“Jesus is Among Us”
John 1: 10-14
10The light was in the world,
and the world came into being through the light,
but the world didn’t recognize the light.
11 The light came to his own people,
and his own people didn’t welcome him.
12 But those who did welcome him,
those who believed in his name,
he authorized to become God’s children,
13 born not from blood
nor from human desire or passion,
but born from God.
14 The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.
My mother started getting sentimental about Christmas when my brother moved out of the house after college. I remember one Christmas when she decided that we should read the Christmas story in Luke together. As I worked my way through the Scripture, I remember thinking, “Geez, this story is LONG.”
We always read the Luke story, because it is the traditional version, but it leaves out details that are found in Matthew, such as the wise men and the star. Matthew also includes Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Not a Christmas-y detail we like to keep. Mark doesn’t even have a story about the birth at all.
That leaves the lesser used passage of Christmas we get today. John definitely doesn’t sound like a Christmas story. It sounds like the Odyssey. Those who have attended Wednesday Bible Study this past month recognize this section as being part of the prologue of John’s gospel. John is the trippy, theological gospel that talks much more about who Jesus is rather than what he says.
It is the question of “who” and “what” that keep our attentions during this Christmas season. Even though Matthew and Luke give a lot of details about Jesus’ birth and point to the prophesies about him, they don’t really say any more about who he is to us until much later. John begins with that description: he is the light of the world, born from God, that came to the world to save it, and would be rejected by it.
It is no accident that the light of the world had to be like us. To this day, many people cannot wrap their heads around the idea that God would show us the love God has for us by becoming one of us – not like us; not similar to us; one of us.
That was hard for the people who followed him, too. They wanted God to show God’s love by coming down and being stronger than us, more pious than us, and more powerful than us. He was…just not in the way people wanted.
In the final lesson from Sent that we have been studying downstairs during Advent, Jorge Acevedo claims that the time and place of Jesus’ birth were purposeful and miraculous. Jesus showed up at a time where things were ripe for change. The workings of the world at that time gave a perfect setting for a new religion to flourish. Jesus’ message about caring for the poor, undermining religious legalism, and living by grace and truth were able to thrive due to God’s perfect timing. His presence was at the right place and time.
I think Jesus still exists among us through that first divine inbreaking in our world. He was the ultimate form of the Image of God in us, and so, he still has power and presence in the world now. Each year, we celebrate his coming to earth for a reason. We wait for the return of our king in the grand pageantry of life that leads us to whatever his next step will be. These annual re-enactments of his birth prove that we still have something to remember of him. They prove we believe in who he is.
Reading John during Christmas is a great reminder of why we celebrate Christmas. It isn’t about the star and the shepherds and kings. It isn’t even about the manger. It is about the fact that God loved us enough to want to stop the cycles of sin and death we put ourselves into. God wanted to stop us from finding new ways to justify our anger and fear of others. God came into the world to bring light, even knowing we would not understand it, and even allowed us to try to snuff it out. All so that God could prove that love is bigger than hate; life is bigger than death; God is bigger and wiser and more loving than us.
And, in the midst of all of that, Christ is among us. Christ reminds us how to live. He tells us to be mindful of those the world usually ignores. He breaks down survival of the fittest, denounces that those who cannot do it themselves deserve nothing, and tells us our conventional wisdom and common sense is not God’s sense. We are children of God, after all, not colleagues.
Christ is among us now. He celebrates with us, because he knows that each year we will refocus our efforts to love our neighbor as ourselves. We will seek justice for the oppressed and give sight to the blind. He is with us as we free captives and unbind the prisoners. He is among us as we kindle in our hearts the light that he gave to us.
God, grant in us that we may be the light of the world, through the power of the Risen Christ.