Incarnate: The Beginning of Christmas
Topic: The Beginning of Christmas Scripture: John 1:1–1:14
Today is the first day of the season we call Advent. Advent is an intentional time of preparation, of looking to the stars, of musing and wondering…it is a time of expectant hope. And it coincides with the approach of Christmas, a holiday we all cherish and enjoy. Normally, I don’t like to start my sermon with a controversial topic. I find it’s usually better to sneak those sorts of things in the middle. But this morning is different. And this particular point of controversy is one that, I feel, goes above and beyond the more casual differences of opinion that we might argue, and that’s because the way we answer this controversial question sets us apart in sharp contrast to other people we might be very much in tune with otherwise. The controversial topic I am referring to is The Beginning of Christmas.
When does Christmas really start? And there’s a simple test we use to answer that question: when do you start listening to Christmas music? This age-old debate comes into our midst every year. There are essentially two schools of thought. I’ll call them “Pre-Turkey” and “Post-Turkey” for our purposes this morning. It’s probably fairly obvious. Do you start listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving or after? I fall into the post-turkey camp. I generally try to hold off on the Christmas music until I’ve enjoyed some Thanksgiving turkey. Then you have the pre-turkey camp. These are the folks that usually have Jingle Bells and Frosty going loud in their car or at home by mid-November. So I have to know, where do we as a church fall in this divisive issue? Where are all the “Pre-Turkey” folks? The ones who have Christmas music going well before Thanksgiving? Ok. And my fellow “Post-Turkey” people? Where are you? Alright, ok.
Sure, some people take the whole Christmas music thing a bit too far. But the truth is … behind this little mock-debate is something held dearly in the hearts of many people – it’s about Christmas. More to the point, it’s about marking the beginning of Christmas.
Society has plenty of indicators that are used to mark the start of the Christmas season. Christmas music is one. The changing of displays and sales at stores, TV commercials, even grocery stores, and restaurants. Eggnog, the line of holiday drinks at Starbucks, and the transition from pumpkin to peppermint that we see everywhere. But we know Christmas is about more than door-busting sales, jingle bells, and red and green sprinkles. Christmas is about the arrival of Jesus Christ and the profound and encompassing effect His birth has on the world.
And that is going to be the focus of our message series, Incarnate, this Advent. Often times when we read the birth stories in the Gospels or take a second to think about the nativity scene, our minds go to the elements of the story we are familiar with, and even hear in our favorite Christmas carols. Shepherds keeping watch, angels being heard on high, a cold night, a stable, a manger, a baby. But under the surface of the timeless story (found in Scripture) is a dynamic, world-altering theological reality - known as the Incarnation. The incarnation is the way in which we try to understand how the eternal Son of God was born to a virgin, and took on mortal flesh while still being completely and 100% God. Over the next few weeks, Pastor Larry and I will explore several Scripture passages that help shed light on this enigmatic and breath-taking truth about our Savior. And this morning, we start at the beginning, we’re in John 1:1-14.
It’s important for us to take into account that this passage is the “birth narrative” equivalent in John’s gospel. We aren’t told of any wise men or stables. There is no mention of Mary or Joseph. Instead, we are told of the Word and the True Light. Nevertheless, we are shown The Beginning of Christmas, and truly, the beginning of so much more.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This, my friends, is the true Beginning of Christmas. Before there was anything else, there was the Word. And in this one sentence, we are given an introduction to the quality, character, and mystery of our God. Timeless, relational, and divine. The story of the baby in a manger actually begins before there were any beginnings. Jesus Christ as the Son of God is not bound by the dash between the day of his birth and the day of his death like we are. The eternal Word has always been and will always be. That word “with” in the verse where it says “the Word was with God” is a declaration that our God is communal and relational. I can no more explain to you the Trinity than I could the perplexing mystery of why people still buy fruitcake to give as a gift.
The Trinity is the most reaching and beautiful mystery of our faith, and it is one that is better enjoyed than it is defined. But knowing that the Son of God, both as the eternal deity and as the infant, is a being who exists within and seeks to create a relationship that can serve as a warm reminder to us that we are loved, thought of, and sought after by our God. And the last part of verse 1 tells us from the very beginning, once and for all - that Jesus is God. This is a strong distinction from what we find in spaces like Greek mythology, where we hear about demi-gods with fantastic abilities and stories. No, Jesus is not the Christian version of Hercules. There is no compartmentalization between Christ’s humanity and His divinity.
Our text goes on and reveals to us that it is through the Word, through Christ, that everything was made and our lives, the light within every single one of us, is found in Him. The Word is the Light and that light has been shared in and with us. This gives us a whole new depth and meaning to one of my absolute favorite Christmas Eve traditions: the candle-lighting. Together, in worship, we each light a single candle and hold that candle in the darkness. We are given a powerful reminder of what impact light makes on darkness and we’re compelled to remember that it is both our blessing and our call to not only bear that light but to share it with those whom we are near. That light can be described as kindness, gentleness, hope, generosity, and even love. But first and foremost, that Light is the Word…the Son of God…Jesus Christ.
For me, that sharing of light, not only in a Christmas Eve service but in our everyday interactions, helps me see the Beginning of Christmas. Christmas is my favorite holiday, as I’m sure it is for many of you. It’s not because of the presents, not anymore anyway. It’s not because of lights and the decorations. It’s because of the growing warmth and light that I have always associated with Christmas. It’s embodied in so many elements of the holiday. In characters like the Grinch and Scrooge. In the songs we love to hear on the radio…after Thanksgiving. Even in the tv commercials we see. It is a general sense of goodwill to all; and an innate desire to serve, to be kind, and to think beyond ourselves. Christmas, for me, has always offered me the chance to see kindness in a world that is rocked by selfishness and violence. And I believe with all that I am, that warmth, that kindness, that spirit that we find spoken of in songs and stories through the ages finds its center and its wellspring in the True Light that is the Word that is Jesus Christ. It is, as verse 4 says, the light that is in all of humanity. And just as Christ took on our form in His birth, we too have the opportunity to take on His heart by the celebration and the sharing of the light within us all.
And we can see, every day and everywhere we look, how desperately our world needs the light of Jesus Christ. It’s not surprising to me that the most common depiction of Christ’s birth is a cold, dark night. We face our own cold, dark night. For some, it is the feelings of loneliness and isolation. For others, it is the consequences of painful mistakes. Still, some face the cold bitterness of fear and uncertainty. There are some who are seeking a home and refuge but are met only with violence. We’re told in Luke that there was no room for Mary and Joseph and many families right now face that same dizzying fear of wondering where to go next. Light, my friends, with all of its illumination and all of its warmth - is what is needed in this world. And it has been given to us, placed inside each of us, by our God.
And that’s why the last verse of our text is so important. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The eternal Word, the Light of all, became just like us and came to where we are. The Message even phrases this as the Word “moved into neighborhood.” It’s what is at the heart of the doctrine of the Incarnation. Underneath all of the complicated theology and the labyrinthine questions, we find the heart of this central tenet of our faith: God came to us and became like us so the He could save us.
This is why we begin Advent and our journey to Christmas here within the first chapter of John. Because before there was a manger, there was the Word. Before there was a guiding star in the night sky, there was the True Light. Before the story of the nativity, there was the story of God’s love for all of humanity, for all of us. That, my friends, is The Beginning of Christmas.