The Christmas Sermon: The Incarnation, a gift of love

The gospel
of John which we just read is the only Christmas story in the gospels that does not have a birth narrative. John instead starts way back at the beginning of creation, quickly but poetically telling us of the birth of all things from the source of light and
life, the Word of God.

With this focus,
John opens the door for us to think broadly about Christmas. “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” The Word is not simply the baby Jesus, cute and cuddly. The Word is the animating principle of the universe; the founding reason of all things; the Word
made flesh is light that cannot be overcome by darkness. The Word made flesh is love itself.

Many times
this story gets told in a way that sets up Jesus as a repairman. It goes something like this: God made the world. God said it was good. People, more specifically Adam and Eve, screwed everything up- we had a real mess on our hands. But never fear! God loves
us, so he sent his handy repairman Jesus to the rescue. The only way to fix it was from the inside, and so God’s only son became human to take on all the brokenness and save us from ourselves. We celebrate the gift of God’s repairman Jesus at Christmastime
because he will save us from ourselves.

There is nothing
wrong with this account; it is a story that has been told by generations. There is truth to be had in it.

But in John’s
prologue especially, and with other, mostly Franciscan sources, I find some different perspectives helpful.

God made the
world, and imbued it with love and light. The love that God put into creation was so powerful that love itself became human. Love became human for this reason alone: because God is love. God is love and that’s what love does: loves itself into relationship.

Love is a healing force that casts out darkness, but the darkness does not compel God to act, does not have control over God, nor require that God fix us. It does not ignore our hurt and brokenness. It stands with us in the valley of the shadow of death and
does not abandon us. And it loves us even when we can’t see any light at all and we believe the darkness has overcome. God’s incarnation is about
God with us; emmanuel, here and now in this moment. It is about love. There are a lot of critiques about God as love as being a kind of weak nostalgic idea. But love is a force; love is a verb; love isn’t just a silly sentimental thing. Love is a presence
and action that makes a difference.

Christmas is
about God deciding to become flesh in Jesus Christ. The incarnation is, perhaps less about us escaping from this mortal reality than it is about God here with us now in this reality. Is there anyone you love that you do not want to be close to? To spend
time with? To know more fully? To celebrate with, and even to grieve with when they hurt? To love fully is to do all of those things- real decisions with real consequences. And Christmas is the celebration of a God who became flesh and lived among us as Jesus
Christ in order to love us more fully; to make that love known to us more fully.

The gift of
God in Jesus Christ is a gift we celebrate at Christmastime because we receive the gift of unconditional love; every single one of us no matter our condition, affliction, or disposition– every single one of us is God’s beloved, made worthy. Not worthy because
of our own goodness, but worthy because the Word made flesh comes just to love us, no matter whether sick or healthy, rich or poor, powerful or meek.

The incarnation
as a gift of love opens the door to view all of creation as a gift. The God of love walks among us as a lover of creation rather than only a fixer of broken things. Christ as lover of creation means every day brings new opportunities for wonder, joy, and
awe. With a God who comes among us to bless all of creation as beloved by taking on flesh,
can open our
eyes to see. Can you find the beloved of God around you, right now? In a sunset over Ocean Beach? In a child cooing softly in her mother’s arms? Where in the thin places of this world do you find incarnational experiences of the lover of creation?

Even in the
dark places of the world, the incarnation is good news. Walking through dark valleys of loneliness, sickness, persecution, or relationship challenges, a lover of creation who has taken on flesh at our side means that we are never alone. This Christ knows
the darkness. But the darkness shall not overcome. Perhaps that is a comfort if we can allow ourselves to be beloved of God even in our darkest moments, nurtured by the one who took on our creatureliness just to be with us.

The birth of
Christ that we celebrate this day brings us a God that does not beckon us to escape from this world. The incarnation is the surest sign of all that we have a God that longs for us to engage deeply with the world, proven in God’s own engagement with the world
by becoming flesh. In the words of Richard Rohr, “God said yes to the material universe. God said yes to physicality… It’s good to be human, it’s good to be on this earth, it’s good to be flesh, it’s good to have emotions. We don’t need to be ashamed of any
of this. God loves matter and physicality.”

So let yourself
be loved, this and every day of your incarnation with Christ. Breathe and know you are beloved of God. And witness to the whole of creation, singing out to the heavens in delight for the one who walks with light among us to spread love, joy, and peace.

The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Christmas III, December 25, 2019
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
John 1:1-14


on the Word, Year A, Vol. 1.
Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.
RIchard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

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