Luke 7:18-23, John 1:1-13, Psalm 147:12-20
I love the Christmas story. Other than the crucifixion and resurrection, the Christmas story has inspired more art, music, and poetry than any other story in the New Testament. And that is as it should be for no story is more important to our Christian faith. When I think of the Christmas story, I think immediately of Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. The story is so important that both Matthew and Luke give two whole chapters to it, and I must confess that most of my preaching about the Christmas story has been about texts from these four chapters.
This year, however, I am focusing on the birth story in the Gospel of John. Often overlooked, at least by me, we find John’s nativity story in John 1:1-18. While considerably shorter than Matthew and Luke, it actually begins with Creation (1:1-4) and ends with Incarnation (1:14). In 1:1-4, John introduces Jesus as “the Word” through whom all things were created and “without whom not one thing came into being (1:3-4). In short, Jesus, “the Word,” is God, the God who is the Creator in whom we find life and light.
Then in 1:14, the Word became flesh and, literally, “pitched his tent among us!” Here is John’s nativity story. The Word became flesh and, in his incarnation, he was Emmanuel, “God with us” (Mt. 1:23) as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger (Lk. 2:12).
After years spent reflecting on Jesus as the Word made flesh, John wrote, “…God is love. God’s love was revealed among is in this way: God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his son” both to live for us and to die for us (1 John 4:7-10). Could we not say that when the Word became flesh, Love became flesh too?
Two of my favorite Christmas poems are by Christina Rossetti (both have also been set beautifully to music). The first, Love Came Down at Christmas, is a beautiful and powerful meditation on what “the word became flesh” means. It begins with these words,
Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
stars and angels gave the sign.
John goes on to say that God’s incredible love for us is to be imitated by us in our love for others,
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us (1 John 4:11-12).
Could it be that as we love others as God has loved us, we become “the stars and angels” who give the sign?
In another of Rossetti’s Christmas poems, In the Bleak Midwinter, she writes powerfully and compellingly of our best response to the incredible wonder of the Word becoming flesh.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
May it be so for us. May the Word and the Love that became flesh that first Christmas, take flesh once again in us. Let this be our prayer this Christmas!