Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on Christmas, 12/25/2019. The text for the sermon was John 1:1-14.
No angels, no shepherds, no sheep, no manger, no hay, no star; no Bethlehem, no stable, no Mary, no Joseph, not even a baby Jesus.
For someone who has written such a beautiful Gospel, I’ve wondered why St. John could not have written a decent Christmas story.
John knows that what happened is so marvelous, and so important, that he takes a different perspective. John’s view of Christmas is cosmic. What happened is so big, that John has to widen the lens to capture it; and so the camera zooms out and pans over eternity.
In the beginning was the Word. verse 1
All things were made through Him. verse 3
The light shines in the darkness. verse 5
It sounds more like a creation story than a Christmas story.
Of course, the evangelist expects that we’re familiar with the scene in Bethlehem. He expects that we’ve heard all about the visits from the angel Gabriel, Mary’s betrothal to Joseph, the census ordered by Cesar Augustus when Quirinius was governing Syria, the search for an inn, the humble birth, the swaddling cloths, the praising and the singing, the glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace. Luke 2
And so, with the nativity scene in the background, John tells the Christmas story in a different way. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (verse 14) John tells us that what happened in Bethlehem was no ordinary miracle.
Usually we think of miracles as moments of divine intervention. For an instant, God parts the clouds, reaches down, puts the laws of nature on hold, does some tinkering in our favor, and goes back to His throne.
That kind of miracle is very comfortable. It’s the miracle we like best. A little help when we need it. Nothing too fancy, leaves us in charge, the world unchanged, and us unchanged – just a little nudge.
Maybe you’ve found yourself praying for these sorts of miracles. “If God would just do this one little thing for me, then I could sort everything else out”… “If only he would heal this disease, take away this pain, get me through this week, help me pass this test, or find my car keys, I can handle the rest.”
Those are actually all fine things to pray about. They are things God cares about very much, because He cares about you very much. But God is not interested in being a God who remains far away. When Jesus performs miracles in the Gospels – when He gives sight to the blind, and makes the lame walk, and raises the dead, it’s never the end of a relationship, it’s always the beginning.
God isn’t interested in mere moments of divine intervention. And that’s not the kind of miracle that took place in Bethlehem. The birth of Jesus was no ordinary miracle, because no ordinary miracle would do.
If we had a God who only ever parted the clouds for a moment, a God who would finally leave us to our own devices, a God was ashamed of our flesh, then we would have no hope. All of the things we suffer, all of our shortcomings and failures, our brokenness, our sins, our sickness, and our death… all of that would have the final say.
But what happened in Bethlehem was no ordinary miracle. In fact, it was so out of the ordinary, that John takes us back to creation to understand it. What God has wanted from the beginning, was to be a God who is near and not far away, a God who dwells with His people. What He has always wanted, what He set out to do again the very instant we fell to pieces, that’s what God is doing in Bethlehem.
It’s a creation story; it’s a return to the beginning, a return to peace with God, a return to the Garden of Eden. It’s a miracle that exalts our lowly human flesh to become the dwelling place of God. It’s more than a moment of divine intervention, but a miracle that unites God and man forever. It’s a miracle that undoes every barrier between heaven and earth.
It’s a miracle that continues this morning as we receive God in the flesh. It’s more than a nudge. It changes everything. It changes us. It’s not just a little help, or a quick fix for our brokenness.
It’s God refusing to only be there when you think you need Him most. It’s God refusing to be kept at arm’s length. It’s God refusing to let death and darkness have the final say. It’s God taking all of the things you pray for, all of the miracles you could hope for, all of the things you need, and gathering it up into something much better and much more.
God became Man, and He endured all of the things we suffer: all of our shortcomings and failures, our brokenness, our sin, our sickness, and our death, even death on a cross. He endured it all so that He could dwell with us and call us good again.
That’s the story that John tells. What happened in Bethlehem was no ordinary miracle. Christmas isn’t a mere moment of divine intervention. We’re not here to marvel for just a day at the birth of a baby boy. We’re here because God is doing what He’s wanted to do from the very beginning. We’re here because we have a God who is near and not far away. We’re here because God has made His home with us.