I love Christmas. I love the music, the time with family, the movies, the presents, the food, the candle-lit services, Luke's Christmas story. I love it all. I think the church should change its liturgical calendar to put Advent in November and make Christmas run from the Sunday after Thanksgiving through January 6th. It'll never happen, but that is how much I love Christmas.
But as a preacher, now matter how much I personally love Christmas, I struggle with it. A lot. I struggle because, for me, every time we gather to worship we have to ask the question, "so what?" And as hard as I try, I can't wrap my mind around the "so what" of Christmas. I get the "so what" of Easter; right, Jesus in his resurrection defeats death so that we might have eternal life. I get that, but Christmas, Jesus born of a virgin I just can't do it. If we left the real world and escaped to the ivory tower of academia we could play around with the theology of Christmas and how without the Incarnation nothing else works, but as much fun as that might be, it still leaves me feeling empty.
So tonight, I really want us to get to the "so what" of Christmas. As we prepare for this entirely too short of a season to come to an end, I want us to do so knowing why the Church celebrates it at all. And to do so, I think we have to leave the quaint nativity scene narrative of Luke and get poetic with John. So join me in John's first chapter as we read his beautiful prologue.
Read John 1
OK, how do we get from the great, albeit ethereal poetry, to the nitty gritty "so what?"
I think we do so by jumping right into the middle of it and noticing the posture of John the Baptist.
Bring up slide of John 1.6-8
John the Baptist came before Jesus to testify to him. What does it mean to testify to something?
The same Greek word that means testify is also witness and it is used by John as both a noun and a verb in this prologue. For John, John the Baptist is John the Witness whose only job was to point to the one who would come to show God to the world.
Bring up slide of Matthias Grunewald's Crucifixion.
This painting by Matthias Grunewald is perhaps the best representation of who John the Witness is in the prologue to John's Gospel. He is pointing almost in a cartoonish way, his pointer finger is so extreme, pointing only to Jesus. And this, I think, is the "so what" of Christmas: that in a dramatically unspectacular way, born in a manger in small town Palestine the God of the universe was born and from the shepherds, through to John and beyond it is the task of his followers to point to him, to make him known.
The gospel message and the larger story of salvation do not go forward from Christmas to Jesus' teaching through the cross to the resurrection without countless witnesses throughout the ages pointing only to Jesus.
Bring up slide of girl pointing to Jesus.
Practically speaking, however, this job is no longer lived out by John the Witness, but instead has to be kept alive by you and by me. And we do so by following the example of John and pointing to the light. We point toward the bright spots in God's good world rather than always finding the darkness and messiness. We point to the ways in which God's work of renewal is moving forward rather than focusing on the gloomy spots. We remember always that we are not the light, but we have the great and wonderful responsibility of pointing to it.
For me, the "so what" of Christmas is that God came to earth in a really mundane, almost hidden, sort of way, and in so doing, gives each of us the chance to point to his light and goodness. May we be empowered this Christmas season to stretch out our pointer finger and get to the work of showing the world that Jesus is alive and ready to restore the world. Amen.