The Nativity of Our Lord; Christmas Day (12/25/2016)

Texts: Isaiah 52:7-10 Psalm 98 Hebrews 1:1-4 [5-12] St. John 1:1-14

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, you gave us your only Son to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light. By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit, through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 

14 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. 

St. John 1:1-14, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Feast of the Nativity

I have this theory about Christology. Christology is a Greek word which combines Χριστός (Christos: meaning “Messiah” or “Christ”) and -λογία, (logia: meaning “word” or “study”). It refers to the field of study which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus of Nazareth, and what it means to call him the Christ. My theory is this: on Good Friday, the followers of Jesus are primarily frightened, worried that the Roman soldiers might do the same to them that they did to Jesus. If, at that time, they truly believed Jesus to be the fullness of God, present in human form, it wouldn’t have made any sense for them to be frightened of such a comparatively inconsequential entity as the Roman Empire. In the early days of the Christian movement, the church has not yet reached the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth is God in human form. They think of him as a wise Rabbi (like many of their teachers), or a Prophet like Isaiah (who spoke God’s word to them), or a Messiah (like Cyrus of Persia, sent to bring freedom to God’s people). But God in human form? Not so much.

By the time the Gospel According to St. John is composed (a.d. 90-110 or so), this changes. The church, in 60-80 years, has learned to speak more confidently and more powerfully about who Jesus is. In fact, John describes Jesus in these beautiful opening phrases of the Gospel as the very Word of God, which once spoke all of creation into being, and now has become flesh, living among humans in the first century, providing them with a first-hand experience of the glory of God, full of grace and truth. So Jesus isn’t an agent of God, commissioned and sent with Good News to the world. Jesus is God. In human flesh. Living among us. As the Nicene Creed (formulated by the First Council of Nicaea in 325) would eventually put it: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”

This is a major departure from how those first followers of Jesus understood him.

And it helps us to glimpse why the church has celebrated Christmas each year since some time during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who ruled from a.d. 312-337. We call it Christmas because of its connection with the first communion service (or “mass”) commemorating the birth of Christ each year. But it is more formally recognized as “The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.” At the center of the celebration is the nativity — the birth of God among us.

This is indeed a new beginning. A new Genesis. God among us. God for us. God, full of grace and truth. God, inviting us into an entirely new way of understanding ourselves, our God, and the world around us. God, working new life in us.

So as we celebrate the Christ Mass this year, let us give thanks for the love of God which meets us in Christ. Redeeming us. Setting us free. Giving us the gift of new life. Merry Christmas, friends in Christ. I hope to see you this weekend!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How does John’s Gospel describe the beginning of the Jesus story?
  2. How is this different from what we hear from St. Matthew 1:18-25 (our Gospel for December 18th this year) or St. Luke 2:22-40 (our Gospel for Christmas Eve)?
  3. What does this insight into Jesus mean about my relationship with God?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I experienced the presence of God in my life?
  2. How has Christ been, for me, “a light that shines in my darkness?”
  3. What do I most look forward to, as I think about Christmas worship?