Sunday, December 25, 2016
One of my colleagues here in Omaha, the Rev. Dr. Inba Inbarasu, recently shared a story that I’d like to share with you this morning. The story is about a sheep farmer in New Zealand. The farmer had two pregnant sheep who gave birth on the same night. Unfortunately, one mother did not survive the birth; she died giving birth to a healthy baby lamb. The other mother gave birth to a stillborn, already dead baby. The farmer grieved the loss of his mother sheep and lamb, but also saw an opportunity. Here was a mother without a baby, and a baby without a mother. When he brought the surviving baby lamb to the surviving mother, however, the mother wouldn’t go near the baby. He didn’t smell like her baby, so she rejected the lamb. The farmer was perplexed about what to do – the baby needed to eat, and the mother was despondent over her dead child and not eating, either. Then he had an idea: he skinned the mother’s dead baby lamb and made a coat for the living baby lamb out of it. When he placed the lamb near the mother again, wearing her baby’s coat, she smelled the smell of her own baby and started to take care of the lamb. Eventually, the farmer could remove the other lamb’s skin because the mother had adopted the baby as her own.
The word became flesh and lived among us! This is what we celebrate this Christmas Day! God loved us — God loved the world — so much that God sent his only begotten son to save us. God became one of us and live among us in Jesus Christ. The gospel this morning reminds us that God’s Word is not just what we read on a page in our Bibles. God’s Word primarily for Christians is Jesus Christ: Jesus Christ living, talking, walking among us. Jesus is God with skin on! This is truly the miracle of Christmas, that the God of the entire universe would become a finite human being, put on flesh, and live among us, from a little baby in the manger at Bethlehem to a criminal on a cross at Golgotha, to our resurrected Lord and Savior.
There is a sadness to John’s Christmas story for us this morning, though, just as in the shepherd’s story I shared with you. John tells us that Jesus the Word “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.” Like the mother ewe, there are times when we as human beings have been suspicious of God in the flesh, this Jesus. Perhaps it’s because when Jesus shows up in a stranger on the street or even in people we already know, Christ in the flesh in real life doesn’t fit with our ideas about who God ought to be or look like or what Jesus ought to do for me. Maybe Christ incarnate doesn’t “smell” quite right. The God we encounter in Jesus Christ is bigger than my personal little “g” gods. For many in the U.S, today is about a lot of the trappings of Christmas: the lights, the decorations, the food, the gathering with family, the presents…but the celebration of the Word made flesh is notably absent. We forget to look for God with skin on – Jesus at work, living in our neighbor. We forget that Jesus lives in us, too!
God knows this tendency of human beings to reject our own, to reject what is most true, right, good, to reject real love that can come only from God. And so like a loving sheep farmer God sends us Jesus – God in the flesh, God with skin on, so that we might recognize God as one of us, so that we might become children of God like Jesus and follow him. God wants to be known, God wants us to know him.
There are so many miracles we can celebrate this Christmas – signs and wonders of God at work among us, still today. On social media and in the news, you might read or hear about one of those modern-day miracles: families reunited, amazing acts of forgiveness and generosity, stories of unexpected healing. In the Christmas story we read about in Scripture, we celebrate the miracle of Mary becoming pregnant with God’s son, Jesus. We celebrate that Mary, Joseph, and their newborn baby are safe and healthy, even when they have to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod’s jealousy. The miracle that we might tend to overlook, however, is God’s choosing to become human in Jesus Christ…the miracle of the incarnation itself. This is unique in world religions, our Christian belief that God became human, one of us. Think about this amazing miracle: we’re talking about the God of the whole universe, who created everything as John tells us. Our God only had to speak and things came into being, saying “let there be light” and there was light as we read at the beginning of Genesis. This all-powerful, all-knowing creator of all dared to make himself finite in the baby Jesus so that we might know God personally and relationally. God understands us more than anyone else, even more than we understand and know ourselves, because God became one of us and experienced what we experience so that we might not reject him out of fear, confusion, or suspicion, but accept God’s love through Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God laughs and cries. God felt warm and cold, knew what it was like to be hungry and thirsty, and even to suffer and die. This Christmas and every Christmas, we can celebrate that great miracle that God loves us that much. Jesus the Word made flesh is proof of this – full of grace and truth.
The challenge to us as Christians as we leave this place this morning and enter a New Year is to continue to see the miracle of God in the flesh showing up in our lives today and to share that good news and gift with others. Jesus lives and walks among us – in the kindness of strangers, in the love we show to one another, in often small and almost unnoticeable ways and in very ordinary people like you and me. One of my favorite lines in all the favorite Christmas songs we sing is the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem: “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; oh, come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel!” Come, Lord Jesus. Be born in us today, just as you were over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. Amen.