The Right Answer!

Fifth in the “A Mixed Up Christmas” Series,
Delivered December 24, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: What we celebrate at Christmas is that God chooses us. He comes tenderly as one of us and makes the gigantic step of choosing to love us, choosing to take all of what he has, all of what he holds, and offering it to us in a relationship. Has life soured for you because you have been living it your own way and now everything is falling apart? Then the good news that we see in Jesus is that he comes to offer himself.

Sermon Text:
John 1:1-18

St. John unfolds the great mystery of the incarnation. St. John, Chapter 1.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many have received him, to them he gave the power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

The Word of the Lord; Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you for this your Word and we pray that just for a moment you will continue to lead our hearts and minds as we look in to this Word. Help us to hear what you say to us through the carols, through the readings and now through this reflection together. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well it’s Christmas Eve and that means so many things to so many people, but with families being as divided geographically as they are right now, one of the things that it means for many families is spending time in airports. It happens. And when you go to those airports you see people with signs with people’s name on it. They are there and they are actually waiting for someone they wouldn’t even recognize. Maybe it’s a friend of their children. Maybe it’s an international student that they are hosting across the holidays. There’s lots of different reasons, but they come to provide transportation, bring them home and they don’t even know what they look like. Have you ever imagined if someone was waiting there with their little sign for Bill Smith and somebody came up and said, “Hi, I am Bill Smith. Thanks for meeting me here.” And the person who is holding the sign kind of looks at them, pulls an old rumpled picture out of their wallet and says “well this doesn’t look exactly like you. You are wearing shorts in this picture and you have been described as being taller than you are. Sorry bud, get out of the way. I am waiting for somebody important.” Now it’s hard to imagine something like that actually happening, but that’s kind of what happened to Jesus when he came to earth. All kinds of people in Israel were carrying their Messiah signs around looking, expectantly waiting for the Messiah to come to deliver Israel from their enemies. They were looking for the one that was going to come and deal with the crimes and injustices in their lives and be their king forever, to make life right. And yet when Jesus came and said “I am the one that you are waiting for,” somehow he didn’t measure up to what they wanted. And for so many people in Jesus’ time what they said to him in effect was, “Sorry bud, get out of the way. We are waiting for somebody important.”

The one who was with God, the one who was God, the one who was God’s agent in creating all that is, the being who actually contains in himself, life and light, this God became one of us. That’s one of the things that it tells us here in this passage in John. God becomes one of us. He is the answer to our need, but so many people did not recognize it. And so, so many people reject God’s answer. God provides the right answer for our need and yet in verses 5, 10 and 11 it talks about rejection. In verse 5 it says, “the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Verse 10 it says that “he was in the world and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” Verse 11, “he came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” Israel, still carrying their Messiah signs around with them, rejects Jesus.

Now there’s all kinds of reasons they might have done that. Some of those reasons are obvious. For some people Jesus wasn’t political enough. They had an image of the savior, of the Messiah that inevitably was going to begin by releasing them from the power of Rome. It was going to make things right politically for Israel; make it the center of the world. And when they saw that Jesus wasn’t interested in those sorts of politics, they rejected him. Related to that, some people rejected him because he didn’t have any military power. How would they deal with Rome, which was the big problem in so many people’s minds if you are not going to have the military power to overthrown them. And so once they realized that Jesus wasn’t going to gather together all of these people who were getting excited about his ministry and make them in to an army to attack the powers that be, they rejected him. Other’s felt like he was too critical of the religious leaders. Hey, these are the people who are respected. These are the people who run the show and what are you doing being critical of these leaders. How can the Messiah, how can a person from God be critical of the very people who lead us in religion? Others rejected Jesus because he was friendly with the wrong kind of people. Instead of hanging around with these respected people, he hung around with people that everyone knew were trash. And finally Jesus ends his ministry by hanging on a cross. So many could not imagine that anything that God would do in this world would involve the rejection and the condemnation of a cross. We don’t know what all their reasons were, but we know that these are some of the reasons that they rejected the answer that God gave for their lives.

But what about us? What are our reasons for rejecting him? If we haven’t accepted yet that Jesus is the right answer from God for all of our needs, why haven’t we? What are we looking for? What’s the image that we are carrying around along with our Messiah sign? What is this image that we are waiting for? Is our image like Santa Claus? Maybe that is what we are looking for. God who brings us whatever we want and then gets out of the way for the rest of the year. That would be attractive. And so often we think about needs being primarily material and yet here in the reality of Jesus instead of finding Santa Claus, we find someone who says that our need is primarily spiritual, not material. And God works on this need not in one moment, one event in a year, but in a relationship that develops everyday where he begins to actually change us. So maybe our problem is we don’t want a real Messiah. We want a Santa Claus. For some others we might want a self-help plan. In other words, my life is pretty good and I don’t want it to change too much, so I can do it God, but give me a little bit of help. I am in need of some fine-tuning here. I need some self-help plans here. Give me the book. Give me the manual and show me how to fine tune life so that I can make it all that it can be. I really do want to add you to life God, but just add a little bit. And so, what we want is self-help plans, but instead we get an answer from God that says we can’t do it on our own at all, that self-help is not an option. And that’s threatening, because that puts us in a position where all of a sudden we have to recognize that we bring nothing to God and we are helpless apart from the unmerited favor, grace and love that God gives out to us. So maybe our problem is that we just want the self-help plan.

