Christmas is one of the holidays that elicits a lot of emotion. Bing Crosby croons about the white Christmases he used to know. Elvis sings about his “blue Christmas without you.” A little closer to home, Brian d’Arcy James sings his desire for a “Michigan Christmas, with Michigan snow on the Saginaw trees.” And we’re bombarded with images of the perfect Christmas, a picture print by Currier and Ives of a family filling a church pew, kids rushing down the stairs to see what presents await them, the happy family sitting around the table with the soft glow of candlelight. But then there’s reality. We only had a 50/50 shot of getting a white Christmas this year, and it didn’t come true. Many of us are celebrating blue Christmases without loved ones by our side because of death or any number of family changes. And while all of us here are getting the “Michigan Christmas,” not all of us want to be in Michigan. Some of you have family miles and time zones away other states, maybe even deployed by the military, and everyone will home for Christmas, but only in their dreams. Light and darkness. Good and bad. Happiness and sadness. As St. John begins to explain the mystery of Christmas he uses that theme. Christ, the Light of the World comes to scatter the darkness. What does that mean for you and me, people who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death?
On the surface John’s Gospel seems to present the dichotomy of Christmas. Christmas Eve gives us Luke 2, which only sounds correct if read from the King James Version of the Bible. We hear of Mary and Joseph, the Babe in the manger, the singing angels, and the shepherds sore afraid. We light our candles and sing “Silent Night.” But then we come on Christmas, looking for comfort, and we get a dogmatics textbook. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It seems as though yesterday was the sentimental day, and this is the doctrinal day. And, of course, doctrine can never comfort…or so we think.
On the surface this is a correct distinction between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. St. John tries to put the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation and the Trinity in terms that we can understand. Jesus Christ, the Divine Word, is eternal and equal to God the Father because both are fully God. Christ came to earth to restore our broken relationship with the Father, which He did by becoming our Brother, taking on our flesh, elevating human nature. Because of Christ, the Son of God, we have the right to becoming children of God.
And that’s where the comfort of Christmas Day comes in. We have to be careful not to get caught up in the sentimentality of Christmas. If all we do is make Christmas about warm thoughts, lights, meals, presents, treetops glistening, and one horse open sleighs, then it will turn into a miserable holiday, because things are going to come along that throw cold water on your sentimental moments. Family divisions, death, poor health, struggling finances, travelling at the same time as millions of other people will all take a toll on the sentimental side of Christmas. They’ll turn into the things you grumble about in January. They’ll become the emotions of pain that will surface a year from now and make you want to skip Christmas, thinking that it will somehow stop the pain. I’m not saying that you should avoid making memories, but don’t make the Facebook-post-worthy picture what your Christmas is all about.
Instead, focus the image John shares with you this morning. God Himself sees your struggles. He sees your sadness, your anger, your fears, and your sin. And He doesn’t leave you to wallow in them. The One whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord has come. And He hasn’t just come in some undefined way, but He has come concretely in your flesh. Your Brother is the eternal God! His light cannot be overcome by the darkness you experience. His light cannot be overcome even by death. He has come to live, to die, to bear your sin, to be your Savior, to make you a child of God, to take you home to your Father. That’s the joy of Christmas. That’s what the doctrine of Christmas means. Doctrine is eminently practical because it’s all about forgiveness, it’s all about the unfathomable love God has for you that led to those beautiful scenes in the manger and on the cross.
Light and darkness. Good and bad. Happiness and sadness. These are the things of daily life. Jesus has come to call you out of darkness and into His marvelous light. He has taken the badness, the evilness of your sin and has died for it, and now declares you forgiven, speaks over you and once again declares you very good just as He did when His hand formed you out of Eden’s clay. And in His good timing He will take away all your sadness, and He will dry your tears when you stand on the heavenly ground, the only place where happiness and joy are truly found.
A blessed and merry Christmas be yours in Christ.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.