Light of Emmanuel

emmanuel

Why does Christmas matter?  In the coming days, we may begin to un-decorate our homes and take down trees.  Perhaps we have gone back to our jobs and school will begin again shortly. Job hunters seeking employment will go back a trying job market.  Families will continue to mourn the loss of loved ones. The lonely family member will go back home to an empty house without the sounds of loved one’s laughter.  To the world, another Christmas which held so much hope and expectation, has come and gone.  We return to every day routines; we return to the world, a world which can be messy and dark.

But friends, Christmas for Christians should make all the difference in the world.  Because of Christmas, we received our Lord and Emmanuel Jesus Christ. Christ, who is fully God and fully man, beginning and end, our Redeemer and Savior, began flesh, like us.  On Christmas, God chose to come live among us in the messiness of world.  Through his birth, Jesus became God with us. Through Christ, light enters the world.  The word of God says despite the darkness in the world; even the depth of gloom and darkness will not have the final say.

Our text this morning comes from John 1:1-14. This prologue to John’s gospel serves a highly theological birth narrative. Unlike Matthew and Luke, there are no shepherds or angels. The writer uses deliberate poetic voice to speak about Jesus’ coming into the world. Hear these words….

John 1:1-14 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

The Word of Life

In the beginning was the one
who is called the Word.
The Word was with God
and was truly God.
From the very beginning
the Word was with God.

And with this Word,
God created all things.
Nothing was made
without the Word.
Everything that was created
    received its life from him,
and his life gave light
to everyone.
The light keeps shining
in the dark,
and darkness has never
put it out.[a]
God sent a man named John,
    who came to tell
about the light
and to lead all people
to have faith.
John wasn’t that light.
He came only to tell
about the light.

The true light that shines
on everyone
was coming into the world.
10 The Word was in the world,
but no one knew him,
though God had made the world
with his Word.
11 He came into his own world,
but his own nation
did not welcome him.
12 Yet some people accepted him
and put their faith in him.
So he gave them the right
to be the children of God.
13 They were not God’s children
by nature
or because
of any human desires.
God himself was the one
who made them his children.

14 The Word became
a human being
and lived here with us.
We saw his true glory,
the glory of the only Son
of the Father.
From him all the kindness
and all the truth of God
have come down to us.

Advent, the season of waiting for the promised savior, is over.  Our Savior has come.  However, the season of remembering God is with us has just begun.  Christ has broken into the darkness of our world.  Christ, our light and life, conquers darkness and death. Friends, God is not only with us when the Christmas decorations are up, God remains with us throughout the year.  Our text reminds us the good news of Christmas that Jesus is the light of the world and the presence of God shinning throughout the world.

For Christians, it makes all the difference in the world, that Jesus became flesh and dwelled among us.  The word order in our text may seem confusing in the English translation.  The Greek captures the true oneness the Trinity in a profound way and can be translated, “what God was, the Word (Christ) was.” One of my former seminary professors, Dr. Andrew Purves, constantly reminded students that there is no God hidden behind the back of Jesus. Therefore, as we see and encounter Jesus, we see and encounter God. What would the world look like today if Christ would have not become flesh?  We would be lost to the darkness of sin and we would possibly worship Gods who seem distant and cosmic.  Thankfully, Christ did come, Christmas did happen, and we are able to relate to God through Jesus.  Is it important to remember that Christ came to save us from our sins?  Yes, but Christ also came to be in relationship with humankind.

The Message’s translation of John 1:14 captures Jesus’ mission to relate to us.  John 1:14 reads, “The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhoods.”  God in Christ, sought out humankind.  He heals the sick and eats with sinners. Jesus, in the flesh, is in the presence of the unclean and untouchable.  He speaks to outcasts. God through Christ, knows what it is like to cry and have deep ranges of emotion. He knows what it is like to lose a loved one. He knows what it is like to be rejected. God desires to be in relationship with us, so Christ came into the world not only to save us from our sins, but to dwell in our neighborhoods.  In his piece, God is in the Manger, Theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, comfort in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.”

