The joy and Christmas spirit now gone until next year. It seems like once the Thanksgiving meal ends, the rush is on. All the shopping and festivities lead to a near fever pitch. For many of us, the entire focus of Christmas is on gift-giving, holiday parties, and family gatherings. These things often become the centerpiece of the season. And so, it’s no surprise we feel a bit empty when suddenly, it is all over.
I find it a bit ironic that Christmas day has become the end point of the Christmas season when in the ancient Christian tradition, Christmas day was only the beginning.
The celebration would move from Advent – a time of waiting for God to act – into the joyous welcome of the Incarnation – which is Christmas Day – to its grand finale on the “twelfth night”—the Feast of Epiphany. Thus, we sing the famous carol, The 12 Days of Christmas. More than a song sung, it is also a way of life lived out once the tree comes down and the stockings are put away. It is an invitation to continue the joy...and to celebrate the “Word made flesh” dwelling among us ordinary people.
Our reading today comes from the first chapter of John’s gospel 1:1-14.
Coming off the rich narratives of the previous weeks, John’s prologue seems a bit far out. And it is. There’s no mention of shepherds, angels, magi or a small baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. In fact, John’s entire Christmas story, and pretty much our own Christian story, is summed up in our reading, and one sentence in particular:
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This makes gold, frankincense and myrrh look like something one might get at a White Elephant party. Or off the discount table at a check out line.
In The Message version of the Bible, Eugene Peterson brings John down to earth when he translated this verse as, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into our neighborhood.”
Now that’s a Christmas story. A tangible, domesticated God we can comprehend. And a run of the mill, everyday Jesus pulling up in a U-Haul truck and taking up residence in the house next door. Try to picture that.
Think about it for a moment what it would be like to have Jesus as a neighbor? On one hand I could trust him around my kids, but on the other hand people love to flock to him. And I can’t imagine trying to keep thousands of people from blocking my driveway or standing on my lawn.
Yes, it would be cool to be invited over for a 4th of July BBQ. While you wouldn’t have to bring the wine, it’s safe to bet it would not be a patriotic celebration...and hot links would definitely be out of the question. And that guy down the street with the super loud Harley who rattles everyone’s nerves…Jesus would not only hang out with him but also welcome all his questionable friends.
And then there’s the typical annoying neighbor stuff...like wanting to borrow your things all the time because he literally has nothing of his own or hearing your conversations from the other side of the fence...and seeing into your windows. To make matters worse, Jesus literally knows everyone’s deep, dark secrets.
As cool as it might sound to have a rock star like Jesus living next door, most of us would probably rather choose to keep our private life private. We don’t want anyone, including Jesus, to get all up in our business. And we certainly don’t want our dirty laundry seen much less exposed.
Sure, we have the option to close our curtains, hide in the back room, and refuse to answer the door. But here’s the thing. We also have what it takes to be like him...we can look into his house, hear what he has to say, and welcome all who come knocking...just like he does.
John tells us that we are born of God. If God is our parent, then we bear God’s DNA - the same that formed Jesus. If we are formed like Jesus - then that tells me, we are also designed to function like Jesus. Hiding away or avoiding people is not what we were made for. Our family, our friends and neighbors, the people who work in the businesses we frequent, the faceless strangers we pass on the street or ignore at intersections...we all bear God’s image just like Jesus. But do we all do what Jesus did? Do our actions reflect the love of God in whose image we are all made?
First John tells us that the Word of God has moved in... and next he says, “we have seen his glory—and it is full of grace and truth.” In Christ we see God’s glory, God’s truth, and all that come with it.
Just as God sees us through a lens of mercy and unconditional love so too are we called to see others through this lens. Jesus made it very clear when he said, “Love your enemies. Give without expecting anything in return. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. God is kind; so also should you be kind.”
The challenge for us this week is to put into practice what Jesus preached. Just as we share the same Incarnate Spirit, so too do we bear the same calling. We are able to do this first by seeing the divine image of God in everyone, just as he did. And second by living out the divine image of God in all that we do.
The great Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh teaches “The best way to know and to love God is to know and love your neighbor.” This begins by seeing the Incarnate Word, made in flesh and blood, living among us in our every day life. It’s “in Christ Jesus that we find who we are and what we’re living for,” writes Paul to the Ephesians.
Long before the first Christmas – way before the shepherds, the magi, or the baby nestled in a manger – God had already designed us for glorious living and claim us as his beloved children. In Jesus, God’s purpose worked out in everyone and everything. This tells me that God is then in everyone and everything. God is here. Always and forever.
But are we able to see God in our midst?
Are we able to feel God’s presence and be the peace that God gives us through Jesus...the Incarnate Word that became flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood...bringing with him the light of God so we might see in our darkness and find hope and mercy and grace.
Far more than giving gifts or holiday feasts, the joy of Christmas is that God moved into our messy house, our struggles and brokenness, to redeem it all in the everlasting love of Christ Jesus – making us all worthy of being Jesus’ brother, or sister, of being adopted children of God.
The invitation for us this Christmas is to accept the gift of Jesus, and to experience Christ’s peace and presence all around you long after the tree is tossed out and the decorations boxed up.
This is the good news given to you to share with the world today. Amen.
“The best way to know and to love God is to know and love your neighbor.” - Thich Naht Hanh, famed Buddhist Monk
Hanh, Teich Naht. Living Buddha. Living Christ. (Riverhead:1995).
Shull, Margaret Manning. Christmas Past. A Slice of Infinity devotional. December 26, 2018.
Tait, Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff, “The Real Twelve Days of Christmas,” Christianity Today, August 8, 2008.
Schaefer, Joslyn Ogden, A Tent Among Us, (episcopalnetwork: 2018).
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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