After some last-minute Christmas shopping, Clara Null was buckling her grandkids into the car. As she was closing the door, four-year-old Jason said, “Grandma, Susie has something in her pocket.” He reached over into his little sister Susie’s pocket and pulled out a new red barrette.
Though she was tired, Clara knew it was important for Susie to take the barrette back to the store, apologize to the manager, and put the item back where she had found it. So, they did just that. After that they stopped at the grocery store for a few items. At the checkout, the clerk asked the children “Have you kids been good this year so Santa will bring you some gifts?”
Big brother Jason said, “I’ve been very good, but my sister just robbed a store.”
We tend to associate being rewarded because of good behavior. We have Christmas songs to remind us. “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been good or bad so be good for goodness sake.” And many times that idea of rewarding good behavior works out. Usually if one is good to others, others are good in return. Usually if one works hard, one is rewarded for the hard work in some way. In the first century the Rabbis claimed that the Messiah would come if Israel would all follow the law perfectly for just one day. If all Israel could be really, really good for just ONE day, then God would reward their good behavior and send the Messiah. Did that ever happen? Did all Israel ever obey the law for just one day? No. But fortunately our being good enough was not the prerequisite for God to send the Messiah. Scripture tells us that when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any righteous deeds we have done but because of his own mercy. Scripture says that at just the right time God sent Jesus into the world.
In our gospel reading we have John’s account of Christmas. In his account we do not hear about the shepherds or the wise men or the inn that is too full. Instead his account cuts to the chase. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” The Word became flesh. The Word of God—the thoughts and intents of God became a living person! The thoughts and intents of God became the Son of God who then became a human being and lived here among us. John said, “We got to see God! He was here! It was unbelievable; He was amazing!”
In our Hebrews reading we heard the apostle say, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”
St. Paul tells in the letter to the Colossians that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. By Jesus all things were created, all things visible and all things invisible. Not only were all things created by him, they were created through and for him and in him all things are held together. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to live and through Jesus God will reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
We run out of superlatives when we begin talking about Jesus becoming a human. How can an eternal being stuff himself into a full-grown man much less a little baby? This is why the early church had some problems with trying to describe who Jesus was. There were people who couldn’t wrap their heads around this idea so they said things like, “Well, this is impossible for God to fit into a human being; He must have just looked like a human being but he really wasn’t. His body was just a façade. God can’t really suffer like a human being. It would be impossible for God to go through the indignity of hanging on a cross and having the body he was in die.” So the early church had to go through great lengths to defend the fact that Jesus was really a human man. They pointed to the gospel texts that showed Jesus the man getting hungry and thirsty and tired just like we do. They pointed out that Jesus was born from a woman and thereby was a human. They also pointed out that Jesus did those things that only God can do. He forgave people their sins; He accepted worship from others; he brought the dead to life; he could command the winds and waves to settle down. And finally he brought his body back to life after three days.
Just what happened on that first Christmas Day? God broke into our world; he became part of the human race. John wrote, “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.” It is really an amazing story isn’t it? The Creator is rejected by his creation. His own people did not accept him. Yet, it is not all bleak is it?
For John goes on to tell us, “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.” Those who do receive him, who believe in his name he gave the power—the Greek word there means also the authority the ability to choose, the prerogative to become children of God! That is what Christmas is all about! God came into our world and gave you and me and all those who believe in Jesus the prerogative to become his children!
He gave this to anyone who would believe. We can be very good like Jason or we could be store robbers like his little sister Susie. It doesn’t really depend upon our goodness anymore. It is all about the goodness of God and we see it all over again today as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Amen