Sometimes, trying to comprehend why God would choose to become like us is difficult.  As a lover of music, I whole heartedly agree with the quote, “when words fail, music speaks.”  Later in our worship service we will sing one of my favorite Christmas hymns, “Once in Royal David City.”  The hymn, originally a poem by the Irish poet and hymn writer, Cecil Alexander, captures many theological points in few words.  Listen to the words of hymn: “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all, and His shelter was a stable and His cradle was a stall: with the poor and mean, and lowly lived on earth a savior holy…Jesus is our childhood pattern, day by day like us He grew. He was little, meek, and helpless, tears and smiles like us, He knew. And He cares when we are sad and He shares when we are glad.”

So then how are we challenged to response to the knowledge that Christ is the light? Because Jesus is our childhood pattern; we are called to live our lives in ways which point to Christ and share the light of Christ with others.  Within the first chapter of John’s gospel, our text points out a person who pointed to the true light found only in Jesus Christ.  John, the Baptist, is recorded in John’s gospel as the one who bears witness to the light of Christ.  The gospel writer makes it clear that John, himself, is not the light, but John is sent to testify and bear witness to the light of Christ.  As Christians we are called to bear witness to the light of Christ in our lives and share the light of Christ with others through our words and deeds.

I have encountered many Christians who have the light of Christ in their lives and who share that light with others.  Like John, they bear witness to the true light, Jesus.  While worshiping at a small Presbyterian church outside of Pittsburgh during my field education, not a Sunday went by without me receiving a hug from Henry, one of the patriarchs of the congregation. If you opted out of receiving a hug, Henry still said, “God bless you and we love you.” Henry’s love for others was evident as he bore witness to the light of Christ in the community and as he welcomed everyone to worship through greeting them. Think for a minute about those in your life who have shown the love of Christ to you.  From Sunday school teachers who became adopted grandparents, to scout leaders who influenced us in subtle ways, to a friend who offers comfort in a time of need, all of these people have the light of Christ in them.

Christmas is about God’s love. In the Christmas classic, The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, the jolly ghost of Christmas present sings a melody and encourages Scrooge to find the love behind Christmas.  Listen to some words from “It Feels like Christmas.”

“It’s in the singing of a street corner choir
It’s going home and getting warm by the fire
It’s true, wherever you find love
It feels like Christmas
A cup of kindness that we share with another
A sweet reunion with a friend or a brother
In all the places you find love
It feels like Christmas
It is the season of the heart
A special time of caring
The ways of love made clear
It is the season of the spirit
The message, if we hear it
Is make it last all year.”      

How can you share the light of Christ with others during the new year? How can you show people that Christmas does not end after December 25th?  How can you show others that God is and will always be with us?  As we come alongside others to bear witness to Christ’s light in the world, we do not want to be like blinking Christmas lights, only shinning when it is convenient for us. Christ calls us to be constantly shinning our lights, and constantly bearing witness to His light and presence in the world. How can you come alongside those who need to experience the love and light of Christ and bear witness with your actions and deeds?

Civil rights leader and theologian, Howard Thurman speaks to how Christians are called to response to the work of Christmas in his poem, “The Work of Christmas.” Listen to his words:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
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 brothers,
To make music in the heart.”

Jesus shows us how to love others through his ministry- he shows us the blueprint for continuing the work of Christmas. Sometimes, all that is needed is a prayer of encouragement.  Sometimes, the continue work of Christmas means being present with those undergoing life’s storms.

Life still remains messy and complicated. Being Christians does not mean things are easy for us, but it does mean Emmanuel. God is with us. God desires to be in relationship with us, and chooses to be with us. God in Christ, pitched His tent among humankind and knows our trials.  God is with the teachers and students who are getting ready to go back to school.  God is with the job seekers as they search for employment.  God in Christ sits at every hospital bedside.  Christ becomes a constant companion for the those separated from family. God in Christ holds those who are mourning close, and wipes their tears away.  The storms of life may continue to churn but because of Emmanuel, God is constantly with us during those storms.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it, and the darkness will never overcome it. Amen.

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