
Picture God coming down the stairway of stars to your home with a baby in his arms and whispering, “Shhh. Hush. Take my child into your arms. Hold him. Look at him. A baby. Your baby. Let the child’s spirit fill your heart with grace and learn of my love for you.”
Maybe John’s words do make sense if I hear them with that in mind. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
God knows me so well. I relate much better to people who show me by example how to live than those who tell me how to live. I am drawn to the innocence of a baby; I am on guard in the presence of an authoritative figure. I trust one more who has “walked a mile in my moccasins” and overcome life’s challenges than one who has led a privileged life.
God gave his word in the Garden that he would some day provide the means for Adam and Eve and their descendants to be restored to the holy relationship they had severed in their rebellion. God kept his word by sending his Son. He put flesh and bone on his Word. God showed us what a gift of love is truly all about—love without condition, self-sacrificing love for those who do not deserve it and cannot earn it.
The popular songs says “Love Came Down at Christmas.” Again this year we are reminded that God’s love comes to meet us where we live. This “Word Become Flesh” encounters us as we try to make it through the day, beat ourselves up yet again for our short-comings, hear once more we don’t measure up, dig deep to love one who disappoints or breaks our hearts, face the challenge of ill health or aging, struggle to accept the loss of one we hold dear.
The Word became flesh and dwells among us now—full of grace and truth. To YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. His flesh will be torn, his bones broken, his blood spilled out of love for you. But before that, he will teach you how to live as a child of the Living God. His grace will be abundant and his truth is that you are loved. Celebrate with me today. The Christ has come—he has come for us.
Copyright © 2006 Steven Jensen
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org