And now, after weeks of waiting, the blessed day has arrived. Christmas!
Is there anyone in the Western World who doesn't feel something different about this day from all other days? For children, it is the delight of gift-giving and receiving; for adults, it is seeing the pleasure of children and reliving the memories of their own childhoods; for believers, it is the joy of observing once again the celebration of the coming of God's Son.
We have no evidence that this day called forth any special celebration from the early Christians. The birth and childhood of Jesus are not mentioned after the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. St. Paul does not refer to the birth of Jesus; the writer of the Gospel of John enters the story when Jesus is an adult; and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews does not refer to the familiar Christmas story.
But both John and the writer of Hebrews proclaim an assurance that is unassailable. The good news has arrived at last! Isaiah delighted in "him that brings good tidings, that promises salvationâ¦ for the Lord has comforted God's people." For the two New Testament writers of our lectionary today, the good news is that the Son has come.
The writer of Saint John's Gospel proclaims it in the immortal words of his Prologue, making the connection between Jesus Christ and the Logos of God, the expression and Word of God, the one who was with God from the beginning, who was responsible for creation together with God. The Word, the Logos, is Jesus, he tells us. Between the beautiful nativity stories of Matthew and Luke and the Gospel of John, there lies the great paradox of the Christian faith. The strongest becomes the weakest, the most exalted becomes the most humble, God's majesty becomes God's humility, we are told. And there is the paradox of the Incarnation, the entering of God into the human story, in human form.
By the time the writer of Hebrews speaks of the same wonder - the Incarnation - a marvelous understanding has evolved in the early church. The understanding is that God speaks to us through the Son, who is greater than the prophets because the Son is the exact imprint of God's very being, superior to the angels.
Both prologues to the Gospel of John and to the Letter to the Hebrews are superb affirmations of the person of Jesus Christ expressed in beautiful theological words and metaphors. And though these passages are of the greatest importance and value now and through the centuries, what matters today is the question each one of us must ask: Who is Jesus Christ to me?
If we have not reached an answer to this question, there is no way we can understand the meaning of this day. If we see Jesus only as an infant in a manger, and we stay there with the baby in the stable, with a warm and cuddly feeling, we must admit that, no matter how tender, this is not a sufficient answer to the vital question, "Who is Jesus?"
Jesus did not stay an infant; he grew up in wisdom and grace. He entered the cruel world of Roman occupation and the arrogant world of religious rigidity. To both he spoke and acted with authority and the result was the cross.
He gathered friends and followers, his disciples, and they lived with him, traveled with him, ate with him, argued with him, for many months, maybe three years. Even from those closest to him the time came when he demanded an answer to the question: "But who do you say that I am?"
When the question was asked of the disciples, Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus did not deny it; but he told Peter that this revelation came to him from God, not from human knowledge. Even Peter soon forgot it, much to his distress. He recaptured this knowledge after much personal pain and regret, and humility.
When Saul had his great encounter on the road to Damascus, Jesus asked him, "Why are you persecuting me?" Saul's response was, "Who are you, Lord?" It was a very important question. When Saul, now Paul, arrived at the answer, there was no power on earth that could dissuade him from the conviction that Jesus was the Lord of his life, the Son of God.
What about us? We live at a time when there is a frantic search for Jesus. For the intellectuals it seems a kind of challenge to strip him of all divinity, to try to find the core of his teaching. When they are finished, nothing remains that would make Christmas anything to sing about.
On the other extreme are those who have made a private possession of their image of who Jesus is, and if one disagrees with that image, then he or she is cast out. There is a sacrilegious bumper sticker that asks, "Got Jesus?" What does that mean? How can one possess the Lord of life? Where is the awe and wonder one finds in the passages we heard today?
On this Christmas Day, this is the most important question for us to answer: "Who is this Jesus?"
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the Fatherâ¦ No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
Thanks be to God.