(Year B, First Sunday After Christmas, December 31 2017, Gospel Reading from John 1:1-18)
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
– John 1:12-13 (ESV)
First and foremost – “Merry Christmas!”
It is my hope that everyone who reads this blog had an enjoyable time celebrating the “reason for the season” – the Incarnation of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I understood what a miraculous work the birth of Jesus actually is. The pseudo-Christian culture we live in regards Christmas, when it does regard Christmas, as Christ’s birthday. And as it concerns His humanity, I suppose that is appropriate. But too often that’s where the thought process stops, and the true gift that was given to the Creation is left unopened.
I look at the Nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke like a cleverly wrapped present. In my family, and maybe some of yours, the best presents are the ones that you’re never really sure you’ve finished unwrapping. They are multifaceted, many layered. The outward miracle (the virgin birth) draws the seeker in and forces them to immediately choose a side, either discount the whole story or accept what the Gospel writers say happened. If I disbelieve this detail of the story, that Christ was born of a virgin, then why should I believe any of the rest of it? If this is embellished, what am I to do with a corpse being reanimated (let alone Resurrected)? But if I do believe the Nativity account, then what choice do I have but to dig deeper – why born of a virgin? Why Mary? Why from the line of David? Why Bethlehem? Why born in a manger? I could go on and on. Like the cleverly wrapped present, I am drawn into removing the outer paper, investigating every aspect of the parcel in order to truly see what lies within.
The true gift is not at all what I thought it was at first. Think about if the Christmas story were only about the birth of a baby boy in a humdrum town in late BC Palestine, even if he turned out to be a particularly good man. It seems to me that the Santa Claus narrative as told today is a more compelling reason for celebration – aren’t baby boys and girls, good and bad born every day? But Jesus’ birth in a manger is just the physical protrusion of the great Spiritual work that John is talking about in the first chapter of his gospel. Where Matthew and Luke focus on the narrative of the nativity, John points out the theological import – and thank God he does, because many who claim the Name of Christ have missed it, celebrating the birth but not appreciating the Incarnation.
What is the gift then? What is the “point” of Christmas and the Nativity accounts? I believe, and the Church has taught since the first century, that the true gift is John’s statement in chapter 1 verse 12, that we who receive Him and call upon His Name are afforded the right to be called “sons of God.” If He were just a boy who happened to be called “God Saves,” then the only right we would have would be to acclaim his perfect example, and we would be no better off than before. For Jesus did not loosen the Law – if anything He strengthened it and made it more of a witness against us. The only way we could have the right to be called sons of God is if God himself gave us that right.
For me there can be no doubt: If we do not understand, as John does, that the Nativity was the Eternal Word of God becoming flesh and blood and sinew and matter, then we bar our way to receiving Him, and cast doubt on His Name.
This week, as we feast and celebrate the Incarnation of Our Lord, I ask you to look a little deeper into the Holy mystery around the Nativity. Think on its implications. I ask you to pray for deeper understanding, and to give thanks for whatever understanding God has given you.
Grace and peace to all in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.