What is Christmas all about?
December 25, 2009
Rev. John Duncan,
Assistant Priest, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
What is Christmas all about? It's easy to come up with a lot things Christmas is not all about. Santa Claus, tinsel, too much food and drink, too much hassle and shopping, are all things we know aren't the meaning of Christmas. But the meaning of Christmas isn't even a miraculous and wonderful birthday.
We don't even know the real birth date of Jesus. The date we celebrate was picked about three hundred fifty years later. We can't even be sure which year Jesus was born. Luke says the birth took place when Quirinius was governor, and Matthew says it was during the reign of Herod the Great. Herod died about six y ears before Quirinius became governor so we have a problem there. The early Church didn't celebrate the birth of Jesus. They didn't even care about it. They celebrated the Resurrection.
The celebration of Christmas grew out of the Church's struggle over who Jesus was. What kind of man was this, who claimed to be the Son of God and who rose from the dead? What does it mean for Jesus to be the Son of God? For about three hundred years the Church struggled to understand who Jesus was. About the same time that Christians first celebrated Jesus' birthday, the Church developed what we know as the Nicene Creed. When the sermon is finished we will say that Creed together: "God from God; Light from Light; True God from True God; Begotten, not made." It's all about who Jesus was.
The Church began to celebrate Christmas when we began to understand something called Incarnation. When we say "incarnation," we mean that we see in a human being everything we believe about something. When the Church declared Jesus to be the Incarnation of God, the Church meant that everything we see in Jesus is what God is.
Jesus was a teacher. Does that mean God is a teacher? Yes, God is a teacher. Jesus taught us that fulfilling the minutia of the Law wasn't important, but loving God with all our hearts and mind and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves is important. Is that what God wants? Sure it is.
Jesus was a healer. That means God is a healer. Jesus healed people who were grateful and some who were not. Sometimes Jesus seems to have healed as an after thought. One crippled man was brought to Jesus. The man's friends made a hole in the roof and lowered him down to where Jesus was. Jesus had compassion on the man, and immediately forgave the man all his sins. I don't think the man's friends went to all that trouble just to get sins forgiven, but Jesus forgave his sins. It was only when others began mumbling, "Who does this guy think he is that he can forgive sins," that Jesus also healed the man. Obviously healing the man wasn't as important to Jesus as forgiving his sins. God is a healer who sees all our needs, and sometimes doesn't heal the way we expect. Jesus was like that.
Jesus always had compassion. Once while he was trying to get some quiet time with his disciples the crowd found him. He had compassion on them, and despite his own weariness he taught and healed. When the crowd was hungry, Jesus had compassion on them, and he fed them from five small barley loaves and two small fish. We know God has compassion on us because Jesus had compassion.
Jesus was one who forgave. He forgave the sins of the crippled man. He forgave the sins of prostitutes and tax collectors. He forgave the sins of the woman who washed his feet with her tears. He forgave Peter his denial. From his cross Jesus forgave those who had betrayed him, accused him, abused him, and who had nailed him on the cross. In his death he forgave all of us. We know God forgives because Jesus forgave.
Jesus told his disciples that there was no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. Then Jesus told them they were no longer his disciples, but his friends. Then Jesus died for them and for us on his cross. We know God is the truest of all friends because Jesus was the truest of all friends.
We know God is loving, gentle, kind, and true. We know God is faithful, constant and secure. We know God is with us whenever we look for him. We know this because we have seen these things in Jesus.
Christmas isn't about decorated trees, carols, candy canes and gifts. Christmas isn't even about a cute baby in a manger. Christmas is about finding God in Jesus. "No one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known."
Open your hearts to Jesus. Receive the greatest gift the world has ever been given. Choose to follow Jesus, and discover what God is really trying to do in your life.
In Jesus' Name. Amen.