Maybe we want an answer to life’s problems that primarily deals with the situation around us. It deals with the people and things around us, and not deal with us. So what we want is God, yes, come in to this world to deal with these people that aggravate me. Come on, change them God. You know the situation I am in, change this situation and we’ve got this whole laundry list of things around us that we want God to change and instead the answer from God, Jesus comes up to us and says, no I first want to work on you, because you are part of the problem. Maybe it bothers us that the Messiah comes up to us and claims to be the only right answer. We don’t like that. Diversity and tolerance makes us say that God must provide many answers to people and so then we can pick and choose the one we like the best. But instead, when the answer comes we find God saying, no I have chosen you and even as we would in a wedding, I want you to choose me back exclusively and only to be your God.

What we celebrate at Christmas is that God chooses us. He comes tenderly as one of us and makes the gigantic step of choosing to love us, choosing to take all of what he has, all of what he holds and offering it to us in a relationship. Has life soured for you because you have been living it your own way and now everything is falling apart? Then the good news that we see in Jesus is that he comes to offer himself. Everything falling apart, your life isn’t what it should be? Well then, take my life. I will give you a new start. Have you lost any claim of being considered a right and fair person? Have you hurt yourself and so many other people that people run away from you and you actually want to run away from yourself? Sometimes we feel that way and at times like that Jesus comes to give us of himself. Here. You’ve got no righteousness. Take mine. I have found a way to forgive you and make you clean again. Are you weak? Here, take my strength. Are you feeling that life is out of control? Here, live life under my control and all of that is what grace is. The word grace comes up repeatedly in this section of the Gospel of John. The God of all the universe comes to us and he comes bringing grace, unmerited favor. He comes bringing the right answer for our need; to share his riches with the people that he created. And he shares with us all of that because we need that grace. We have been alienated from God, living as if God doesn’t exist and life has fallen apart in this world because of it. And so, Jesus comes to bring light that shows us the way out of our mess. He brings life to dead and unfruitful places in our lives and he brings grace. Unmerited goodness, kindness and care to heal our brokeness. So in Christ, tenderly, lovingly, God chooses us and he chooses us to come in to his family.

In verses 12 and 13 it says this: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. Children born not of natural descent nor of human decision, nor of a husband’s will, but born of God.” Come in to my family. I choose you for that. We are no longer enemies. We are no longer distant and uninterested in one another. I want you in my family. That is the message we celebrate at Christmas. God has already chosen to move towards us. The Word became flesh. And now it’s our choice to move towards Christ.

Verses 12 and 13 tell us how. It tells us first that we need to believe; that there are things that God has expressed about himself and revealed about who Jesus Christ is and what he has done and we are supposed to look at that and say, I believe that that is the foundation of reality, that you love me this much, that you love the world this much and that there is a way of forgiveness because Jesus Christ became a human. He lived. He preached. He died for us and is now the resurrected Lord. And we are supposed to look at that and say, okay. That is from you God. I will believe that and see the world that way. But then it says that we need to receive him. It’s more than just a cognitive thing. There is a person that we receive in to our lives and as we receive this gift, this right answer from God, this savior, this Messiah. As we receive him in to our lives then we celebrate a new birth. A birth that happens in our lives as God remakes us from the inside out through the power of his Holy Spirit. And so that means here at Christmas we celebrate two births. We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but we also celebrate the new birth that happens in our lives as we respond to him. To those who receive him who believe on his name he has given power to become children of God.

In fall of 1972 I made that choice. I moved toward Christ. I still remember my first Christmas Even service as a Christian. I went to Canal Street Presbyterian Church. It’s one of the reasons that I am a presbyterian now because I wandered in to that church because I knew of it from a friend at school. I walked in not knowing anybody there and I heard Christmas carols for the first time in my life that spoke to my heart. Good Christian men rejoice. There is good news here and I sang that with tears in my eyes. Hymn after hymn that night spoke to me because for the first time it meant something. Here I was declaring the mighty acts of God that we celebrate here at Christmas and line by line there was a reality. No more lets sin and sorrows grow or thorns infest the ground. I wanted that to happen. Clean me out God. And I was with a people who believed it and sang it from their hearts. I consider that my first Christmas because it was the first Christmas that I knew the God of Christmas. So here it is, Christmas Eve. Tomorrow is Christmas. And on Christmas we celebrate the birth of our savior, but let this too be a time that we celebrate our new birth as well.

Let us join our hearts in prayer. O God who makes us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only son, Jesus Christ. Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit. One God, world without end. Amen.