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1 Christmas: The True Light and a True Christmas

SUNDAY’S READINGS | December 26, 2021

Isa. 61:10-62:3
Ps. 147 or 147:13-21
Gal. 3:23-25; 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

We celebrate the birth of Christ, remembering this: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). And we almost thrill to hear the beloved line, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). We see perhaps, in our mind’s eye, the infant Jesus settled in his crib, surrounded by his parents, acknowledged by shepherds, adored by Magi, praised by a heavenly host. Never mind that stories from different gospels are conflated in how we remember the birth of Jesus; this event is really one event. In Christ, God is here, among us, where we live and breathe, suffer and rejoice, grieve and hope.

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world, “yet the world” (John 1:10). In three small words, “yet the world,” the world’s opposition is announced. Already hinted in the line “the light shines in the darkness,” a firm and resolute resistance is set up against the Word. “And the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:9-11). Embracing Christmas means embracing the shadow cast over this story.

Because “all things come into being through him,” the Word always arrives to “what is his own.” Of course, we may hear a particular emphasis on the historical context of Jesus’ ministry to the Jews, Israel, the Promised Land, but this interpretation, if pushed too far, risks seeing his rejection as primarily or exclusively by the Jews. Karl Barth sees “his own” and “his people” as “characterizing the human world as a whole,” and this is certainly consistent with St. Paul’s teaching that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). It is also compatible with what we know of ourselves as Christians who are still sinful people. “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves” (BCP, p. 360). We have turned away from God and away from the image of Christ in our neighbors.

We are the world, his own, his people, and as such, we stand under judgment. “And this is the judgment, that light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed” (John 3:19-20).

Though we are dead in our sin and lost in our rejection of Christ, Christ continues to pursue us in judgment and mercy. He gives us power to become his children, so we receive him and believe in his name. A real Christmas is, therefore, a breakthrough, a disruption in our routine and narrow tendency to push Christ out of his world. He comes in by his own will and power to make us new. Taking us to himself, he builds a New Jerusalem, gathers exiles, heals the brokenhearted, binds up wounds. He adorns us with garlands and jewels, a crown of beauty and a royal diadem (Ps. 147:2-3; Isa. 61:10-62:3). Jesus Christ is the restoration we need and yet the restoration that, at first, we rejected.

He has not rejected us. “He sends out his command to the earth, and his word runs swiftly” (Ps. 147:16). The Word cannot be stopped. “He whom the Son sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36).

Look It Up: Galatians 4:6; John 1:19

Think About It: The Son is in the heart of the Father, and the Spirit of the Son is in our hearts. Immanence and absolute transcendence have met each other.


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