2nd Sunday of Christmas
What is today? Yes, the calendar says January 5, 2020. That is the secular way of marking time, but I want to remind you of our actual calendar. Followers of Jesus are Five Weeks into the New Year. The Christian Year began on Sunday, December 1st with the First Sunday in Advent.
We have waited with great expectation for the coming of the Christ child. We have celebrated Jesus’ birth on Christmas Eve, and we are now in January of a new calendar year. What has happened? What has changed? What is new in the world?
According to the church calendar, Jan. 5 is the eleventh of twelve days of Christmas, almost the day of feasting that leads from the celebration of Jesus’ birth to the arrival of the magi or Jesus’ baptism, depending on your tradition. But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it’s the fifth day of a new year, Christmas is a distant memory, Christmas trees are waiting for trash pickup, most of our resolutions have already failed, and we’re now back to school or work and all the ordinary challenges and mundane activities that all too often feel more like a daily grind than daily life.
Which is precisely why we need a reminder that Christmas isn’t just a holiday or festival but rather witnesses to a reality that permeates our whole life. And there could be no better passage to remind us of the ongoing significance of Christmas than this passage from John. Why? Because John invites us to contemplate a non-sentimental Christmas that fills us with hope and joy the whole year.
Notice that John’s “Christmas story” dallies not with angels or shepherds and seems to know nothing of a young mother or magi. Indeed, John’s story is hardly about the birth of Jesus at all but instead focuses on the difference that birth makes for all of us.
There are, on the whole, just two crucial lines that deal with Jesus’ birth and what we often call the Incarnation. John 1:1 is the first: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.” The second comes at verse 14: “And the Word” — that was with God and is God — “became flesh and dwelt among us.” There it is: John’s Christmas story, the story of God becoming human, taking on our lot and our life that we might live and love and struggle and die with hope.
But that’s not all John offers: as I mentioned, while John sums up the Christmas story in just two lines, he spends more time on the significance of Christmas by shifting attention from Jesus’ birth to ours. In fact, John is actually less interested in the birth of a babe at Bethlehem than he is in the birth of you and I as children of God.
Listen, again to John, to the verses we often skip over in our haste to get to the close of his two-verse Christmas story:
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
10-13 He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
Did you catch that?
Jesus came that we might become children of God – “He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.” – according to Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase. Children that is, who are not dominated by the circumstances in which we find ourselves, not defined by our limitations or hurts, and whose destinies are not controlled by others. Rather, we are those individuals who know ourselves to be God’s own beloved children.
To fully appreciate the significance of what John is saying, I think we need to distinguish briefly between those things that describe us and those that define us. All too often, I believe, we allow certain elements of our life to dominate and define us. Things like our upbringing or interests, our good experiences and our bad ones, our current marital state or our sexuality, our past triumphs or tragedies. Don’t get me wrong, these things matter and are what I would call descriptively true. But all too often we allow them not just to describe parts of our life but to define us completely.
In these verses, John invites us to hold all of the ordinary things that describe us as important but insufficient, as valuable but partial, as meaningful but not definitive. What is definitive — and therefore more important than all the good or bad things we carry with us — is that God has called us God’s own children, individuals who hold infinite worth in God’s eyes, deserve love and respect, and will be used by God to care for God’s beloved world.
Can we imagine that? That Jesus came and was born, lived, died, and was raised again not simply to pay our “penalty for sin” but rather to remind us and even convince us that God loves us more than anything?
We are beloved children of God! I need to hear that good news. You need to hear that good news. Our friends need to hear that good news. Our neighbors need to hear that good news. The world needs to hear that good news. More than that, we need to live out this Christmas message!
So perhaps the opportunity before us, on this second – and last – Sunday of Christmas, is to treat it as the first Sunday of a year where we emulate and actualize God’s activity to come among us in grace, mercy and love that the light might continue shining on – in even the darkest of places. If so, then Howard Thurman’s wonderful poem “The Work of Christmas” might be a fit accompaniment to John’s good news:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
As the new calendar year begins, Jesus is once again inviting us to begin the work of Christmas, to live the Christmas life. To proclaim that the kingdom has come. To live as beloved children of God. This is a promise too good to contain to only twelve days. Blessed Christmas and a New Year of grace to you and yours – beloved children of God!!
Commentary provided by Kristen Stroble, Jill Duffield, Mark Ralls, Song-Mi Suzie Park, David Lose, Janet H. Hunt and Pat Raube