Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas
December 26th, 2021
We have a priest friend, who several years back adopted two little boys. And a couple years ago, right before the pandemic began I believe, our friend decided to take his sons on a trip to the Holy Land. This priest has a strong attachment to and love for the Holy Land, much like Keith and I do, so he wanted to share that experience with his sons.
Well naturally one of the stops on his trip was Bethlehem, and he managed to catch this picture of his boys there which now adorns his Facebook page. Every time I see this picture all sorts of emotions well up inside me. You see, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem sits on top of a cave that is traditionally recognized as the birthplace of Jesus. And in this picture my friend’s two boys are in the little cave that sits underneath the Church, and they are both sitting underneath the altar and looking down at and touching the silver star on the rock that marks the place where Jesus was born.
It’s a stunning photograph, because it just says so much. Now my friend has said that what you don’t hear when you look at the picture is their running commentary in the background: “Where’s the barn? Are there any Oxen here? Where’s the manger? Where’s Momma Mary?” Kids are bound to be full of questions, but their questions were really just a way of trying to connect the story that they knew to their life in that moment. I think they were making a connection between Jesus’s story and their own story. What an amazing thing to be able to take children to one of the holiest places on earth and to do so while they are still at the age where they are open to mystery and wonder. Yes, I am envious, and yes, it is something I hope to do with my own kids someday.
Two little children touching the place where Jesus was born. His story, which they knew, was now a part of their story. This sacred place was a part of their own history. It was a part of their family story. And this family story that they were a part of, had nothing to do with any accidents of genetics or biology; it was a family created by God, not by man.
On Christmas Eve we were told the Christmas story according to the Gospel of Luke, but at the very end of the service before we all departed we heard John tell his version of Jesus’s backstory. It is part of the same gospel we just heard this morning. And John begins Jesus’s story not with his birth in the manger, but with the birth of all creation. John wants you to understand that this Jesus that he is going to tell you about, isn’t just a simple man living at a time in history. This is the God of all creation that has come to live among us. John wants you to understand that this story is much more profound than you realize, but he also wants you to see that it is much more personal. He isn’t just talking about a man named Jesus, he is talking about the Most High God; He isn’t just talking about a man named Jesus; he’s talking about you and me. This story is also about you. This is your family history too.
You see John, the writer of this gospel, knows something about how it feels to be adopted into Jesus’s family. When John, who is often referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved, or the beloved disciple, when he was standing next to Mary at the foot of Jesus’s cross when he was crucified, Jesus said to him “behold thy mother.” And he said to her “behold thy son.” Mary would be John’s momma now too, and he would be her son. John understood better than any of us how Jesus invites us to be a part of his family. Mary becomes our Mother; God becomes our Father. We are adopted as children of God. So no matter who we are, or where we are from, if we are Christians, then his story is a part of our story.
Our secular Christmas celebrations are often very focused on the families we are born into and time spent with blood relations. But the Christian story isn’t about that at all. The Holy Family isn’t your standard Mother, Father and Child. This family wasn’t created by genetics, it was created by God. And likewise the only blood that binds the Christian family together is the blood of Jesus. This isn’t a family we are born into; it is a family we are reborn into. All of us. As Christians, we recognize that it isn’t genetics that make us a family, it is a story. A common story. And if Jesus’s story isn’t a part of your story, it can be. That is what the Church is here to proclaim.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
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.
You know, I do my best not to project my emotions onto God, but when I look at my friend’s picture of his two little boys playing over the star of Bethlehem, I can’t help but imagine the joy that Jesus must feel whenever a child of any age discovers that his story is a part of their story. Whenever that happens, the Holy Family, Jesus’s family, gets a little bit bigger.