December 25, 2011 – Christmas Day
Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14
© 2011 Evan D. Garner
I have always enjoyed card games—enough to have received Hoyle’s Rules of Games from my parents or grandparents for Christmas at least three separate times. My favorite part of that book is the introduction to each game—a brief passage that gives some history or cultural background to the various methods for playing cards. One of the descriptions that has stuck with me throughout the years is the one for Honeymoon Bridge. It began something like this: “As with participants in a honeymoon, the only number of players appropriate for Honeymoon Bridge is two.”
I had those words in mind when Elizabeth and I drove away from Birmingham the morning after our wedding. It was mid-September. We had bid farewell to our families the night before, and we set out early for the long drive to Alexandria, Virginia, because we had to get back so that I could be in class the next morning. I think that description came to my mind because, at the time, it felt like I was going on anything but a honeymoon. And I needed something to help that trip feel romantic, and (poor Elizabeth) a card game was the only thing that I could think of.
Eventually, after I finished seminary, we did go on a trip that we called a honeymoon, and that’s the only reason I can get away with saying this: I actually think that those first nine months of our marriage, when we lived in Virginia, were pretty much an extended honeymoon. There were just two of us, and we were far enough away from our families that we didn’t get many visits. Even though we never played Honeymoon Bridge (I tried), we spent nearly every day and every night with only us two.
Christmas that year really drove the point home. “Where will you spend the holiday?” people asked. “Which family will you go visit?” “Neither,” was our reply, “We’re staying here—just the two of us.” In a very real way, that year was wonderfully lonely. But our romantic solitude also solicited a most gracious invitation. At the time, I was working at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac, Maryland, and the rector invited Elizabeth and me to join his family for Christmas lunch immediately after the service. Grateful for that gesture of hospitality, we happily accepted, remembering to bring a small gift as a sign of our gratitude.
As we pulled up in the driveway, I felt rather clever. The invitation had been given at the last minute, but I (we) had still managed to get a gift for their family and bring a dish to share. When we walked through the door, however, my countenance changed. “Peter, Ben!” the rector called out to his college-aged sons, “Make sure you put some pants on when you come downstairs. We have company.”
I quickly looked around. Underneath the Christmas tree stood a large pile of unopened presents. Despite my attempt at careful planning, I had failed even to consider that I might be a part of this family’s Christmas morning. That is a sacred and private affair. I had never even met the rector’s sons before. One does not invite strangers into his house for the opening of Christmas presents. But Billy did. He wanted Elizabeth and me to be a part of his family that day. As they handed us one present after another, my one gift and meager dish suddenly seemed wholly inadequate. We were outsiders who had been invited into a moment of real intimacy. We had arrived grateful for their hospitality, but we left overwhelmed by their willingness to welcome us into their hearts.
On this holy day, we celebrate the birth of our savior. We gather to remember that Jesus Christ is God’s son, born of a pure virgin, and that he came into the world as Emmanuel—God with us. As we heard in the opening verses of John, we proclaim that “the Word became flesh and lived among us,” revealing God’s true glory to the world. But that was over two-thousand years ago. Can that light, which first shone in a humble stable, still burn brightly today? Do we celebrate the incarnation as a moment in history—a wonderful chapter from the past—or is the gift we are given something that still penetrates the darkness of today?
Although God becoming flesh is the fullest expression of love the world has ever known, I’ll suggest to you that if the only thing that happened on Christmas was God taking human form then we really have nothing to celebrate. If the incarnation were only the gift of God’s self to the world, then we could look back on that as a nice gesture but one that was locked in the past. Christmas is so much more than that.
Of the incarnate Word, John declares, “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.” The boldness of that proclamation is not restricted to the past. It is a belief for all time. When the Word became flesh—when God joined himself to humanity—he did so not simply as a gesture of love but as an invitation. God wasn’t just uniting himself to our human nature. He was and is inviting us to partake in the divine. The real gift of the incarnation is that through the Word-become-flesh God makes us his sons and daughters. We, who would always be outsider, are invited into the intimate love of the eternal trinity.
God did not simply become human. God was not merely born of a virgin. God did more than just send his son into the world. On Christmas, we celebrate the redemption of humanity. As God takes upon himself our broken and incomplete nature, he transforms us into the restored image of himself. All that is tarnished and stained is burnished and made pure. All that we lack is completed. All that is fractured is made whole. And why? Because God himself became one of us, so that we might be invited into the very center of God’s love.
You are God’s child. You are his son. You are his daughter. No matter what burden or brokenness you carry, God is willing to make you whole. Whatever part of you makes you feel unworthy—whatever it is that keeps you on the outside—God has come into the world to make that part of you new. God has taken upon himself the very brokenness of your life so that he might restore you into the beautiful child he made you to be. Hear him calling out to you. Hear the good news of Christmas Day as God’s invitation into his very heart. Amen.